Updated at 10:10, 10:15, 10:22 and 10:30 am EDT
President Barack Obama, pressing his case for a military strike against Syria, plans an address to the American public on Tuesday.
The enormity of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons demands a response, the president said today. Obama, who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq before his election to the Senate, says he sees no choice about striking Syria.
“Over 1,400 people were gassed. Over 400 of them were children,” the president said today at a news conference in St. Petersburg closing his trip to the summit of G-20 nations’ leaders. “This is not something we’ve fabricated. This is not something we are… using as an excuse for military action.”
“I was elected to end wars,” he said, “not start them.”
“But what I also know is there are times where we have to make hard choices if we’re going to stand up for what we believe in,” he said. “I believe this is one of those times.”
This is “not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground, not some kind of long, drawn-out affair,” he said.
“What I’ve been emphasizing and will continue to stress is that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons” is not just a tragedy, it’s a threat to international security, Obama said. “It threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons.
“Failing to respond to this breach of international norm would send a signal to rogue nations,” he said. “There is a growing recognition that the world cannot just stand idly by… There needs to be a strong response.”
In the coming days, he said, he will continue to consult with world leaders and Congress.“I will make the best case that I can to the American people,,” he said, signalling his intent to deliver an address on Tuesday, as the Senate returns next week to consider a resolution authorizing military force in Syria.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 this week for a resolution. If the Senate approves the authorization, early indications suggest insurmountable opposition in the House.
Asked about resistance he is facing in Congress, Obama said today: “I knew this was going to be a heavy lift.”
“Our polling operations are pretty good — I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current public opinion is,” he said. “For the American people, who have been through a decade of war now… Any hint” of military involvement in the Middle East “is going to be viewed with a certain amount of suspicion.”“For the American people, at least, the concern has to do with understanding what we’re describing here would be limited and proportionate,” he said of an action aimed at degrading and deterring Syria’s use of chemical weapons. “That is the case that I am going to try to make to not only Congress, but also the American public in the coming days.”
Asked again if he will proceed without a congressional resolution:
“I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate,” he said. But “I did not put this before Congress just as a political play or as symbolism. I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent citizens”’ was going to have an immediate effect on the U.S. or its allies. “My military assured me that we could act today, tomorrow, a month from now, that we could do so proportionally but meaningfully,” he said. In the meantime, “It is important for us to have a debate.”
Pressed on that question, he said: “You’re not getting a direct response.”
“I put this before Congress for a reason,” he said. “I’m not going to engage in parlor games… about whether or not it is going to pass when I am talking substantively to Congress about why this is important…”
Asked about public opposition that members of Congress are fielding back home, the president said: “I expected this. This is hard. I was under no illusions when I embarked on this path.”
“It’s a hard sell, but it’s something I believe in,” he said. “I do consider it part of my job to make the case… It’s conceivable that, at the end of the day, I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do.”
Members of Congress have to listen to their constituents, he said, but ultimately they will have to decide if they are going do “what’s right for America.”