Obama Pledges to Consider Syria Plan, While Keeping Threat of a Strike

Abby Ohlheiser, Atlantic Wire
See more stories about...
Abby Ohlheiser, Atlantic Wire
Sept. 10, 2013, 7:02 p.m.

“To­night I want to talk to you about Syr­ia, why it mat­ters, and where do we go from here,” Pres­id­ent Obama told the na­tion in a prime time speech on Tues­day night, where he an­nounced that the U.S. will con­tin­ue to pur­sue con­gres­sion­al au­thor­iz­a­tion for a mil­it­ary strike while, at the same time, pur­su­ing a new dip­lo­mat­ic path opened up on Monday by Rus­sia. On Tues­day, that plan be­came slightly more com­plic­ated to im­ple­ment as the de­tails emerged on what the Rus­si­ans would, and wouldn’t sup­port in or­der to avoid a strike on the coun­try. One agreed upon de­tail: Syr­ia giv­ing up its chem­ic­al weapons to in­ter­na­tion­al con­trol. But Rus­sia and Syr­ia would also like the U.S. to take the op­tion of a strike off the table en­tirely

Nev­er­the­less, that op­tion has changed the nar­rat­ive of what seemed like an in­ev­it­able mil­it­ary strike on Syr­ia, at least for now. “Over the last few days we’ve seen some en­cour­aging signs, in part be­cause of the” threat of mil­it­ary strikes,” Obama said. “The As­sad re­gime has now ad­mit­ted that they had these chem­ic­al weapons,” he said, adding that any agree­ment between Syr­ia and the world to stop a mil­it­ary strike would in­volve veri­fy­ing As­sad’s com­mit­ment to hand over his weapons. 

“We’ll also give U.N. in­spect­ors an op­por­tun­ity” to re­port their find­ings on their chem­ic­al weapons in­spec­tion in Syr­ia, Obama said, adding, “I’ve ordered our mil­it­ary to main­tain our cur­rent pos­ture,” in case the dip­lo­mat­ic path doesn’t work out. He re­it­er­ated his com­mit­ment to a mil­it­ary strike, should a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion fail: “I de­term­ined that it is in the na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­terests of the United States to re­spond to the As­sad re­gime’s use of chem­ic­al weapons through a tar­geted mil­it­ary strike…That’s my judg­ment as com­mand­er in chief.” 

With that in mind, the pres­id­ent at­temp­ted to con­vince the pub­lic of the na­tion­al se­cur­ity threat faced by the coun­try should the U.S. not re­tali­ate:

If we fail to act, the As­sad re­gime will see no reas­on to stop us­ing chem­ic­al weapons.
As the ban against these weapons erodes, oth­er tyr­ants will have no reas­on to think twice about ac­quir­ing pois­on gas and us­ing them. Over time our troops would again face the pro­spect of chem­ic­al war­fare on the bat­tle­field, and it could be easi­er for ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions to ob­tain these weapons and to use them to at­tack ci­vil­ians.
If fight­ing spills bey­ond Syr­ia’s bor­ders, these weapons could threaten al­lies like Tur­key, Jordan and Is­rael.

Obama also sought to an­swer a series of ques­tions posed by the Amer­ic­an pub­lic about pos­sible mil­it­ary ac­tion, which again, was very much not off the table in Obama’s speech. “After the ter­rible toll of Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan,” Obama said he knew new mil­it­ary ac­tion would be un­pop­u­lar. “It’s no won­der, then, that you’re ask­ing hard ques­tions.”

“First, many of you have asked, won’t this put you on a slip­pery slope to­wards more war,” Obama said. His an­swer? “I will not put Amer­ic­an boots on the ground in Syr­ia. … I will not pur­sue a pro­longed air cam­paign like Libya or Kosovo.”

Second, Obama asked, is it worth act­ing if we don’t “take out As­sad?” His an­swer: “Let me make something clear. The United States mil­it­ary doesn’t do pin­pricks,” ar­guing that any strike would send a mes­sage, even if it’s the lim­ited ac­tion pro­posed by his ad­min­is­tra­tion. 

Third, he asked, can the at­tacks lead to a re­tali­ation? His an­swer: “The As­sad re­gime does not have the abil­ity to ser­i­ously threaten our mil­it­ary,” Obama said.

Fourth, the pres­id­ent asked, why should the U.S. get in­volved in an already chaot­ic situ­ation? His an­swer, es­sen­tially, was that not get­ting in­volved cer­tainly wouldn’t help, either. He said, “Al-Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaot­ic Syr­ia” if em­boldened by As­sad’s abil­ity to con­tin­ue to use chem­ic­al weapons.

