In a recent interview with the New Yorker, President Obama staunchly defended his policy of avoiding deeper U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war and went on to say that the a “profound” schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslim populations in the Middle East makes approaching the region’s many conflicts much more complicated.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have died. President Obama told the New Yorker that during that time he asked the CIA to come up with examples in U.S. history in which American arms were given to insurgencies and it worked out well. “[T]hey couldn’t come up with much,” Mr. Obama said.
While Mr. Obama admits that he is “haunted” by the level of death and destruction brought about by the fight to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime from power, he has no second guesses regarding his decision to minimize American involvement.
“I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern war,” the president said. “It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.”
The president went on to say that, at this point in time, the best option for the U.S. seems to be working with “state actors who have invested so much in keeping Assad in power — mainly the Iranians and the Russians — as well as working with those who have been financing the opposition to make sure that they’re not creating the kind of extremist force that we saw emerge out of Afghanistan when we were financing the mujahideen.”
In terms of the region’s sectarian divides, Mr. Obama went on to say that Americans need to understand that much of the violence, often perpetrated by “warlords and thugs and criminals,” is not a “a direct threat to [the U.S.] or something that we have to wade into.”
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