Barack Obama photo

Interview with Savannah Guthrie of NBC's "Nightly News"

September 09, 2013

GUTHRIE: Are you skeptical? Does it seem like a stalling tactic?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think a famous American president once said trust, but verify. You have to take it with a grain of salt initially. But between the statements that we saw from the Russians, the statement today from the Syrians, this represents a potentially positive development. And my preference consistently has been a diplomatic resolution to this problem.

GUTHRIE: Would you act without Congress? The answer could be yes, no, or I haven't decided.

THE PRESIDENT: I think it's fair to say that I haven't decided. I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously, because if you ask somebody -- you know, I read polls like everybody else. And if you ask somebody, if you ask Michelle, do we want to be involved in another war, the answer is no.

And so I recognize how important that debate is. And it's my belief that for me, the president, to act without consensus in a situation where there's not a direct imminent threat to the homeland or our interests around the world, that that's not the kind of precedent that I want to set.

We're going to spend this week talking to members of Congress, answering their questions. And I'm going to speak to the American people tomorrow night directly. And I'll evaluate after that whether or not we feel strongly enough about this that we're willing to move forward.

GUTHRIE: Are you confident you're going to get the votes?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I wouldn't say I'm confident. I'm confident that the members of Congress are taking this issue very seriously and they're doing their homework. And I appreciate that.

GUTHRIE: You've said that these strikes, if they take place, will be limited. My question to you is, how could you possibly know that? If we strike and Assad retaliates or Iran does or Hezbollah, they strike U.S. interests or even strike U.S. citizens at home, what then? You may want limited action, but can you really promise it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, nothing is a hundred percent guaranteed in life. But I think it's fair to say that our military is outstanding. Our intelligence is outstanding. And we have shown ourselves capable of taking precision strikes on military installations in ways that would degrade Assad's capabilities to deliver chemical weapons but that would not lead to escalation.

GUTHRIE: Assad today, when asked if he would retaliate, had a message. He said expect everything. And members of Congress are saying we're skeptical because we don't think the administration has a strategy for day two, day three, day four.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, and I have to say that that's just not the case. First of all, Syria doesn't have significant capabilities to retaliate against us. Iran does. But Iran is not going to risk a war with the United States over this, particularly given that our goal here is to make sure that chemical weapons are not used on children. And so it is very unlikely that we would see the kinds of retaliation that would have a significant impact on U.S. interests in the region.

GUTHRIE: Today Secretary of State Kerry said the strikes would be unbelievably small. What does that mean? I mean, are we talking a pin prick --


GUTHRIE: -- a knockout blow, a punch in the gut?

THE PRESIDENT: The U.S. does not do pin pricks. Our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria that does not have a tremendous military capability. They have a tremendous military capability relative to civilians. They have a significant military capability relative to children who are being gassed. But they don't have a military that matches up with ours in any kind of way.

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Barack Obama, Interview with Savannah Guthrie of NBC's "Nightly News" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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