Obama warns of cost of US action in Syria

In this July 15, 2013, photo President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony to present the 5,000th daily Point of Light Award to Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton


President Barack Obama warned the United States must be wary of costly and difficult foreign interventions as calls mount for military action against Syria over alleged chemical warfare.

In an interview with CNN broadcast Friday, Obama said claims of a new chemical weapons attack by government forces on Syrian civilians were of “grave concern.”

He also pointed out obstacles to US military action, a year after warning that the use of chemical arms in the vicious Syrian conflict would cross a US “red line.”

He said Syrian opposition allegations that hundreds of people had been killed in a gas attack near Damascus this week were more serious than previous charges against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Obama said that US authorities were gathering information about the attack, which produced horrifying footage of dead children and victims gasping for air.

“What we’ve seen indicates clearly this is a big event, of grave concern,” Obama said.

The president introduced a note of skepticism, however, to calls from critics like Republican Senator John McCain for US military strikes.

“I am sympathetic to Senator McCain’s passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heart-breaking situation,” he said.

But Obama said Americans expect him to protect their long-term national security interests.

“Sometimes what we’ve seen is folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations,” Obama said.

View gallery.”Image from the Syrian opposition’s Shaam News Network …
Image from the Syrian opposition’s Shaam News Network shows a couple mourning ahead of funerals foll …
He warned that America could get “drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region,” he said.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters aboard his plane en route to Malaysia, that commanders have prepared a range of “options” for Obama.

But he declined to provide any details on the positioning of US troops and assets.

“The president has asked the Defense Department for options. Like always, the Defense Department is prepared and has been prepared to provide all options for all contingencies to the president of the United States,” Hagel said.

The president also said that there were questions whether the United States would infringe international law if it attacked another country without a United Nations Security Council mandate.

And, after ending the Iraq war and as he brings troops home from Afghanistan, Obama noted the cost in US lives and financial resources of foreign military action.

“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,” Obama said.

A senior US official told AFP that Obama’s foreign policy team was considering a range of options to respond to the attack if it is proven to be the work of Syrian forces.

But the official said there were no discussions about setting up a no-fly zone over Syria or on deploying ground forces.

That comment appeared to theoretically leave open the possibility of cruise missile strikes against Syrian military targets or munitions and artillery installations, or attacks from US planes launched from outside Syria.

View gallery.”Demonstrators calling for help from US President Obama …
Demonstrators calling for help from US President Obama for Syria, protest in front of the White Hous …
Senior national security officials spent three-and-a-half hours at the White House on Thursday to discuss options for Obama.

Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile has been calling US allies and key players in the crisis to discuss next steps.

A senior State Department official Friday added British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Kerry’s long list of calls.

Russia on Friday questioned Western claims the Syrian regime had carried out a chemical attack and said talk of a military response was unacceptable.

Bernadette Meehan, a US National Security Council spokeswoman, meanwhile said Obama would wait until the facts of the attack were clear before acting.

“We are going to act very deliberately so that we’re making decisions consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives in Syria,” she said.

It was noticeable that Obama observed that the latest attack was on a much wider scale than a previous one in Syria which the United States deemed to have been the result of chemical weapons.

On that occasion, Obama decided for the first time to send direct military aid to vetted Syrian rebels, though has declined to specify exactly what Washington is doing.

His words could be read as preparing the ground for some kind of US action, though likely it would fall short of the operations his hawkish critics would like to see.

Obama has ordered US intelligence agencies to conduct an investigation, and Washington has called for a UN team in Syria already probing previous claims of chemical weapons use to investigate the latest episode.

Syria has vigorously denied its forces were guilty of a chemical attack on the rebel-held area.