Responding to Russia’s military intervention in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, President Obama said Friday that Moscow is likely to get bogged down in a “quagmire” in the country’s civil war.
“A military solution alone … is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference at the White House. “It won’t work, and they will be there for awhile if they don’t take a different course.”
Mr. Obama blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for bombing anyone opposed to the Assad regime, saying indiscriminate attacks will fuel extremist groups’ recruiting. The U.S. is leading a coalition to wage airstrikes only against the Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIL, and is demanding that Assad give up power.
“He [Mr. Putin] doesn’t distinguish between ISIL and a moderate Sunni opposition that wants to see Assad go,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s a receipt for disaster and one that I reject. We reject Russia’s theory that everybody opposed to Assad is a terrorist.”
Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin met Monday at the United Nations to discuss Syria. Two days later, Russia began launching airstrikes against opponents of the government.
“We are not going to cooperate with a Russian campaign to simply try to destroy anybody who is disgusted and fed up with Mr. Assad’s behavior,” the president said.
He also ridiculed Mr. Putin’s effort to build a coalition in the fight.
“Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin’s coalition at the moment,” the president said. “The rest of the world makes up ours. I don’t think people are fooled by the current strategy.”
Mr. Obama admitted that his $500 million plan to train and equip moderate Syrians to fight the Islamic State is thus far a failure.
He said the revised strategy involves working more with Kurdish fighters and other groups that have had success against the Islamic State.
The president said the lesson of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that American cannot afford a ground war in Syria.
“This is a hugely difficult, complex problem,” he said of Syria. “I would have hoped we had learned that problem from Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve still got 10,000 [troops] in Afghanistan. We’re still spending tens of billions of dollars supporting that government. I have to make a judgment based on, once we start something, we’ve got to finish it. And we’ve got to do it well.”
He added, “Unless we can get the parties on the ground to agree to live together in some fashion, then no amount of U.S. military engagement will solve the problem.”