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Obama Still Wary Of U.S. Military Intervention In Syria


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. President Obama continued his back-to-school bus tour today, visiting college campuses in New York and Pennsylvania. Back here in Washington, D.C., administration officials wrestled with how the U.S. should respond to this week's alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. Obama says Wednesday's attack around Damascus, if verified, raises grave concern and could threaten core national interests of the United States.

At the same time, the president told CNN he's wary of any hasty military action that could entangle the U.S. in another messy war in the Middle East. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama has ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to gather more information to determine whether this week's attack did, in fact, involve chemical weapons, but the grim TV footage showing corpses with no obvious physical wounds and victims gasping for breath is strongly suggestive of nerve gas, a prospect that Obama described in a CNN interview as very troublesome.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What we've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern.

HORSLEY: Both the president and the leader of the United Nations have called on Syria to allow inspectors to investigate this week's attack. The president says if chemical weapons were used on a large scale, that would raise the stakes for U.S. intervention.

OBAMA: 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.

HORSLEY: Secretary of State Kerry has been in contact with U.S. allies about the attack, as well as the Syrian opposition. Representatives from the State Department and the Pentagon also met at the White House for more than three hours yesterday to discuss additional steps. White House spokesman Josh Earnest was guarded about any military options that might be on the table.

JOSH EARNEST: We have declined to described the kinds of options that are being prepared, other than to say that the Department of Defense is always prepared to provide the commander in chief with the kind of advice that he may need.

HORSLEY: The president has said he does not envision sending U.S. troops into Syria and administration officials say a no-fly zone is not under consideration either. Military planners have considered possible missile strikes. That would allow the U.S. to hit Syrian targets without putting American troops in range of the Syrian government's air defense system.

Republican Senator John McCain and others have been calling for a rapid military response but the president, in that CNN interview, cautioned it's easier to start such fights than to end them.

OBAMA: 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.

HORSLEY: Obama says after two long wars, the American people expect him to give careful consideration to the cost of any military action and its long-term strategic impacts. All the same, he says, the time frame for making a decision is shorter in the wake of this week's apparent chemical attack. Scott Horsley, NPR News, traveling with the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.