The majority of the American public (not to mention many in Congress) are adamantly against the United States going to war with Syria over that country's use of chemical weapons against its people.
So when President Obama addressed the nation on Tuesday night in prime time in what was planned as a bid to win public approval for airstrikes against Syria's military, many were surprised when he pivoted in a different direction.
"When dictators commit atrocities, they depend on the world to look the other way," Obama said of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. However, the president repeatedly noted that America is "not the world's policeman," that we cannot resolves someone else's civil war for them and that he would not commit U.S. troops to the ground in Syria.
After evidence came forward that the Assad government used deadly sarin gas on more than 1,000 of its people on August 21, including more than 400 children, Obama said, "what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it's also a danger to our security."
The president's initial plan was to respond with a targeted military strike aimed at deterring Assad from using chemical weapons and degrading his ability to use them again. But after some positive movement from Syria's ally Russia and indications that the Assad regime might be willing to discuss giving up its weapons stockpile, Obama said he's going to give diplomacy a chance.
"The Assad regime has now admitted it has these weapons, and even said they'd join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use," he said. So, for now, the president has asked Congress to vote to authorize use of force as diplomacy continues and work with the United Nations to pass a resolution forcing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.
House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said, "The President using the credible threat of American military action to bring diplomatic solutions back to the table demonstrates the strength of his leadership and his willingness to exhaust every remedy before the use of force."
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham released a joint statement in which they said, "We appreciate the President speaking directly to the American people about the conflict in Syria. We regret, however, that he did not speak more forcefully about the need to increase our military assistance to moderate opposition forces in Syria, such as the Free Syrian Army. We also regret that he did not lay out a clearer plan to test the seriousness of the Russian and Syrian proposal to transfer the Assad regime's chemical weapons to international custody."
A CNN/ORC poll taken before the president's speech showed that 59 percent of Americans said Congress should vote against authorizing strikes. Fifty-five percent said they would oppose strikes even if Congress gave approval. In another poll taken before the address, the Wall Street Journal found that almost 75 percent of respondents aid the country should focus on domestic problems instead of promoting democracy overseas.
The Republican Senator from Kentucky considered a leading candidate for the 2016 presidential race had harsh words for Obama in his reaction. "Twelve years after we were attacked by Al Qaeda, 12 years after 3,000 Americans were killed by Al Qaeda, President Obama now asks us to be allies with Al Qaeda. Americans by a large majority want nothing to do with the Syrian civil war. We fail to see a national security interest in a war between a leader who gasses his own citizens and Islamic rebels who are killing Christians.
"There is no clearly defined mission in Syria, no clearly defined American interest. In fact, the Obama Administration has specifically stated that 'no military solution' exists ... To me that sounds like they are pre-announcing that the military strikes will not punish Assad personally or effect regime change ... Would a bombing campaign in Syria make the region more or less stable? Would it make it more or less likely that Iran or Russia becomes more involved? Just about any bad outcome you can imagine is made more likely by U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.
"The possibility of a diplomatic solution is a good thing, though we must proceed with caution on the details ... If the vote [for military strikes] occurs, I will vote no and encourage my colleagues to vote no as well. The President has not made a compelling case that American interests are at risk in Syria. The threshold for war should be a significant one."
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