Obama Concerned Assad Will Be Replaced with Extremists

March 22, 2013 - 4:35 PM

US Obama Mideast Jordan

President Barack Obama walks with Jordan's King Abdullah II (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama repeated his call for regime change in Syria, but stressed he does not want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad replaced by another despot.

“What I am confident about is ultimately what the people of Syria are looking for is not replacing oppression with a new form of oppression,” Obama said Friday during a joint press conference with Jordan King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan.

“What they’re looking for is replacing oppression with freedom and opportunity and democracy and the capacity to live together and build together, and that’s what we have to begin planning for now, understanding that it is going to be difficult,” he added.

“Something has been broken in Syria, and it is not going to be easy to put back together perfectly, immediately anytime soon even after Assad leaves,” Obama continued. “But we can begin the process of moving it in a better direction and having a cohesive political opposition is I think is critical to that.”

Earlier in the press conference, Obama said that the State Department has been working to form a credible opposition to take over upon the removal of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has spent months killing thousands of political opposition in the country’s civil war.

Obama said that if Assad used chemical weapons, it would be a game changer, but in response to a reporter’s question about heavier involvement, Obama said the United States is criticized when it intervenes militarily and is criticized when it doesn’t. He further said he wanted to work with the international community to diplomatically press Assad to step down.

The Syrian crisis began in March 2011, part of the Arab Spring, as a peaceful protest against Assad, but it turned into a civil war when opposition supporters took up arms to defend against the regime’s crackdown. More than 70,000 people have been killed since, according to the United Nations.

The U.N. Human Rights Council recently voted 41-1 to extend a probe into suspected human rights abuses in Syria to March 2014, six months longer than initially planned. The probe began in August 2011. The U.S. was among countries in favor. Venezuela cast the lone dissenting vote to the extended probe. Earlier this month, the investigative panel announced it was collecting information in 20 alleged massacres in Syria.

During the press conference in Jordan Friday, a reporter asked Obama, “How concerned are you at this point that extremists or jihadists could actually take over in Syria and perhaps be even worse than Assad?”

Obama responded, “I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremists, because extremists thrive in chaos. They thrive in failed states. They thrive in power vacuums. They don’t have much to offer when it comes to actually building things, but they’re very good about exploiting situations that are no longer functioning. They fill that gap.

“And that’s why I think it’s so important for us to work as an international community to accelerate a political transition that is viable so that a Syrian state continues to function, so that the basic institutions can be rebuilt, that they’re not destroyed beyond recognition, that we are avoiding what inevitably becomes sectarian divisions, because by definition if you’re an extremist, then you don’t have a lot of tolerance for people who don’t share your beliefs,” the president said.

“So, this is part of the reason why, for the American people, we’ve got to recognize we have a stake,” Obama added.

“The outcome in Syria is not going to be ideal even if we execute our assistance and our coordination and our planning and our support flawlessly, the situation in Syria now is going to be difficult,” Obama continued. “And that’s what happens when you have a leader who cares more about clinging to power than they do about holding their country together and looking after their people.

“It’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking, and the site of children and women being slaughtered that we’ve seen so much I think has to compel all of us to say what more can we do? And that’s a question I’m asking as president every single day, and that’s a question I know his majesty is asking in his capacity here in Jordan,” he said.

“What I am confident about is that ultimately what the people of Syria are looking for is not replacing oppression with a new form of oppression,” he concluded on that point. “What they’re looking for is replacing oppression with freedom and opportunity and democracy and the capacity to live together and build together.

“And that’s what we have to begin planning for now, understanding that it is going to be difficult. Something has been broken in Syria, and it’s not going to be easy to put back together perfectly immediately anytime soon even after Assad leaves, but we can begin the process of moving it in a better direction, and having a cohesive political opposition is I think is critical to that,” the president said.