President Barack Obama laid out his case for military action in Syria in a primetime White House address on Tuesday, but said he would first explore a diplomatic solution out of the crisis.
From the East Room of the White House, Obama took his case for action to a war-weary American public, calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime a ”danger to security” and century-long international norms.
“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures (of chemical weapons use) fade from memory,” the president said.
The Assad regime, according to American and British intelligence reports, authorized the use of sarin gas on anti-Assad protesters in August, killing hundreds and crossing Obama’s two-year-old “red line” against chemical weapons use.
Obama called the actions the military is set to undertake, should Congress approve, limited but effective.
“Let me make something clear: The U.S. military doesn’t do pinpricks,” Obama said. “Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver,” he said, referring to criticisms that the proposed actions would do little or nothing.
He addressed both liberal and conservative critics of the proposed action and rejected the idea of the U.S. being the “world’s policeman,” assuring Americans the U.S. would not get involved beyond limited missile strikes.
“I have a deeply-held preference for peaceful solutions,” Obama said. “Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations. But chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.”
Obama faces an uphill battle to gain public support for the war. A Monday USA Today/Pew Research Center poll found 63 percent of those polled oppose military action, compared to just 28 percent who support.
He was expected to use his primetime address to aggressively push for intervention in Syria to war-weary Americans
That was before Secretary of State John Kerry, in an off-handed remark to a British reporter on Monday, suggested missile strikes could be avoided if the Syrian government turned over its chemical weapons stockpile to the international community. By Tuesday, Syria, with the backing of Russia, announced it would do just that.
Obama cautiously embraced the idea Tuesday, saying he prefers a diplomatic solution over acting militarily. But he also expressed skepticism the Assad regime would stay true to its word, saying it is too early to tell if it is serious about disposing of its chemical weapons.
“This initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies,” he said, adding he has called on Congress to delay votes on the authorization of force.
Delaying a vote also gives the Obama administration more time to rally support for action in a deeply skeptical Congress, should Russia’s plan fall through. It also gives U.S. officials more time to pitch their case to cautious allies.
Calling America the “anchor of global security” and addressing congressional and public critics, Obama said the U.S. has an obligation to act in order to “enforce” the international agreements it has forged as the world’s superpower.
“The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them,” Obama said.