WASHINGTON — President Obama is still weighing his options on Syria, but he told PBS NewsHour Wednesday that he's confident a limited set of military strikes would prevent future use of chemical weapons in the country and could possibly be an important step toward preventing Syrian chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists who might use them against America.
"When you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they're allied to known terrorist organizations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us," Obama said. "And we want to make sure that that does not happen."
Obama told PBS he's made "no decision" on Syria, but promised that if military action is taken it won't be "a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about."
Instead, the president said limited strikes would essentially convince Syrian leaders not to use chemical weapons anymore.
"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, and may have a positive impact on our national security over the long term and may have a positive impact in the sense that chemical weapons are not used again on innocent civilians," Obama said.
Obama said American strikes likely won't stop the civilian deaths in Syria, or the civil war raging in the country. But he said they might stop any further use of chemical weapons in the conflict.
"If in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, the the Assad regime which is involved in a civil war and is trying to protect itself will have received a pretty strong signal that in fact it better not do it again," Obama said. "That doesn't solve all the problems inside of Syria and it doesn't obviously end the deaths of innocent civilians inside of Syria, and we hope that ultimately a political transition can take place inside of Syria and we're prepared to work with anybody, the Russians and others, to try to bring the parties together to solve the conflict."
The president said U.S. strikes could be the smack on the hand that keeps chemical weapons off the battlefield, and that could protect allies.
"We've got allies bordering Syria. Turkey is a NATO ally, Jordan a close friend that we work with a lot. Israel is very close by. We've got bases throughout 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. "So what I've said is that we have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place."