President Obama defended his response to the growing crisis in Syria on Friday by pointing to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, cautioning against a commitment that risks drawing the U.S. into a new quagmire in the Middle East. Obama appeared determined to take on critics whom he portrayed as impatient and ignorant of the complexity of the warring factions in Syria. He laughed off suggestions that Russian airstrikes in recent days against fighters opposed to President Bashar Assad, an ally of Moscow’s, have President Vladimir Putin looking stronger than Obama in Syria. “We’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia,” Obama insisted during an afternoon news conference at the White House. “This is not some superpower chessboard contest. And anybody who frames it in that way isn’t paying very close attention to what’s been happening on the chessboard.”

He acknowledged that U.S. strategy, particularly his program to train and equip Syrian fighters to counter Islamic State extremists who have taken over parts of the country, has been less successful than he had hoped. But a deeper military engagement won’t necessarily result in success, Obama warned. Once we start something, we’ve got to finish it, and we’ve got to do it well,” Obama said. “Unless we can get the parties on the ground to agree to live together in some fashion, then no amount of U.S. military engagement will solve the problem. “And we will find ourselves either doing just a little bit and not making a difference and losing credibility that way or finding ourselves drawn deeper and deeper into a situation that we can’t sustain.” CONTINUE