Obama’s emotional case for action at odds with willingness for ‘diplomatic path’
Analysis: US president’s confused messages not surprising given opposition to Syria strikes
Protesters gather in front of the White House on September 10th, 2013 in Washington. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images
SIMON CARSWELL, Washington Correspondent
US president Barack Obama spent most of his televised address last night explaining why the US was morally right to take military action against Syria but concluded saying that he would give diplomacy a chance.
The confused messages are not surprising given the political and public opposition to the president’s planned “limited” strike on the Assad regime over the alleged chemical weapons attack last month.
Obama has struggled to convince US lawmakers and a war-weary public of the legitimacy of his case for military action against Syria. He concentrated mostly on addressing their concerns last night.
Repeating many of the points for action made several times by senior members of his administration over the past 10 days, Obama said that he “will not put American boots on the ground in Syria”.
Syria would not be like Iraq or Afghanistan or 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.”
Obama made a passionate plea about American values, evoking the use of deadly gas in the first World War and the Holocaust.
“What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?” he said.
“Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.”
Obama’s emotional case for action was at odds with his willingness to pursue a “diplomatic path” and give Assad a chance to surrender his chemical weapons without using force. This can best be explained by the rapid changes in the political and diplomatic situation over recent days.
This televised address, announced last Friday, was expected to be Obama’s final push for military action ahead of a Senate vote to decide whether to authorise the use of force against Assad.
But the purpose of the speech was largely overtaken by the events of the past 48 hours when foreign leaders and US lawmakers jumped at Russia’s proposal on Monday that international observers take control of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and ultimately decommission the stockpile.
This left the president struggling to explain what might happen next in a prime-time address to a skeptical American public that was intended to clarify the arguments for a particular course of action.
The US Congress has now postponed the votes on whether to sanction military action, at the president’s request. Given the growing probability over recent days that Congress wasn’t going to back him, Russia’s proposal offers Obama a convenient way to avoid an embarrassing rejection.
For a president who has already risked his credibility by unexpectedly seeking Congressional support for military action when he didn’t have to, Obama faces yet more risks by changing course again and seeking international consensus at the United Nations around a diplomatic solution.