THE NEW CNN morning show “New Day” got the interview, with Chris Cuomo sitting down with President Obama. The exchange on Syria and Egypt is well worth reading, as is the entire exchange, video at the link.
Coming after Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, President Obama is under siege on national security, with unforced errors making his support weaker than it’s been in his presidency. We had a long discussion about Syria, as well as Egypt, here yesterday.
Mr. Obama referring to people expecting “immediate action, jumping into stuff” is not what anyone on either Syria or Egypt are suggesting. Stating this in his interview with Chris Cuomo is disingenuous and a very lazy response, because Obama is not equipped for rash decisions, something no one can accuse him of ever doing. People criticizing Obama on Syria haven’t asked for the Administration to solve sectarianism either, which is an absurd suggestion.
Every indication is that Bashar al Assad has committed genocide. That’s a different subject than the one Obama is arguing. Whether he or the American people like it or not, whether it’s inconvenient or not, genocide is something the world community cannot ignore without losing our humanity. It’s very complex how to attack this problem, but why we need to do it is that simple.
Perhaps it’s time Mr. Obama have a chat with Mr. Clinton to see how he feels about staying on the sidelines during Rwanda’s genocide. His national security advisor Susan Rice can back President Clinton up on that one. Does it really have to be about the number of bodies? Obama has already proved through his Libya action that it does not.
Obama’s lack of engagement in Syria does prove one thing about his foreign policy chops, with his decision on Libya as backdrop. It seems the President is only interested in doing what’s easy, though even Libya, as I wrote would happen, blew back on the Administration, because the full plan was always flawed.
As for Obama’s response on Egypt, it’s one thing to say “we can’t return to business as usual,” then continue business as usual with military aid. Steve Clemons recently called what’s happening in Egypt was like Tiananmen, which escalates what the response should be from the Administration.
Sadly, on both Syria and Egypt the Obama administration has failed so far, but President Obama still has an opportunity this fall to change what has not shown him to be a decisive leader at a time the world needs the U.S. desperately.
So it was not only odd but sounded discordant when President Obama invoked America as the “indispensable nation.” Under his leadership during a time of crisis that goes back to the Green Revolution in Iran, continuing into this latest development in Egypt, as well as his inability to analyze and gather allies to act swiftly in the face of Bashar al Assad’s genocide, all of these foreign policy lapses prove instead the premise of Vali Nasr’s book, The Dispensible Nation, with America standing paralyzed as the world looks on amid escalating crises that demand strong signals sent.
The transcript is below of “New Day” anchor Chris Cuomo talking to President Obama on Syria and Egypt. It was a substantive interview, with Obama helping put Chris Cuomo and CNN’s “New Day” on the morning show map. CNN’s “New Day” and Chris Cuomo specifically have so far shown to be a tonic in the bombastic egotism that is cable morning show fare, with Kate Bolduan his co-host.
CUOMO: Families certainly need the help. That’s for sure. Let me ask you about some of the emerging situations, most recently, Syria. You’ve seen the images; you know the situation very well. Do you believe at this point you need to investigate in order to say what seems obvious, which is, we need to do more to stop the violence in Syria, that the U.S. needs to do more?
OBAMA: Well, we are right now gathering information about this particular event, but I can say that unlike some of the evidence that we were trying to get earlier that led to a U.N. investigator going into Syria, what we’ve seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern. And, you know, we are already in communications with the entire international community. We’re moving through the U.N. to try to prompt better action from them. And we’ve called on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site, because U.N. inspectors are on the ground right now.
We don’t expect cooperation, given their past history, and, you know, what I do believe is that — although the situation in Syria is very difficult and the notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian, complex problem inside of Syria sometimes is overstated…
CUOMO: But delay can be deadly, right, Mr. President?
OBAMA: … there is — there is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale — and, again, we’re still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome…
CUOMO: There’s strong proof they used them already, though, in the past.
OBAMA: … then that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.
So, you know, I think it is fair to say that, as difficult as the problem is, this is something that is going to require America’s attention and hopefully the entire international community’s attention.
CUOMO: Senator McCain came on “New Day” very strong on this. He believes that the U.S.’s credibility in the region has been hurt, that a situation like Syria — that he believes there’s been delay, and it has led to a boldness by the regime there, that in Egypt, that what many believe was a coup wasn’t called a coup that led to the problems that we’re seeing there now, do you think that’s fair criticism?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I am sympathetic to Senator McCain’s passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heartbreaking situation, both in Syria and in Egypt, and these two countries are in different situations.
But what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of, what is in our long-term national interests? And, you know, I — you know, sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff, that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.
So, you know, we remain the one indispensable nation. There’s a reason why, when you listen to what’s happened around Egypt and Syria, that everybody asks what the U.S. is doing. It’s because the United States continues to be the one country that people expect can do more than just simply protect their borders.
But that does not mean that we have to get involved with everything immediately. We have to think through strategically what’s going to be in our long-term national interests, even as we work cooperatively internationally to do everything we can to put pressure on those who would kill innocent civilians.
CUOMO: The red line comment that you made was about a year ago this week.
CUOMO: We know since then there have been things that should qualify for crossing that red line.
OBAMA: Well, Chris, I’ve got to — I’ve got to say this. The — when we take action — let’s just take the example of Syria. There are rules of international law.
OBAMA: And, you know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.
CUOMO: You don’t believe we’ve seen enough?
OBAMA: Now, this — well, this latest event is something that we’ve got to take a look at. But keep in mind, also, Chris — because I know the American people keep this in mind — we’ve still got a war going on in Afghanistan.
CUOMO: True. True.
OBAMA: You know, we’re still spending tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan. I will be ending that war by the end of 2014, but every time I go to Walter Reed 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 — somebody who’s lost credibility — and to try to restore a sense of a democratic process and stability inside of Egypt.
CUOMO: It doesn’t have to be military, of course. I take your point, Mr. President. When you look at Egypt, it’s an example of that.
CUOMO: Senator McConnell is saying, hey, I think it’s time to vote on the aid…
CUOMO: … and whether or not you give it. That’s a non-military measure that could make a difference in a situation where now we see Mubarak is now in a hospital.
OBAMA: Right. Well…
CUOMO: Whatever that means.
OBAMA: You know, my sense is with — with Egypt is that the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does. But I think what most Americans would say is that we have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and our ideals.
So what we’re doing right now is doing a full evaluation of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship. We care deeply about the Egyptian people. This is a partnership that’s been very important to us, in part because of the peace treaty with Israel and the work that’s been done to deal with the Sinai.
But there’s no — there’s no doubt that we can’t return to business as usual, given what’s happened. There was a space right after Mr. Morsy was removed in which we did a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of diplomatic work to try to encourage the military to move in a path of reconciliation. They did not take that opportunity.
It was worth it for us to try that, despite folks who wanted more immediate black-and-white action or statements, because ultimately what we want is a good outcome there. But there’s no doubt that, at this point, we’ve got to take a look and see, what’s in the long-term interests of the Egyptian people? What’s in the long-term interests of the United States.
CUOMO: Is it safe to say that we have a shorter time frame now, in terms of what the U.S. can use as a period of decision…
CUOMO: … in Syria and Egypt?
CUOMO: It’s a more abbreviated timeframe now?