During his statement on the situation in Syria Tuesday night, President Barack Obama answered questions he said he faced from Congress and from ordinary Americans who have written letters to the White House.
Here’s a brief rundown of the questions and Obama’s answers:
Q: “First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.”
Obama’s answer was simple. “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”
Q: Is it worth acting if we don’t take out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad? Is it worth it to do a “pinprick strike,” as some members of Congress have suggested this will be?
Obama said that he doesn’t think the U.S. should try to remove another dictator “by force,” like it did with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, because it will make the country responsible for the next steps.
As for the “pinprick” question, he answered with the line of the night. “Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver,” he said.
Q: What are the dangers of potential Syrian retaliation?
“We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military,” Obama said. “Any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise.”
Obama also said that “our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.”
Q: “Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights?”
On this question, Obama admitted that “some of Assad’s opponents are extremists.” But he said that al-Qaeda would only grow stronger if Syria does not face a response for its use of chemical weapons, and he noted that the vast majority of Syrians are not extremists.
“The majority of the Syrian people, and the Syrian opposition we work with, just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom,” Obama said. “And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.”
Q: “Why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force? As several people wrote to me, we should not be the world’s policemen.”
This is where Obama brought up the potential of a diplomatic solution with Russia and Syria, in which Syria would turn over control of its chemical weapons to be subsequently destroyed.
“I agree,” Obama said of the suggestion that the U.S. shouldn’t be the “world’s policemen.”
“And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations, but chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.”
He then brought up the possibility of diplomatic solution, and said he had instructed Congress to postpone votes on authorizing military strikes. He said he is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the proposal. Meanwhile, he said, he has instructed the U.S. military to maintain its position to keep the pressure on Assad.
“America is not the world’s policeman,” Obama said. “Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong, but when with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.
“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”
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