Obama on Syria: 'My Credibility Is Not on the Line'

Credit: Frank Augstein/AP Photo

STOCKHOLM - A defiant President Obama declared his credibility was not on the line when it came to Syria. Instead, he said, it was the credibility of Congress, and the international community, that was on the line.

"First of all, I didn't set a 'red line,' the world set a red line," Obama said at a joint press conference in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. "The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty."

Obama: "My credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line. And America's and Congress's credibility is on the line."

On the question of whether or not he would strike Syria even if Congress rejected the resolution authorizing military action, the president did not offer a direct answer, but he made it clear he retained the authority strike, regardless of what Congress did.

"I would not have taken this before Congress just as a symbolic gesture," Obama said. "I think it's very important that Congress say that we mean what we say. And I think we will be stronger as a country in our response if the president and Congress does it together."

But, he added: "As commander in chief, I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security. I do not believe that I was required to take this to Congress, but I did not take this to Congress just because it is an empty exercise."

Asked how he squares his status as Nobel Peace Prize winner with his decision to attack Syria, the president said it was the responsibility of the United States to take action, even if there were other things he would rather be doing.

"I would much rather spend my time talking about how to make sure every 3- and 4-year-old gets a good education than I would spending time thinking about how can I prevent 3- and 4-year-olds from being subjected to chemical weapons and nerve gas," he said.

But, he added, "as president of the United States, I can't avoid those questions because as - as much as we are criticized, when bad stuff happens around the world, the first question is what is the United States going to do about it? That's true on every - every issue. It's true in Libya. It's true in Rwanda. It's true in Sierra Leone. It's now true in Syria. That's part of the deal."

The president also expressed frustration with Russian President Vladimir Putin's support of the Syrian government, noting, "We can end deaths more rapidly if Russia takes a different approach to these problems."

"As far as security action - Security Council action, we have gone repeatedly to the Security Council for even the most modest of resolutions condemning some of the actions that have taken place there, and it has been resisted by Russia," Obama said.