Syria: Barack Obama makes case for military action
Published 11/09/2013 | 07:58
US President Barack Obama made the case for action in Syria directly to a deeply sceptical American public last night, arguing that the US must be prepared to shoulder "the burdens of leadership" even as it grasps for a diplomatic solution to avert war.
Although cautiously welcoming Russian proposals to oversee the decommissioning of Syria's chemical weapons, Mr Obama said the US military remained on alert "in case diplomacy fails".
In a highly-publicised address delivered in television prime time from the White House, Mr Obama broke little new ground but instead tried to directly address the concerns of a nation "sick and tired of war".
"The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world's a better place because we have borne them," he told an American public that opinion polls show are strongly opposed to military action.
Mr Obama said the Russian initiative, as well as the Assad regime's offer to join a treaty banning the use of chemical weapons, were "encouraging signs".
Although cautioning that it was "too early to tell whether this offer will succeed" Mr Obama said the initiative had "the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force".
"I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorise the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path," Mr Obama said, explaining his decision to at least temporarily halt America's march to war.
Protesters gather in front of the White House in Washington, DC. as President Barack Obama addresses the nation on the situation in Syria (Getty Images)
He did not acknowledge surveys of members of Congress which show him likely to suffer a humiliating defeat if he attempted to secure the backing of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The president made no ultimatums to Bashar al-Assad, nor did he set any specific timetable on how quickly Syria would need to prove its offer was credible in order to avoid strikes.
However, he warned: "I've ordered our military to maintain their current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails."
The president said he would work with Britain and France to try to pass a UN resolution that would require the regime to hand over and destroy its chemical weapons. That effort made little progress today when Russia called off a meeting to discuss the proposed resolution.
Mr Obama said he would give UN chemical weapons inspectors time to finish their report on what happened during the August 21 attack and continue to try to build an international coalition.
Protesters gather in front of the White House in Washington, DC. as President Barack Obama addresses the nation on the situation in Syria (EPA)
The bulk of the 15-minute speech was spent trying to address the fears of ordinary Americans who will on Wednesday mark the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks and the constant fighting the US has engaged in since.
He repeated his pledge that he would "not put American boots on the ground in Syria" and said that even though the strikes would not remove the regime they would "send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver".
The president warned that failing to challenge the use of chemical weapons would endanger US allies like Israel and could one day mean they would be used against American troops on the battlefield.
Mr Obama urged both members of Congress and the American people to watch the videos of the August 21 attack in Damascus and ask: "What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?"
The president closed with an appeal to American exceptionalism, saying for that for "nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security."
"This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them," Mr Obama said.