MODERATOR: Jon Karl from ABC News.
Q: Mr. President, thank you. In China, in Syria, in Egypt and now in Russia we’ve seen you make strong statements, issue warnings that have been ignored. Are you concerned that America’s influence in the world, your influence in the world is on the decline? And in light of recent developments, do you think Mitt Romney had a point when he said that Russia is America’s biggest geopolitical foe? If not Russia, who?
And Mr. Prime Minister, do you think these sanctions will change Vladimir Putin’s calculation, will cause him to back down? And do you see there’s a — where do you see a Russian red line, where if they go any further, if they go into eastern Ukraine, into Moldova, where options beyond sanctions have to be considered? Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Jonathan, I think if the premise of the question is that whenever the United States objects to an action and other countries don’t immediately do exactly what we want, that that’s been the norm, that would pretty much erase most of 20th century history.
I think that there’s a distinction between us being very clear about what we think is an appropriate action, what we stand for, what principles we believe in, versus what is, I guess, implied in the question, that we should engage in some sort of military action to prevent something.
You know, the truth of the matter is, is that the world’s always been messy. And what the United States has consistently been able to do, and we continue to be able to do, is to mobilize the international community around a set of principles and norms. And where our own self-defense may not be involved, we may not act militarily. That does not mean that we don’t steadily push against those forces that would violate those principles and ideals that we care about.
So yes, you’re right, Syria — the Syrian civil war is not solved. And yet Syria has never been more isolated.
With respect to the situation in Ukraine, we have not gone to war with Russia. I think there’s a significant precedent to that in the past. That does not mean that Russia’s not isolated. In fact, Russia is far more isolated in this instance than it was five years ago with respect to Georgia and more isolated than it was certainly during most of the 20th century when it was part of the Soviet Union.
The point is that there are always going to be bad things that happen around the world, and the United States, as the most powerful nation in the world, understandably is looked to for solutions to those problems.
And what we have to make sure we’re doing are that we are putting all elements of our power behind finding solutions, working with our international partners, standing up for those principles and ideals in a clear way.
There are going to be moments where military action is appropriate. There are going to be some times where that’s not in the interests — national security interests of the United States or some of our partners, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to make the effort, or speak clearly about what we think is right and wrong. And that’s what we’ve done.
With respect to Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia’s our number- one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that, you know, America’s got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength, but out of weakness.
Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades — since the breakup of the Soviet Union. And you know, we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don’t need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.
And so my response then continues to be what I believe today, which is Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number- one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan, which is part of the reason why the United States, showing its continued international leadership, has organized a forum over the last several years that’s been able to help eliminate that threat in a consistent way.
And with that, we have another great rejoinder to the thousands of Villagers, war cheerleaders, NeoConfederates, profiteers, America-is-in-decline-ers (as long as that one is in office, that is), and other sundry jackasses: Be still, an adult is talking.