Obama re­ferred again to the im­ages of the Aug. 21 chem­ic­al at­tack, adding that the at­tack “pro­foundly changed” his pre­vi­ous “res­ist­ance” to mil­it­ary ac­tion against Syr­ia. Speak­ing of the “sick­en­ing” im­ages of chil­dren, men, wo­men dead from the gas. Obama ad­ded that “on that ter­rible night” we saw “the ter­rible nature of chem­ic­al weapons.”

The im­ages from this mas­sacre are sick­en­ing, men, wo­men, chil­dren ly­ing in rows, killed by pois­on gas, oth­ers foam­ing at the mouth, gasp­ing for breath, a fath­er clutch­ing his dead chil­dren, im­plor­ing them to get up and walk. On that ter­rible night, the world saw in grue­some de­tail the ter­rible nature of chem­ic­al weapons and why the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of hu­man­ity has de­clared them off lim­its, a crime against hu­man­ity and a vi­ol­a­tion of the laws of war.

In that light, the pres­id­ent touched on the idea of Amer­ic­an Ex­cep­tion­al­ism is his pitch to the U.S. on the coun­try’s role in the Syr­i­an con­flict: 

My fel­low Amer­ic­ans, for nearly sev­en dec­ades the United States has been the an­chor of glob­al se­cur­ity. This has meant do­ing more than for­ging in­ter­na­tion­al agree­ments. It has meant en­for­cing them. The bur­dens of lead­er­ship are of­ten heavy, but the world’s a bet­ter place be­cause we have borne them… …Our ideals and prin­ciples, as well as our na­tion­al se­cur­ity, are at stake in Syr­ia, along with our lead­er­ship of a world where we seek to en­sure that the worst weapons will nev­er be used. Amer­ica is not the world’s po­lice­man. Ter­rible things hap­pen across the globe, and it is bey­ond our means to right every wrong. But when, with mod­est ef­fort and risk, we can stop chil­dren from be­ing gassed to death and thereby make our own chil­dren safer over the long run, I be­lieve we should act. That’s what makes Amer­ica dif­fer­ent. That’s what makes us ex­cep­tion­al.

Here’s the full tran­script, via the Wash­ing­ton Post.

Re­prin­ted with per­mis­sion from the At­lantic Wire. The ori­gin­al story can be found here.

What We're Following See More »
FRENCH IS A LAWYER, VETERAN
Kristol Recruiting National Review’s David French for Third-Party Run
51 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Two Republicans intimately familiar with Bill Kristol’s efforts to recruit an independent presidential candidate to challenge Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have told Bloomberg Politics that the person Kristol has in mind is David French -- whose name the editor of the Weekly Standard floated in the current issue of the magazine.

French is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to the website of National Review, where French is a staff writer, he is a constitutional lawyer, a recipient of the Bronze Star, and an author of several books who lives in Columbia, Tenn., with his wife Nancy and three children."

Source:
CALIFORNIA VOTES IN A WEEK
Jerry Brown Backs Clinton
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

California Gov. Jerry Brown endorsed Hillary Clinton today, calling her "the only path forward to win the presidency and stop the dangerous candidacy of Donald Trump." While praising Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign, Brown said "Clinton’s lead is insurmountable and Democrats have shown – by millions of votes – that they want her as their nominee. ... This is no time for Democrats to keep fighting each other. The general election has already begun."

Source:
GLASS CEILING STILL HARD TO CRACK
Clinton Says Voters Still Hung Up on Gender
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a New York Magazine profile, Hillary Clinton said she still encounters misogyny at her own events: “‘I really admire you, I really like you, I just don’t know if I can vote for a woman to be president.’ I mean, they come to my events and then they say that to me.”

Source:
CHANGE WE CAN’T BELIEVE IN
Trump Vows Not to Change
5 hours ago
THE LATEST
Source:
FILING DEADLINE IS JUNE 24
McConnell Urging Rubio to Run for Reelection
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: "One of the things that I’m hoping, I and my colleagues have been trying to convince Senator Marco Rubio to run again in Florida. He had indicated he was not going to, but we’re all hoping that he’ll reconsider, because poll data indicates that he is the one who can win for us. He would not only save a terrific senator for the Senate, but help save the majority. ... Well, I hope so. We’re all lobbying hard for him to run again."

Source:
×