Obama plans response to Egypt and Syria

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Syrian civil war map
This map of Syria shows the territories controlled by pro-Assad forces (red) and anti-Assad forces (green), as of April 28.

While US representatives like Republic Senator John McCain believe that America’s credibility (trustworthiness) has been damaged by the slow response to Egypt and Syria, Democratic President Barack Obama disagrees. During an exclusive Friday interview on CNN’s “New Day” with anchor Chris Cuomo, Obama said, “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.” However, he explains his caution as a result of thinking “strategically what’s going to be in our long term national interests.”

The main troubles occurring in the Middle East revolve around the increasingly hostile crackdown by the Egyptian military on its citizens and suspicions that the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons against its people.

The Egyptian military, which removed the former president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood from power, has not been very responsive to Obama’s desire for diplomacy. He explained, “There was a space right after Mr. Morsi 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,” and then added that “they did not take that opportunity.” Since Egypt has historically been a very important ally to the US in the region, the White House is cautious in its approach to the temporary military government. Obama expressed, “…I think what most Americans would say is that we have to be very careful about being seen as aiding… actions that we think run contrary to our values and our ideals.”

Bashar al-Assad
The president of the Syrian Arab Republic, Bashar al-Assad.

Because we give Egypt over $1.2 billion in US aid to the military-backed government, members of Congress are saying we should cut off financial support.  The Pentagon, our main military headquarters, has already canceled upcoming military exercises with Egypt and is delaying fighter jet deliveries. For now, the president says his administration is “doing a full evaluation of the US-Egyptian relationships” and that there is no doubt “we can’t return to business as usual, given what’s happened.”

As for Syria, Obama wishes to work closely with the United Nations (UN) before taking action, especially with pressuring the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the supposed chemical attack outside the capital city of Damascus. Back in 2012, on August 20, Obama had announced a “red line” for Syrian intervention, if they used chemical weapons.

Syria on the globe
Syria’s location on the globe.

He had expressed, “We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.  That would change my calculations significantly.”

While the US did provide more military aid to Syrian rebels in response to confirmed chemical usage in April, that action has not eased the minds of critics. Now, with the more recent accusations of chemical warfare in the suburbs of Damascus, Obama must take more decisive action. However, he still doesn’t want to just charge in there, guns blazing. “If the US goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it,” Obama told Cuomo.