Obama: "Very easy to slip-slide" into deeper Syrian involvement

Not wanting to get involved in another war in the Middle East region should be "everyone's concern," President Obama told PBS host Charlie Rose in an interview recorded Sunday for air Monday night, four days after his administration announced it would provide military support to rebels in Syria fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

It would be "very easy to slip-slide your way into deeper and deeper commitments" there, Mr. Obama said, cautioning specifically against a no-fly zone advocated by some Republicans. "If it's not working immediately, then what ends up happening is six months from now people say, 'Well, you gave the heavy artillery; now what we really need is X, and now what we really need is Y.' Because until Assad is defeated, in this view, it's never going to be enough, right?"

On the flip side of the argument, the president continued, "there are folks who say, you know, 'We are so scarred from Iraq. We should have learned our lesson. We should not have anything to do with it.' Well, I reject that view as well. Because the fact of the matter is, is that we've got serious interests there, and not only humanitarian interests, we can't have the situation of ongoing chaos in a major country that borders a country like Jordan which in turn borders Israel. And we have a legitimate need to be engaged and to be involved."

In his announcement Thursday, Mr. Obama cited mounting evidence that Assad's government had used chemical weapons against the opposition to justify abandoning his administration's history of providing strictly nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid. The White House clarified Friday it would not send U.S. troops into the raging civil war, but Mr. Obama in the interview wouldn't provide details beyond that the United States is "ramping up support for both the political and military opposition."

"I'm not sure you can characterize this as a new policy - this is consistent with the policy that I've had throughout," the president told Rose. "Remember how this evolved: The President of Syria, Assad, was presented with peaceful protesters in the wake of the Arab Spring. He responded with violence and suppression. And that has continued to escalate.

"...The United States always has an interest in preventing that kind of bloodshed when possible," he went on.

Mr. Obama challenged criticisms from some GOP lawmakers that arming the rebels at this point is too little, too late: "The way these situations get resolved, is politically," he said. "And the people who are being suppressed inside of Syria who develop into a military opposition, these folks are carpenters and blacksmiths and dentists. ... I don't think that anybody would suggest that somehow that there was a readymade military opposition inside of Syria that could somehow quickly and cleanly defeated the Syrian army or Assad or overthrown it."

Some lawmakers on the Sunday show circuit this week voiced worries that the president's decision comes without a comprehensive plan for what the United States hopes to accomplish in Syria. Mr. Obama rejected that charge.

"The goals are a stable, non-sectarian, representative Syrian government that is addressing the needs of its people through political processes and peaceful processes," he said. "We're not taking sides in a religious war between Shi'a and Sunni. Really, what we're trying to do is take sides against extremists of all sorts and in favor of people who are in favor of moderation, tolerance, representative government - and, over the long-term, stability and prosperity for the people of Syria."

  • Lindsey Boerma On Twitter»

    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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