President Barack Obama promised Wednesday that any U.S. military strike at Syria would be a “shot across the bow” that avoids seeing America pulled into “any kind of open-ended conflict.”
Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with PBS Newshour, Obama insisted he has not made a decision on how best to respond to the alleged massacre of civilians by forces loyal to Syrian strongman Bashar Assad using chemical weapons.
But “if, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict — not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about — but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term,” the president said.
That would send the Assad regime “a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again."
Obama, making his first public remarks on the crisis since a CNN interview that aired Friday, rejected claims that rebels fighting to topple Assad were behind the Aug. 21 attack.
“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences,” he said.
“I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable,” he said.
Obama said the use of chemical weapons threatens “not only international norms but also America’s core self-interest,” pointing to allies such as Turkey, Jordan and Israel that neighbor Syria and noting the presence of U.S. military bases in the region.
“We cannot see a breach of the nonproliferation norm that allows, potentially, chemical weapons to fall into the hands of all kinds of folks,” he said, warning that Syria's civil war could ultimately "erode" Assad's grip on his chemical weapons.
Obama's comments came as Republican House Speaker John Boehner placed new pressure on the president to explain "personally" how military action would serve U.S. goals and why such action would be legal without explicit authorization from Congress.
Separately, the administration planned to give the chairmen and ranking members of key congressional committees as well as the top leaders from each party in each chamber a classified briefing Thursday on the case against Assad, two officials said.