Itongadol.- U.S. President Barack Obama used his nationally televised address on Tuesday night to make his case for military action against Syria, even as he recognized that diplomatic steps could render a military strike unnecessary. He told war-weary Americans that the use of chemical weapons posed a threat to U.S. security and that America, with modest effort, "can stop children from being gassed to death."
Obama: Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force
Obama said that Syria\’s chemical weapons could end up posing a threat to American troops, as well as U.S. allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.
On the question of whether Syrian President Bashar Assad would retaliate for a U.S. military strike, Obama said, "We don\’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other — any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America."
Citing the new diplomatic efforts, Obama said in his speech that he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote on legislation he has been seeking to authorize the use of military force against Syria — a vote he was in danger of losing.
Obama\’s move gives crucial time for negotiations on a Russian proposal for international inspectors to seize and destroy Syria\’s chemical weapons stockpile as efforts to avert U.S. military action shift from Washington to the United Nations.
In the interim, Obama said he had ordered the U.S. military to remain prepared to carry out attacks if needed, maintaining a credible pressure on Assad. Directly addressing criticism over his own vow of limited strikes, Obama said some lawmakers felt there was "no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria."
"Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn\’t do pinpricks," Obama said. "Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver."
Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Obama recalled the use of deadly chemical weapons in the European trenches of World War I and the Nazi gas chambers of World War II, and insisted that the international community could not stand by after the chemical weapons attack last month in the suburbs of Damascus.
He blamed the chemical weapons attack squarely on Assad and warned that a failure to act now would encourage tyrants and terrorists to use similar weapons.
"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," he said.
Obama\’s speech was seen as a critical one for his presidency, though for reasons different than when plans for it were announced last week. It was intended as the climax of the administration\’s pitch to persuade Congress to endorse military action in Syria. Polls showed that Americans, wary of another Middle East conflict, oppose the strikes. Lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum declared they would vote against the measure.
Syria\’s announcement this week that it would accept a Russian plan to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile added new uncertainty. Obama\’s speech was closely watched for signs of how much stock he put in prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough.
He did recognize some potential. Obama noted he was sending his top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, to Geneva for talks on Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Obama said he would continue his own discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that the U.S. and its allies would work with Russia and China to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution "requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control."
Obama said the Russian 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."
But in his 16-minute speech, Obama generally made the case for military action. His arguments were both practical and emotional.
"If diplomacy now fails and the United States fails to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons," he said. "Other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using [it].
"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."
U.S. officials say more than 1,400 people, including at least 400 children, died in the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus. They say victims suffered uncontrollable twitching, foaming at the mouth and other symptoms typical of exposure to chemical weapons banned by international treaty. Other casualty estimates are lower, and Assad has said the attack was launched by rebels who have been fighting to drive him from power in the civil war that began in March 2011 and has so far claimed the lives of more than 100,000 civilians.
Russia has blocked U.S. attempts to rally the U.N. Security Council behind a military strike. But Monday, after Kerry\’s remarks, Russian officials and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem spoke favorably about requiring Syria to surrender control of its chemical weapons.
Muallem said Tuesday that his government was ready to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile "to thwart U.S. aggression." He also said Syria was prepared to implement a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons arsenal under international control.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers cautiously welcomed the Russian offer as not only a means to avoid U.S. military involvement but also a way to avoid casting a difficult vote on authorizing the use of force. After a flurry of briefings over the past week, a briefing for senators scheduled for Wednesday was canceled as events moved quickly.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said he was hopeful that a diplomatic solution could be reached, although he remained skeptical of Russia\’s offer.
"A credible threat of military force will have to remain on the table if diplomatic efforts are to have any hope of succeeding," he said.
But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an outspoken critic of involvement in Syria, said Americans "want nothing to do with the Syrian civil war. We fail to see a national security interest in a war between a leader who gasses his own citizens and Islamic rebels who are killing Christians."
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday that the world would become a more dangerous place if Assad\’s use of chemical weapons against civilians went unanswered. Shapiro warned of wide-ranging consequences for inaction, including from Iran. He said that a response was required that would deter Syria from conducting similar actions in the future and also harm its ability to carry out such attacks.