WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, who has failed domestically and internationally to sell the idea of U.S. military strikes against Syria, tried to convince Americans on Tuesday night that the nation's principles and security require a response to the use of chemical weapons.
Speaking while his administration is working on a possible diplomatic solution proposed by Russia, the president still sought to make the case for potential military action to send a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad and other dictators.
“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 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.”
He acknowledged the feelings of war-weary Americans and said he was not contemplating a plan to send troops into Syria's long-running civil war. But he said the U.S. military could strike effectively to degrade Syria's chemical weapons stockpile without fear of retaliation from that nation's forces.
“Any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.”
The president devoted little time in his speech to the prospect of a diplomatic solution in which Syria would turn over its chemical weapons and join the Chemical Weapons Convention, but he called the possibility encouraging and said he had asked Congress to withhold a vote on authorizing force while the process plays out.
“It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments,” he said. “But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.”
Obama's remarks in the White House East Room came in the midst of strong public sentiment against more U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. Numerous polls have shown the disapproval, and lawmakers have been inundated with calls and emails reflecting their constituents' opposition.Watch the full video from President Obama's address