Obama says US should take military action against Syria

Obama says US should take military action against Syria

WASHINGTON - Reuters / Agence France-Presse / The Associated Press
Obama says US should take military action against Syria

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about Syria from the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Aug. 31. AFP photo

U.S. President Barack Obama said Aug. 31 he had decided he would go ahead and launch military action on Syria but he believed it was important for American democracy to win the support of lawmakers. 

Obama said the U.S. is ready to strike when it chooses, stressing that the operation will be limited in scope. He said strikes "will be effective tomorrow, next week or one month from now."

However, the decision to consult the Congress likely delays U.S. action for at least 10 days.

Shortly after Obama's statements, House Speaker Boehner said U.S. Congress will debate Syria strike the week of September 9 as soon as lawmakers return from recess.

Obama said that the United States cannot turn "blind eye" to what is currently happening in Syria, describing the chemical weapons attack in the outskirts of Damascus as the worst of the 21st century. 

Obama said the U.S. had presented a "powerful case" linking the Syrian government to the reported chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21. 

"This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons," Obama said during a statement at the White House in Washington. 

Appeal to Congress for unity

The U.S. president said he believed to have the authority to carry out a military action without a congressional vote, but emphasized the importance of having the debate.

"We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual," he said.

The decision represents a significant gamble for Obama, who has an estranged relationship with lawmakers, especially Republicans, and he risks suffering the same fate as British Prime Minister David Cameron, who lost his own vote on authorizing military action in parliament.

During his statement, the U.S. president appealed for congressional leaders to consider their responsibilities and values in debating U.S. military action in Syria over its reported chemical weapons use.

"Here's my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?" Obama asked. 

"Some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment [...] Today I'm asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are united as one nation," he added.

Most Americans do not want the United States to intervene in Syria. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken this week showed only 20 percent believe the United States should take action, but that was up from 9 percent last week. 

A debate has raged for days in Washington among members of the U.S. Congress over whether, or how quickly, Obama should take action.

Obama asked for support: U.S. Senate Republican leader 

U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell backed the move, which he said Obama had told him about.

"The President's role as commander-in-chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress," he said in a statement.

Boehner also expressed satisfaction with Obama's decision.  "We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria," Boehner and other senior lawmakers said, in a statement issued shortly after Obama's press briefing.

Obama's decision was announced after he met his national security team at the White House. Top aides were to brief senators later in the day and members of the House of Representatives are to receive a classified briefing from administration officials on Aug. 31.

Obama 'made last-minute decision'

However, senior administration officials told the Associated Press that Obama planned to take military action against Syria without congressional authorization. He only told aides Aug. 30 night that he had changed his mind.

Officials, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the president spent much of the week wrestling with Congress' role in authorizing force and made the final decision after a lengthy discussion with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

The objective is to show solid proof that U.S. intelligence officials say shows conclusively that the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad launched a large chemical weapons assault in Damascus suburbs that left among the dead 426 children.