President Obama and Secretary Clinton on Syria: U.S. Needs to Be Careful

CBS, File/AP Photo

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in their wide-ranging joint interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," defended what some critics have called the administration's unwillingness to engage in the world, particularly on Syria, which Clinton called a "wicked problem."

Obama pointed to the U.S. role in deposing of Libyan leader Moamer Gadhafi and supporting Egypt's elections following the Arab spring, as success stories. But the president said Syria is a more complicated issue.

"We do nobody a service when we leap before we look, where we take on things without having thought out the consequences of it," the president said, calling Syria a classic example of how the United States should be clear about its objectives whenever taking any action.

"We want to make sure not only that it enhances U.S. security, but also it's doing right by the people of Syria and neighbors like Israel that are going to be profoundly affected by it," he said.

Clinton, who has spent the last year doing intense diplomacy on Syria, including attending global meetings with allies, as well as meeting her Russian counterpart to try to find a solution to the conflict, backed up the president's sentiments.

"I'm older than the president," she joked, then turned serious. "I remember some of the speeches of Eisenhower as a young girl. You know you've got to be careful, you have to be thoughtful, you can't rush in, especially now where it's more complex now than it's been in decades."

Clinton called Syria a "wicked problem" that highlights the delicate balancing act of how to make sure U.S. foreign policy upholds American values and freedom in situations where the solution has the potential to be worse than the problem.

The conflict in Syria has raged on for nearly two years, with estimates of more than 60,000 people dead. As President Bashir Al-Assad continues to wage a brutal campaign against civilians, there are increasing concerns that elements of Syria's opposition have become radicalized, including some having ties to al Qaeda.

Clinton said the president's policy on Syria has been appropriately measured.

"I'm certainly grateful for the president's steady hand and hard questions and thoughtful analysis as to what we should and shouldn't do," he said.