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Obama: If We Don't React, Assad Will Use Chemicals Again

In speech to the nation, Obama makes the case for a strike on Syria but says he'll give Russian proposal a chance.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/11/2013, 4:37 AM

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that the United States held off on taking military action in Syria throughout the two-year civil war, but the chemical attack near Damascus on August 21 changed everything.

In a speech to the nation in which he made his case for a strike in Syria in response to the chemical attack, Obama said that the U.S. had proof that the Syrian regime was behind the attack. For example, he said, the Syrians bombed the site after the attack and victims of the attack had tested positive for Sarin gas.

“These facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America is prepared to do about it,” Obama said, adding, “What happened to those children is not just a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.”

He explained that it there is no response to the chemical act, “the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. 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 would 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.

“If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path,” said Obama.

In light of all this, he said, “I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.”

Obama stressed, “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”

“Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver,” he said. “A targeted strike can make Assad -- or any other dictator -- think twice before using chemical weapons.”

Regarding the possibility that Syria would retaliate for an American strike, Obama said that Assad does not have the capabilities to hurt the American army. Should Assad retaliate by attacking Israel, Obama said that Israel “can defend itself with overwhelming force as well as the unshakable support of the U.S.”

At the same time, he confirmed that the U.S. will give the Russian proposal that would require Syria to give up its chemical weapons a chance. Obama confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry would meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Thursday.

“We’ll also give UN inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st, and we will continue to rally support from allies from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East, who agree on the need for action,” said Obama.

“Meanwhile, 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. And tonight I give thanks, again, to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.”

“My fellow Americans, 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. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.”