The war in Syria has now spilled over into Lebanon. We have, what, more than 100 people that were killed there in a bomb. There were demonstrations there, eight people dead.
Mr. President, it's been more than a year since you saw — you told Assad he had to go. Since then, 30,000 Syrians have died. We've had 300,000 refugees.
The war goes on. He's still there. Should we reassess our policy and see if we can find a better way to influence events there? Or is that even possible?
And you go first, sir.
OBAMA: What we've done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go. We've mobilized sanctions against that government. We have made sure that they are isolated. We have provided humanitarian assistance and we are helping the opposition organize, and we're particularly interested in making sure that we're mobilizing the moderate forces inside of Syria.
But ultimately, Syrians are going to have to determine their own future. And so everything we're doing, we're doing in consultation with our partners in the region, including Israel which obviously has a huge interest in seeing what happens in Syria; coordinating with Turkey and other countries in the region that have a great interest in this.
This — what we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and that's why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition. But we also have to recognize that, you know, for us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step, and we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping; that we're not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region.
And I am confident that Assad's days are numbered. But what we can't do is to simply suggest that, as Governor Romney at times has suggested, that giving heavy weapons, for example, to the Syrian opposition is a simple proposition that would lead us to be safer over the long term.
ROMNEY: Well, let's step back and talk about what's happening in Syria and how important it is. First of all, 30,000 people being killed by their government is a humanitarian disaster. Secondly, Syria is an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now.
ROMNEY: Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea. It's the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a — a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us. And finally, we don't want to have military involvement there. We don't want to get drawn into a military conflict.
And so the right course for us, is working through our partners and with our own resources, to identify responsible parties within Syria, organize them, bring them together in a — in a form of — if not government, a form of — of — of council that can take the lead in Syria. And then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves. We do need to make sure that they don't have arms that get into the — the wrong hands. Those arms could be used to hurt us down the road. We need to make sure as well that we coordinate this effort with our allies, and particularly with — with Israel.
But the Saudi's and the Qatari, and — and the Turks are all very concerned about this. They're willing to work with us. We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria, making sure that the — the insurgent there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed, are people who will be the responsible parties. Recognize — I believe that Assad must go. I believe he will go. But I believe — we want to make sure that we have the relationships of friendship with the people that take his place, steps that in the years to come we see Syria as a — as a friend, and Syria as a responsible party in the Middle East.
This — this is a critical opportunity for America. And what I'm afraid of is we've watched over the past year or so, first the president saying, well we'll let the U.N. deal with it. And Assad — excuse me, Kofi Annan came in and said we're going to try to have a ceasefire. That didn't work. Then it went to the Russians and said, let's see if you can do something. We should be playing the leadership role there, not on the ground with military.
SCHIEFFER: All right.
ROMNEY: ...by the leadership role.
OBAMA: We are playing the leadership role. We organized the Friends of Syria. We are mobilizing humanitarian support, and support for the opposition. And we are making sure that those we help are those who will be friends of ours in the long term and friends of our allies in the region over the long term. But going back to Libya — because this is an example of how we make choices. When we went in to Libya, and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there, because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize. We also had to make sure that Moammar Gadhafi didn't stay there.
And to the governor's credit, you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.
Imagine if we had pulled out at that point. You know, Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job. That's part of the reason why the Libyans stand with us.
But we did so in a careful, thoughtful way, making certain that we knew who we were dealing with, that those forces of moderation on the ground were ones that we could work with, and we have to take the same kind of steady, thoughtful leadership when it comes to Syria. That's exactly what we're doing.
SCHIEFFER: Governor, can I just ask you, would you go beyond what the administration would do, like for example, would you put in no-fly zones over Syria?
ROMNEY: I don't want to have our military involved in Syria. I don't think there is a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage. I don't anticipate that in the future.
As I indicated, our objectives are to replace Assad and to have in place a new government which is friendly to us, a responsible government, if possible. And I want to make sure they get armed and they have the arms necessary to defend themselves, but also to remove — to remove Assad.
But I do not want to see a military involvement on the part of our — of our troops.
SCHIEFFER: Well —
ROMNEY: And this isn't — this isn't going to be necessary.
We — we have, with our partners in the region, we have sufficient resources to support those groups. But look, this has been going on for a year. This is a time — this should have been a time for American leadership. We should have taken a leading role, not militarily, but a leading role organizationally, governmentally to bring together the parties; to find responsible parties.
As you hear from intelligence sources even today, the — the insurgents are highly disparate. They haven't come together. They haven't formed a unity group, a council of some kind. That needs to happen. America can help that happen. And we need to make sure they have the arms they need to carry out the very important role which is getting rid of Assad.
SCHIEFFER: Can we get a quick response, Mr. President, because I want to...
OBAMA: Well, I'll — I'll be very quick. What you just heard Governor Romney said is he doesn't have different ideas. And that's because we're doing exactly what we should be doing to try to promote a moderate Syrian leadership and a — an effective transition so that we get Assad out. That's the kind of leadership we've shown. That's the kind of leadership we'll continue to show.
SCHIEFFER: May I ask you, you know, during the Egyptian turmoil, there came a point when you said it was time for President Mubarak to go.
SCHIEFFER: Some in your administration thought perhaps we should have waited a while on that. Do you have any regrets about that?
OBAMA: No, I don't, because I think that America has to stand with democracy. The notion that we would have tanks run over those young people who were in Tahrir Square, that is not the kind of American leadership that John F. Kennedy talked about 50 years ago.