WASHINGTON, D.C.: Inaction is not an option for the United States (US) in Syria after a horrendous chemical attack, President Barack Obama said Saturday as he urged holdout lawmakers to back a military strike.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we’ve seen out of Syria,” Obama said in his weekly address.
“That’s why I call on members of Congress, from both parties, to come together and stand up for the kind of world we want to live in; the kind of world we want to leave our children and future generations.”
Congress reconvenes on Monday and Obama addresses the nation on Tuesday about a possible US response to the August 21 attack that left hundreds dead on the outskirts of Damascus.
But he has already acknowledged that convincing lawmakers to back military action against the Syrian regime would be a “heavy lift.”
According to a Washington Post survey, 224 of the current 433 House members were either “no” or “leaning no” on military action as of Friday. A large number, 184, were undecided, with just 25 backing a strike.
The skepticism is also prevalent among the people the lawmakers represent.
A Gallup survey showed 51 percent of Americans oppose strikes in Syria compared to 36 percent in favor, a larger opposition ratio than before the onset of the Gulf War of 1991, Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).
In his address, Obama said he wanted to strike Syria and punish President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“This was not only a direct attack on human dignity; it is a serious threat to our national security,” he said.
“That’s why, last weekend, I announced that, as commander in chief, I decided that the United States should take military action against the Syrian regime.”
Obama warned that if the United States fails to respond to the “outrageous attack,” Assad could use the chemical weapons again, or they could fall in the hands of “terrorists.”
“It would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons,” he added.
However, Obama also stressed that he was asking for congressional authorization because “our country will be stronger if we act together, and our actions will be more effective.”
As he faces a war-weary American public after more than a decade of protracted conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Obama insisted that any US strike in Syria “is not an open-ended intervention.”
“This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground. Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope — designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so,” the president added.
“I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. That’s why we’re not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else’s war.”
The Senate is expected to vote next week on allowing a limited attack, while the House is due to vote within the next two weeks, according to Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday sought to muster European Union support for military strikes against Syria, after a G20 summit failed to resolve bitter international divisions on the issue.
Kerry went into informal talks with the EU’s 28 foreign ministers in Lithuania, which currently holds the EU’s rotating chair, with the bloc itself sharply split on Syria and
most nations highly reticent over military action.
Washington’s top diplomat pressed the case for punitive action against Syria after what the United States says was a chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad near Damascus.
A State Department official said Kerry expected “a fairly detailed discussion about our thinking” but noted “that there are divisions within the EU about what is the exact sequencing of the need for an international response.”
EU diplomats reported intense negotiations taking place to seek a consensus on Syria with France and Denmark supportive of a US-led strike but Germany, Sweden and others refusing to endorse action without a UN mandate or a debate within a UN framework.