Why Libya and Not Syria, And Drones Killing Innocents - Today's Qs for O's WH - 5/29/12

TAPPER: One of the ways that you and others in the administration have distinguished what's going on in Syria and why the U.S. is not getting directly involved, from what is happening in Libya, is because of the international coalition; in other words, the fact that Russia and China are - you know, are not supportive of action or even willing to abstain from voting in the Security Council; and also, the Arab League and how they were united for action against Libya - or the Libyan regime are not so now.

How much of an effort is the president and administration officials making with Russia, China, the members of the Arab League? And why (are/aren't ?) they reluctant to see this as anything other than a great humanitarian crisis?

CARNEY: Well, I think there's a significant amount of analysis you could do on why Syria is different from Libya, why different countries are viewing this differently because of historic relationships, because of the ethnic makeups of different countries. I'll - you know, I think there are experts in the field who can - who can explain that better than I can. What I would simply say is that what you put forward in your question is part of the reason why these situations are different. There was unity within the region. There was unity at the level of the United Nations Security Council. We are absolutely and have been in consultations with the members of the Security Council, including the Russians and the Chinese, about this matter. We've been pretty clear about that.

We were very clear about our disappointment of the - over the veto of the initial Security Council resolution. And I think that the actions that Assad has taken since then make clear that - what his intentions are, what his - what the likelihood is that he will abide by the Annan plan. And that's a point that we are making publicly with privately with our allies and others around the world.

TAPPER: And there was a New York Times story today by Jo Becker and Scott Shane about the way that President Obama conducts some of the counterterrorism operations. One of the things that I think was most interesting was the fact that one of the ways - one of the ways that the administration has been able to assert that there have been so few civilian casualties in any of these drone attacks is because the presumption is that if you are in these locations, you are guilty of terrorism and the - there's almost a "guilty until proven innocent" quality.

I'm wondering how on earth the administration can square that with the president's past language on human rights and avoiding civilian casualties?

CARNEY: I think your description of the policies is not quite exact. I would refer you to John Brennan's speech not long ago on these matters in which he was very explicit and transparent about methods that are used in our counterterrorism operations and the care that is taken to avoid civilian casualties. We have at our disposal tools that make avoidance of civilian casualties much easier and tools that make precision targeting possible in ways that have never existed in the past. And I think that this administration's commitment, this president's commitment to, A, go after those who would do harm to the United States and do harm to our allies, is clear.

This president's first and primary - this president's first priority is the protection of the United States, protection of the citizens of this country, and he takes that responsibility enormously seriously and that is why he has pursued the fight against al-Qaida in the very direct way that he has. He also believes very strongly in the need to avoid civilian casualties in the pursuit of that objective, in the pursuit of al-Qaida and goes to extraordinary measures in order to achieve that and, again, has at his disposal - this administration does - tools that allow for the kind of precision that in the past was not available.

TAPPER: I mean, it's pretty to think so, but I just don't know -

CARNEY: It's a fact, Jake.

TAPPER: It's fact that he has tools to avoid civilian casualties.

CARNEY: Mmm hmm.

TAPPER: So are you disputing The New York Times story or the Dan Klaidman excerpt in The Daily Beast today that there have been civilian casualties?

CARNEY: I'm not - I don't have the assessments of civilian casualties. I'm certainly not saying that we live in a world where the effort in a fight against al-Qaida, against people who would, without compunction, murder tens of thousands if not millions of innocents -

TAPPER: I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the innocent people that the United States kills.

CARNEY: No, no, no. No, but let me - that we don't live in a world where it is possible to achieve, you know, no civilian casualties. What I'm saying is that we are able to - this administration is able to, this - our military and our broader national security team is able to pursue al-Qaida in a way that significantly reduces the potential for and the fact of civilian casualties.

TAPPER: Right, with the assumption - I mean, this is the question - with the assumption that if you are with a terrorist when a terrorist gets killed, the presumption is that you are a terrorist as well and - even if we don't even know who you are, right? Isn't that part of the reason you're able to make these assertions?

CARNEY: I don't have - I am not going to get into the specifics of the process by which, you know, these decisions are made. What you know is that there are - the care taken here is significant, and the tools that are at our disposal are unique and effective in terms of limiting civilian casualties. But beyond that, I can't really go into great detail.

-Jake Tapper