President Barack Obama used his first press conference of the year to caution against a rush to war with Iran or Syria, while calling on Congress to act now on domestic matters and to make it easier for homeowners to refinance.
Obama criticized the Republican presidential candidates and others for “beating the drums of war” against Iran.
“I’m not one of those people,” he said, reiterating that he still sees a window of opportunity for diplomacy to work.
“If some of those people think it’s time to launch a war, they should say so,” he said, and they should tell the American people what the possible costs would be. “Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” he dismissed. “They’re not commander in chief.”
Obama said that when he took office, Iran was united on its nuclear program and the world was divided. Since then, he said, the world has put in place crippling sanctions.
“They understand that the world community means business,” he said.
Obama did not commit to launching an attack if sanctions fail.
ABC’s Jake Tapper asked what he meant Monday when he said he had Israel’s back.
“It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out,” Obama said. He has only said that all options, including military options, would be “on the table.”
Obama also brushed off Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) call for airstrikes against Syria, saying that the answer to all of the problems the nation faces is not always a military one.
“It’s my belief that ultimately this dictator will fall,” he said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has cracked down violently on protesters and armed rebels in recent months.
More broadly, Obama said that when people play politics with war, “we pay the price.”
“Any time we consider military action, ... the American people understand there’s going to be a price to pay,” he said. “Sometimes it’s necessary, but we don’t do it casually.”
Obama said his record on Israel is solid. “It is indisputable that I have had Israel’s back,” he said.
The president also seemed to signal an acceleration of a pullout from Afghanistan. He said the aftermath of the Quran burning in that country shows that “now is the time for us to transition” to Afghan control, and he said Afghan President Hamid Karzai is “eager” for more responsibility.
Obama prefaced the press conference with a specific call for Congress to pass his proposal to allow millions of homeowners to refinance at lower rates, vote on the “Buffett Rule” that would require millionaires to pay at least as high a tax rate as middle-class taxpayers, and pass a bill shifting tax breaks from companies that ship jobs overseas to companies that create jobs here.
Obama said he would continue to take action on his own if Congress does not act, announcing lower fees for refinancing by the Federal Housing Administration and relief for veterans and soldiers who were improperly foreclosed upon by banks.
Obama also ripped talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh for calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” last week — saying he called Fluke because he wants his school-age daughters, Sasha and Malia, to be able to grow up and contribute to the public discourse without being subjected to such attacks.
“The reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about; even ones I may not agree with them on,” he said. “I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way.”
And asked to respond to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney calling him “the most feckless president since Carter,” Obama joked, “Good luck tonight,” referencing Super Tuesday voting.
A journalist asked, “No, really,” to which Obama responded with a smile, “Really.”