AMMAN - Visiting Jordan today, President Obama warned that extremists could fill the political vacuum left when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is finally ousted from power, creating another big problem for the region.
"I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism because extremists thrive in chaos," the president said at a joint news conference with Jordan's King Abdullah II. "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." Obama said he was certain that Assad will go, saying "it's not a question of if, it's when," and urged the international community to work together to accelerate a viable political transition.
"We can't do it alone, and 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," he said.
"Something has been broken in Syria, and it's not going to be put back together perfectly immediately anytime soon, even after Assad leaves," he said.
After meeting behind closed doors with the king, Obama offered an additional $200 million in aid to help Jordan care for Syrian refugees. More than 400,000 Syrians have crossed the border into neighboring Jordan to escape the violence, a staggering number that is overwhelming refugee camps.
"This has added economic and financial costs due to the influx and has further strained the economy that is already under considerable external pressures with an unstable region, a sluggish global economy that is still recovering," Abdullah explained.
Obama became defensive when asked why the U.S. does not have a concrete plan to oust Assad. "I think that what your question may be suggesting is, why haven't we simply gone in militarily? And you know, I think it's fair to say that the United States often finds itself in a situation where if it goes in militarily, then it's criticized for going in militarily, and if it doesn't go in militarily, then people say, why aren't you doing something militarily?" he explained.
"We haven't just led with words, but we've also led with deeds," he said. "We have worked diligently, in cooperation with the international community, to help organize and mobilize a political opposition that is credible, because in the absence of a credible political opposition, it will be impossible for us to transition to a more peaceful and more representative and legitimate government structure inside of Syria."
Jordan is the president's final stop on his four-day visit to the Middle East, the first foreign trip of his second term.