President Obama defiantly defended his reluctance to increase the U.S.intervention in Syria, saying he has yet to receive clear, corroborated evidence to back up initial intelligence reports of small-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and would not make a decision based on a “hope and a prayer.”
Mr. Obama last summer said chemical use by Syrian leader Bashar Assad would be a “red line” that would change his calculus about authorizing U.S. action in that country’s civil war. Reports last week suggested that chemical weapons had been deployed in the fighting, but it was not clear if the government or rebel groups were responsible.
When asked whether Syria and the rest of the world would take the U.S. seriously now that the red-line appears to be crossed and the U.S. has not taken action, Mr. Obama said the chemical use is only “perceived”
and insisted on the need for more intelligence and details.
“There’s a desire for easy answers and that’s not the situation” in Syria, he told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon press conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. “My job is to constantly measure our very real and legitimate humanitarian and national security intersts in Syria, but measuring those against my bottom line, which is, what’s in the best interests of American security.”
He said he would not make those decisions based on “a hope and a prayer” but on more detailed intelligence reports.
“You suggested even in the question a perceived crossing of the red line – the operative word there is perceived…,” he continued. “I don’t make decisions based on perceived. And I can’t organize international coalitions around perceived … We tried that in the past, by the way, and it didn’t work out so well.”
Mr. Obama is under increasing pressure to respond to President Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against rebels trying to remove him from power. The U.S. intelligence community concluded several weeks ago that Mr. Assad’s regime has likely done so — at least on a small scale.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, on Sunday ridiculed Mr. Obama’s inaction so far, saying the president’s “red line” must have been written in “disappearing ink.”
Over the weekend, Israel launched an airstrike on a arms depot in the Syrian capital of Damascus that killed at least 42 Syria soldiers. Israel reportedly was worried that Syria would try to ship some high-tech weapons to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon who could use them to strike Tel Aviv. On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney defended Israel’s right to “take action” to protect itself.