By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2013 – President Barack Obama said today he supports a U.S. military strike against Syrian regime targets in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, but he called on Congress to debate and vote on how America should react to “the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century.”
At the White House Rose Garden, Obama spoke of the Aug. 21 attack on Damascus suburbs that, he noted, killed more than 1,000 people, including several hundred children -- “young girls and boys gassed to death by their own government.”
“Ten days ago, the world watched in horror as men, women and children were massacred in Syria,” the commander in chief said. “ … Yesterday, the United States presented a powerful case that the Syrian government was responsible for this attack on its own people.”
The president said U.S. intelligence reports “show the Assad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets into highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place. And all of this corroborates what the world can plainly see: hospitals overflowing with victims; terrible images of the dead.”
Obama called the attack “an assault on human dignity” that also presents a serious danger to U.S. national security and “risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.”
Syria is currently embroiled in a bitter civil war pitting President Bashar Assad and his regime against the rebel opposition. The situation presents a danger to U.S. friends and partners on Syria’s borders, Obama said, such as Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.
The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons could lead to their escalated use in the region, he said, or their proliferation to terrorist groups intent on harming the United States.
“In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted,” the president said.
Obama said after careful deliberation, he has decided “that the U.S. should take military action against Syrian regime targets.” Such an intervention would be limited in scope and duration and would not place U.S. boots on the ground inside Syria, he said.
“I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out,” he said.
Obama said the United States has military assets in the Middle East, and he noted that Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.”
Dempsey has also advised “that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive,” the president said.
”It will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now,” Obama said. “And I'm prepared to give that order.”
Obama added, however, that as president of “the world's oldest constitutional democracy,” he has also decided that as leader of a representational government, “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.”
He said he has spoken with U.S. Senate and House leaders, “and they've agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session.”
The president said his administration stands ready to inform Congress “what happened in Syria and why it has such profound implications for America's national security.”
He added that he is confident that action need not wait on United Nations inspectors.
“I'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable,” Obama said.
As a consequence, he added, many people “have advised against taking this decision to Congress, and undoubtedly, they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the Parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the Prime Minister supported taking action.
“And undoubtedly,” he continued, “they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the prime minister supported taking action.”
Yet, any U.S. military actions against the Syrian regime will be more effective if they follow a debate in Congress and a vote, Obama said.
“We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual,” he said.
A government that considers even limited military force faces a grave decision, Obama acknowledged.
“I respect the views of those who call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in part to end,” he said. “But if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we must acknowledge the costs of doing nothing.”
The president said his question to Congress and the global community is this: “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? What's the purpose of the international system that we've built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world's people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?”
He continued, “… We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.”
The president said his message to the world is that “an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated, it must be confronted.”
Obama said he knows Americans are weary of war.
“We’ve ended one war in Iraq,” he said. “We’re ending another in Afghanistan. And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military. In that part of the world, there are ancient sectarian differences, and the hopes of the Arab Spring have unleashed forces of change that are going to take many years to resolve. And that's why we’re not contemplating putting our troops in the middle of someone else’s war.”
The United States will continue to support the Syrian people through pressure on the Assad regime, commitment to the opposition, care for the displaced, and pursuit of a political resolution “that achieves a government that respects the dignity of its people,” Obama said.
American values dictate that the nation “cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus,” he said.
“So to all members of Congress of both parties, I ask you to take this vote for our national security,” Obama said. “… I’ve told you what I believe, that our security and our values demand that we cannot turn away from the massacre of countless civilians with chemical weapons.
“I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage,” he added. “Today I’m asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation.”