President Barack Obama, who began his Asian tour last week by declaring U.S. readiness to defend Japan in its conflict with China over islands in the East China Sea, ended it Monday by rebuking his foreign policy critics for being "so eager to use military force." At a joint press conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Manila, Obama cited the "disastrous decision to go into Iraq," and claimed his critics at home "haven't really learned the lesson of the last decade."
"Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force," Obama said. "And the question I think I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we've just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?" The president noted he has been criticized for not taking military action against Syria over charges that the Damascus regime had crossed what Obama had said was a "red line" forbidding the use of chemical weapons in the war against insurgents attempting to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad.
"Well, perhaps you should have taken a strike in Syria to get chemical weapons out of Syria," Obama said describing the action urged by some Senate Republicans and media commentators. "Well, it turns out we're getting chemical weapons out of Syria without having initiated a strike. So what else are you talking about? And at that point it kind of trails off." The United States last year joined Russian efforts to persuade Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons, and as of last week, Obama said, the Syrian president had reduced his inventory by 87 percent. "The fact that we didn't have to fire a missile to get that accomplished is not a failure to uphold those international norms, it's a success," the president said, adding, "It's not a complete success until we have the last 13 percent out."
Obama appears to be giving himself too much credit, however, for averting military action against Syria. The administration was poised for a military strike before opposition in Congress and in public opinion surveys showed the unpopularity of such a move, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's diplomatic initiative offered a way out. Concerning Russia, Obama said his administration has succeeded in efforts "to mobilize the international community" to join in applying both economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure with the goal of forcing Putin to remove Russian troops from Ukraine.
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