The U.S. military is reportedly re-thinking its options for possible strikes on Syria, but President Obama is still not committing the country to direct action against Bashar al-Assad's regime. In a wide-ranging interview broadcast on CNN this morning — which covered everything from Egypt to his new dog — Obama continued to speak the language of caution and diplomacy, even as he stated that the "core national interests of the United States" are now on the line in the Middle East.
Obama said there is "grave concern" over the possibility that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people, but seemed to suggest that the U.S. will not be able to take action on its own — as much some people might wish they would. He said the U.S. remains an "indispensable nation," but also implied that having a united coalition would be a necessary step along the road to intervention. He specifically mentioned the still ongoing war in Afghanistan, suggesting that American are not eager to get involved in another conflict.
While President Obama remained non-committal to CNN, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are reporting that American military leaders are "refining" their options, and drawing up new lists of possible targets for airstrikes. That doesn't mean the White House will use them, of course, but the administration clearly wants to be seen weighing that possibility, in the hopes that the threat of attack might bolster the parallel diplomatic efforts being pursued by the State Department. The Times also claims there is a growing divided within the administration, between those who want to punish Assad's regime and those who are counseling against our involvement in a complex and messy civil war.
The President was also asked about Egypt and the possibility that the U.S. would withdraw more than $1 billion in aid to the ruling military leaders there. Once again, Obama refused to commit to a policy proposal, but suggested that taking away the money might not make any difference. He told Chris Cuomo that "aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does," but we also "have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and our ideals."
The president also added that major decisions on both Syria and Egypt have to now be made on "a more abbreviated time frame." You watch more clips from the CNN interview — including much lighter discussions about college tuition and Sunny the Dog — at CNN.com.