Wednesday 22 October 2014

Obama pulls out all the stops to get US support

Peter Foster Washington

Published 07/09/2013 | 05:00

President of Syria, Bashar Assad
President Barack Obama answers questions during his news conference at the G-20 Summit

Barack Obama will address his nation from the White House next week as he fights to persuade the American public and their representatives in congress of the need for military action in Syria in what is fast becoming the defining political battle of his presidency.

After a week in which the voices of opposition to punitive strikes have grown louder both in Congress and among a war-weary public, Mr Obama returned from the G20 summit in St Petersburg last night acknowledging that he faced a "heavy lift" to win authorisation to use force.

However, the president is sticking to his position that America, as the world's only superpower, has no choice but to enforce international norms against the use of chemical weapons, or risk setting a precedent that could see other fundamental precepts of international order collapsing.

CHOICES

"If that norm (prohibiting use of chemical weapons) unravels, then other norms and prohibitions start unravelling, and that makes for a more dangerous world, and that then requires even more difficult choices and more difficult responses in the future," he said.

Citing his own record in winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Obama said he was "not itching for military action" but felt he had no other alternative.

"I was elected to end wars and not start them," he said, "But what I also know is that there are times where we have to make hard choices if we're going to stand up for the things that we care about. And I believe that this is one of those times."

Opinion polls show that six out of 10 Americans do not support even limited strikes, while early analyses of congressional voting intentions conducted by the 'Washington Post' have found half of the 435 members of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are either firmly against, or leaning against them.

Mr Obama will address the public on Tuesday in what would be only the third Oval Office address of his presidency but conceded in advance that he faced an uphill battle to "persuade a majority of the American people" of the need for action.

However, recalling the lack of US public support for intervention in World War II before Pearl Harbour, and the 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo to stop Serbian atrocities, Mr Obama said that a lack of public support did not necessarily mean strikes against Syria were not the "right thing to do".

"I'm not drawing an analogy to World War II other than to say that when London was getting bombed, it was profoundly unpopular, both in congress and around the country to help the British. Doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do," he said.

The Democrat-controlled senate has already agreed the terms of a resolution to use force and is expected to vote by midweek, while the Republican House has yet to agree its own resolution.

Among the concerns raised by Congressmen are the cost of intervention, the risk of deeper entanglement in Syria's civil war and the administration's failure to lay out strategic objectives for the strikes beyond punishing the regime of President Assad (pictured).

MESSAGE

However, Mr Obama said that while his proposed limited military action would not end Syria's civil conflict, it was reasonable to expect that it would "send a message" on the use of chemical weapons and degrade the capabilities of the Assad regime.

"My goal is to maintain the international norm on banning chemical weapons. I want that enforcement to be real.

"I want it to be serious. I want people to understand that gassing innocent people, you know delivering chemical weapons against children, is not something we do." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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