Obama, Russia Address Syrian Chemical Weapons

By:  Warren Mass
Obama, Russia Address Syrian Chemical Weapons

In an interview with CNN’s New Day anchor Chris Cuomo broadcast on August 23, President Obama — when asked about allegations made by anti-government activists in Syria that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons in an attack said to have killed more than 1,300 people — said that officials are “right now gathering information” and that “what we’ve seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern.”

“It is very troublesome,” Obama commented.

The president did stop short of advocating intervention in Syria, however, and his language seemed more restrained than that used by former President Bush when advocating the invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein was also alleged to have used chemical weapons. (For example, during a radio address on February 8, 2003, Bush said: “We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.” And during an address to the nation on March 17, 2003, Bush said: “We cannot live under the threat of blackmail. The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.”)

Obama said during the interview that the ability of the United States to solve “a sectarian, complex problem was sometimes overstated,” in reference to calls by France and the anti-Assad Syrian opponents for international intervention.

“We have to think through strategically what’s going to be in our long-term national interests,” said the president, calling attention to the casualties from the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan who are still hospitalized.

“Every time I go to Walter Reed [Hospital] and visit wounded troops, and every time I sign a letter for a casualty of that war, I’m reminded that there are costs and we have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted.”

President Obama’s Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest posted a statement on the White House website on August 21 that condemned chemical weapons but carefully avoid making unproven charges against the Assad regime. The statement read, in part:

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Photo of President Barack Obama: AP Images

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