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On Syria, Obama Warns Against 'Costly Interventions' On Syria, Obama Warns Against 'Costly Interventions'

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White House

On Syria, Obama Warns Against 'Costly Interventions'

The president took on Syria, Egypt, Congress, puppies, and more.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

photo of Matt  Berman
August 23, 2013

If your idea of a fun time, or if your employer's idea of a fun time, is being awake at 6 a.m. to watch cable news, you actually got something interesting this morning. On CNN's New Day, President Obama sat down for a lengthy, pre-recorded interview with Chris Cuomo. And, in covering a wide stretch of ground, Obama touched on some particularly interesting issues. 

First, on Syria: Cuomo asked Obama about what he made of the most recent reports of chemical attacks, and if he feels the U.S. needs to do more. The president said the reports indicate "that this is clearly a big event of grave concern," and that the U.S. is "moving through the U.N. to try to prompt better action" and that "this is something that is going to require America's attention and hopefully the entire international community's attention." 

At the same time, Obama pushed back a bit on the idea that there is much that the U.S. can do, saying that the situation there is "very difficult and the notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian, complex problem inside of Syria sometimes is overstated."

 

Obama also expressed reluctance about getting too involved in Syria, citing the billions of dollars spent on the war in Afghanistan, and the many casualties that war has brought. But he did, again, say that the U.S. will "work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted."

On Egypt and Syria, Cuomo asked Obama to address his critics—particularly Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.—who think that America's credibility has been hurt. That brought this response from the president: "I am sympathetic to Senator McCain's passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily heartbreaking situation." The "I'm sympathetic to your passion" line is the new "good job, good effort, please go away."

In his response, Obama also said he worries that "jumping into stuff" can get the U.S. "mired in very difficult situations," and that "costly interventions" can "breed more resentment in the region." 

But it's not just big interventions that bring resentment. One of the biggest criticisms of the U.S. drone-strike program is that it can help breed more anti-U.S. sentiment in places like Yemen and Pakistan. Retired Gen. Stan McChrystal, who helped lead U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, told Reuters in January that "the resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates."

Obama backed up recent statements from the White House on Egypt, saying that his administration is "doing a full evaluation of the U.S.-Egypt relationship," including possibly military aid, although Obama added that "the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does." But on both Syria and Egypt, Obama said that the U.S. has a shorter time frame now to act.

On the NSA surveillance programs, Obama addressed last week's report that the NSA overstepped its boundaries and intercepted the e-mails of thousands of Americans in recent years. What Obama took from that is that, "all these safeguards, checks, audits, oversight worked." But he said that his administration is still looking to "improve the safeguards," and that the administration is releasing documents and has set up "an entire website" for the sake of transparency. An entire website! That should be the end of that.

On the domestic front, Obama addressed congressional gridlock. He went back to basics:

OBAMA: There is a very simple way of doing this, which is the Senate passed a budget and the House passed a budget. And, you know, maybe you're not old enough to remember "Schoolhouse Rock," but...

 

CUOMO: Oh, I remember it.

 

OBAMA: ... You remember—you remember how the bill gets passed? You know, the—you know, the House and the Senate try to work out their differences. They pass something. They send it to me, and potentially I sign it.

He also, again, called a government shutdown "bad for the economy," and said that "Republicans, after having taken 40 votes to try to get rid of Obamacare, see this as their last gasp."

Oh, and in the truly important news: The president addressed the dog situation. "Bo was getting lonely because the two other puppies are grown up." And how's the new dog, Sunny, working out so far? "Right now Michelle is in full parenting mode and really focused on getting Sunny to sit and catch. And, also there have been a couple accidents."

You can watch the interview below and read the full interview transcript from CNN here.

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