The bloody civil war that’s raged in Syria for the past four years is unlikely to be resolved by the time he leaves office in January 2017, President Barack Obama said on Friday.
“I’ll be honest, probably not,” Obama said during an interview with Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based broadcaster.
Obama called the situation in Syria “heartbreaking, but it’s extremely complex.”
“I am haunted by the hardships, and the deaths. It’s something I take very seriously,” he said.
Raging since 2011, the civil war is Syria has devolved from a conflict between rebels and the authoritarian regime of Bashar al Assad into a violent, multifaceted war that includes extremist elements like ISIS and the al Qaeda offshoot al-Nusra Front.
In 2013, responding to Assad’s use of toxic bombs on civilians, Obama threatened airstrikes on the country, only to step back when Assad agreed to forfeit his stockpiles of chemical weapons to international control.
Since then, the situation in Syria hasn’t improved. Just this week, international inspectors discovered evidence of sarin and a second nerve agent at a military site in Syria.
Asked by interviewer Nadia Bilbassy on Friday whether Syria could become the equivalent of Rwanda – where Hutu extremists, unabated by western intervention, slaughtered almost 1 million people in 1994 – Obama defended his decision to forgo airstrikes.
Criticism of his response to the Syrian crisis “presumes some sort of swift U.S. intervention would have prevented these problems,” Obama said.