“What happens if Congress doesn’t approve” a U.S. military strike against Syria, President Barack Obama said in response to reporters’ questions today. “I believe that Congress will approve it.”
“I think America realizes that, as difficult as it is to take any military action…. America also recognizes that if the international community fails to maintain certain norms, standards, laws governing how people are treated, over time this world becomes less safe.” he said. “We’ve seen that happen again and again in our history.”
He also was asked, during a joint press conference with his Swedish host in Stockholm today, about the moment in time when he decided to take his case to Congress. Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev asked the question.
“This had been brewing in my mind for a while,” he said of his decision to seek congressional approval. When the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said the mission was not time-sensitive, that it wouldn’t matter if the U.S. struck immediately or later, he said, “that raised the question of, why not ask the Congress to debate this in a thorough way.”
“This is a difficult decision,” the president said. “It’s important for Congress to be involved in that decision.”
“I think it’s very important that Congress say that we mean what we say… We will be stronger as a country if the Congress and commander-in-chief does it together,” he said. “I do not believe that I was required to take this to Congress, but I did not take this to Congress just because it was an empty exercise… It is important to have Congress support” this.
This is not a decision of his own making, the president also suggested, speaking to that “red line” of chemical weapon use that he had declared as a game changer for U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.
“First of all, I didn’t set a red line — the world set a red line,” Obama said. “When I said in a pres conference that my calculus about what’s happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons… I didn’t pluck it out of thin air. There’s a reason for it.
“My credibility is not on the line,” he said. “The international community’s credibility is on the line… We give lip service to the idea that these international norms are important.”
“The question is, how credible is the international community when it says this is an international norm that has to be observed. How credible is Congress when it passes a treaty that says we have to forbid the use of chemical weapons… I do think we have to act.”
“The question is, are we going to try to find a reason not to act,” he said. “You can always find a reason not to act.”
He was asked about “the dilemma” of being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and preparing to attack Syria. In his acceptance speech, the president noted, “I started the speech by saying that, compared to previous recipients, I was certainly unworthy. But what I also described was the challenge that all of us face, when we believe in peace but we confornt a world that is full of violence and occasional evil. The question becomes then what are our responsibilities.”
He said he has made “every effort” to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The question is, at what point do we need to confront actions that are violating our common humanity.”
Chemical weapons killing civilians, including children, “senselessly” qualifies, he said.
“This is the part of my job that I find most challenging every day.