WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama asserted that the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attack last month does impact U.S. national security.
“What happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security,” Obama said in a White House address Tuesday night.
“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” Obama said. “As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time, our troops will again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.”
Obama said he had resisted calls for military action in Syria because he didn’t think outside force was the answer to solve the Syrian civil war, but that he changed his mind after the regime gassed its own citizens on Aug. 21, killing 1,429 people, including 426 children.
Obama talked about the Chemical Weapons Convention, that more than 189 countries have signed on to, and which was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1997. Under the proposal diplomatic solution, Syria would allow the international community to take control of the weapons and would sign the Chemical Weapons Convention.
After first asking Congress to vote for a military strike in Syria, he now has asked them to postpone a vote — one that looked increasingly difficult to win — while seeking a deal with Russia and Syria to put Assad’s chemical arsenal under international control.
“I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path,” Obama said. “I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.”
He repeated that this would not be another Iraq and Afghanistan. He added that it also would not resemble the sustained air campaigns in Libya during 2011 and Kosovo in 1999.
Moreover, Obama addressed concerns the attack would not be strong enough.
“Others have asked if its worth acting if we don’t take out Assad,” Obama said. “Some members of Congress have said there is no point in doing a pin prick strike in Syria. Let me make something clear. The United States military doesn’t do pin pricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or another dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.”
Obama also addressed the question of whether the U.S. could be assisting Al Qaeda in the effort.
“It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists, but Al Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death,” Obama said. “The majority of the Syrian people — and the Syrian opposition we work with — just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.”
This post has been updated.