When the U.S. Acts as the U.N.

.photo.right{display:none;}President Obama said “the world set a red line” on Syria, but we may be left with the task of enforcing it.

President Barack Obama at his joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, at the Rosenbad Building in Stockholm, Sweden. 
National Journal
Brian Resnick Lucia Graves Marina Koren
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Brian Resnick Lucia Graves Marina Koren
Sept. 4, 2013, 6:26 a.m.

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In a joint press con­fer­ence with the Swedish prime min­is­ter Wed­nes­day morn­ing, Pres­id­ent Obama was clear in his as­ser­tions on an at­tack on Syr­ia: He thinks it needs to be done re­gard­less of the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil; he thinks Con­gress will ap­prove it; and he thinks the U.S. bears the re­spons­ib­il­ity for en­for­cing the in­ter­na­tion­al norms on chem­ic­al weapons.

“My cred­ib­il­ity isn’t on the line; the whole in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity’s cred­ib­il­ity is on the line,” Obama said. “Amer­ica and Con­gress’s cred­ib­il­ity is on the line be­cause we gave lip ser­vice to the na­tion that these in­ter­na­tion­al norms are im­port­ant.”

Obama stressed that the oft-quoted “red line” isn’t something he came up with on a whim. “First of all, I didn’t set a red line—the world set a red line,” he said.

The world set a red line when gov­ern­ments rep­res­ent­ing 90 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion said the use of chem­ic­al weapons are ab­hor­rent and passed a treaty for­bid­ding their use even when coun­tries aren’t at war.

When I said in a press con­fer­ence that my cal­cu­lus about what’s hap­pen­ing in Syr­ia would be altered by the use of chem­ic­al weapons, which the over­whelm­ing con­sensus of hu­man­ity says is wrong, that wasn’t something I just kind of made up. I didn’t pluck it out of thin air. There’s a reas­on for it.

The pres­id­ent wouldn’t dir­ectly an­swer the ques­tion of wheth­er he would green-light a mil­it­ary strike without con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al, but he said it would be im­port­ant for the world to see the pres­id­ent and Con­gress united in ac­tion. “I would not have taken this be­fore Con­gress just as a sym­bol­ic ges­ture,” Obama said. “I think that it is very im­port­ant for the Con­gress to say that we mean what we say. I think we will be stronger as a coun­try in our re­sponse if the pres­id­ent and Con­gress does it to­geth­er.”

But, along with his be­lief that Con­gress would pass the meas­ure, Obama re­peated that he didn’t think he needed its ap­prov­al.

“I do not be­lieve that I was re­quired to take this to Con­gress. But I did not take this to Con­gress just be­cause it’s an empty ex­er­cise,” he said, adding later that if he were a sen­at­or at this time, he would have prob­ably asked upon the pres­id­ent to do the same. His de­cision to ask Con­gress, he said, was so­lid­i­fied when Chair­man of Joint Chiefs of Staff Mar­tin De­mp­sey told him the tim­ing of the strike would not change its ef­fect­ive­ness.

Swedish Prime Min­is­ter Fre­drik Re­in­feldt said he was aware of what kind of mes­sage a lack of re­sponse would send to the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity. But he didn’t back Obama’s view on the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil, which he said was strug­gling to pass what he called even the most mod­est of res­ol­u­tions.

“This small coun­try will al­ways say, let’s put our hopes in the United Na­tions,” he said. “Let us push some more.”

In Wash­ing­ton, the con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues. The Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee is hold­ing a closed hear­ing Wed­nes­day with Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry. Kerry, joined by De­mp­sey and De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel, will speak be­fore the House at noon.

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