Obama blends threat of attack, hope of diplomacy

Evan Vucci | Associated Press President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

Evan Vucci | Associated Press
President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

By DAVID ESPO and JULIE PACE

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said in a nationally televised address Tuesday night that recent diplomatic steps offer “the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons” inside Syria without the use of force, but he also insisted the U.S. military will keep the pressure on President Bashar Assad “and be ready to respond” if other measures fail.

Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Obama said he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote on legislation he has been seeking to authorize the use of military force against Syria.

Acknowledging the weariness the nation feels after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said, “America is not the world’s policeman.”

And yet, he added, “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.

“Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria,” he declared.

The speech capped a frenzied 10-day stretch of events that began when he unexpectedly announced he was stepping back from a threatened military strike and first asking Congress to pass legislation authorizing the use of force against Assad.

With public opinion polls consistently showing widespread opposition to American military intervention, the White House has struggled mightily to generate support among lawmakers – liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike – who have expressed fears of involvement in yet another war in the Middle East and have questioned whether U.S. national security interests were at stake in Syria.

Obama had trouble, as well, building international support for a military attack designed to degrade Assad’s military.

Suddenly, though, events took another unexpected turn this week. First Russia and then Syria reacted positively to a seemingly off-hand remark from Secretary of State John Kerry indicating that the crisis could be defused if Damascus agreed to put its chemical weapons under international control.

The president said he was sending Kerry to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday, and he added, “I will continue my own discussion” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the same time, he said the United States and its allies would work with Russia and China to present a resolution to the United Nations Security Council “requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.”

In a speech that lasted 16 minutes, Obama recounted the events of the deadly chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that the United States blames on Assad.

“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until these horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied,” he said.

The president said firmly that Assad’s alleged attack was “not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.”

If diplomacy now fails and the United States fails to act, he said, “the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons” and “other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using” it. Over time, he added, U.S. troops could face the threat of chemical warfare, and if fighting escapes Syria’s border, “these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.”

The president sought to deal methodically with what he said were questions asked by lawmakers and citizens who took the time to write him with their concerns about U.S. military action.

“I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria,” he promised. “I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.

“This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”

In the run-up to the president’s speech, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pointedly told a congressional hearing it was not time to let the threat of military retaliation lapse. “For this diplomatic option to have a chance at succeeding, the threat of a U.S. military action, the credible, real threat of U.S. military action, must continue,” he declared.

At the same hearing, Kerry said any diplomacy “cannot be a process of delay. This cannot be a process of avoidance.”

He later added that any agreement must include binding consequences if Syria fails to comply, and lawmakers moved to rewrite pending legislation along the same lines.

Obama himself “wasn’t overly optimistic about” prospects for a solution at the U.N., said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, after his party’s rank and file met privately for lunch in the Capitol with the president.

  • JB

    Hooray for Sen Rand Paul:

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, said President Barack Obama “didn’t quite convince
    me” on the need to launch a military strike on Syria in his Tuesday
    night speech.

    But, Paul said, Obama did make a compelling case that Syrian President
    Bashar Assad is guilty of killing almost 1,500 civilians with poison gas
    last month.

    “If Assad is responsible he deserves death for this,” Paul told Fox News
    Channel after the Tuesday night speech. “But the president’s plan is to
    leave Assad alone,” Paul said on a later CNN appearance.

    Moreover, he said, the president is asking Americans to be on the same side as al-Qaida.

    “Twelve years after we were attacked by al-Qaida, 12 years after 3,000
    Americans were killed by al-Qaida, President Obama now asks us to be
    allies with al-Qaida.”

    Read Latest Breaking News from Newsmax.com http://www.newsmax.com/newswidget/paul-assad-obama-syria/2013/09/10/id/524967?promo_code=142BF-1&utm_source=142BFSun_sentinel_and_Orlando_Sentinel_generi&utm_medium=nmwidget&utm_campaign=widgetphase1#ixzz2eacbLt10

    Urgent: Should Obamacare Be Repealed? Vote Here Now!

    • guest

      Just so I get this straight …

      Paul doesn’t feel there is enough evidence for a military strike but at the same time he is upset that President Obama doesn’t kill Assad? It seems little Rand Paul is out of his depth with foreign policy.