Obama: ‘Not Doing Nothing’ in Syria

Photograph by Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA via AP Images

FSA fighters clear a room in a newly conquered building along the front line of Sheikh Saeed a highly contested area of Aleppo, Syria, on March 18, 2013.

President Barack Obama is remembering Iraq.

And the world, he says, will remember what the U.S. did about Osama bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi.

All of this has to do with the “red line” — the use of chemical weapons in Syria which Obama has said the U.S. will not tolerate. And what the world is to make of the time Obama is taking assessing evidence that Syria has crossed it.

At a joint White House news conference with President Park Geun-Hye of Korea today, Obama was asked at what point the costs of doing something are outweighed by the costs of doing nothing.

“I think there’d be severe costs in doing nothing,” Obama replied. “`That’s why we’re not doing nothing.”

The U.S. is providing nonlethal aid to the opposition.

“If what you’re asking is, are there continuing reevaluations about what we do, what actions we take in conjunction with other international partners to optimize the day when, or to hasten the day when we can see a better situation in Syria, we’ve been doing that all along and we’ll continue to do that,” he said.  “Understandably, there’s a desire for easy answers.”

Intercepting a question posed to his Korean counterpart — asked if the U.S. failing to act on perceived violations of the red line in Syria “could embolden” U.S. enemies elsewhere, such as North Korea — Obama said:

“The operative word there, I guess, is… perceived. And what I’ve said is we have evidence that there has been the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but 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 well. ”

That would be Iraq, where the U.S. went to war over weapons of mass destruction never found.

Yet the world should take notice of what his administration has done when he has declared that a leader must go, as he did in Libya, and as he has done in Syria, and what he did after a decade-long search for Osama bin Laden.

“In the end, whether it’s bin Laden or Qaddafi,” Obama said, “if we say we’re taking a position, I think at this point the international community has a pretty good idea that we act on our commitments.”

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