President Obama Points to “Encouraging Signs” in Syrian Diplomatic Efforts

Photo: MGN Online

Photo: MGN Online

(CNN) — Facing weak support for U.S. military action, President Barack Obama said that a plan suggested by Russia to have Syria hand over its chemical arsenal to international control could avert American strikes “if it’s real.”

Syria’s prime minister said Damascus supports the Russian initiative. Will Moscow’s proposal delay or, perhaps, prevent a U.S. strike? Can Obama sway Americans to support military action in case the U.S. government and others become dissatisfied by the diplomatic process? The president made his case in a televised speech Tuesday night, though — even after he spoke — many questions remained.

Latest developments:

• President Barack Obama pointed Tuesday night to “encouraging signs” in diplomatic efforts to address the crisis in Syria, crediting these “in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action.” These efforts could include Syria handing over its chemical weapons, a move that Obama said has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without military intervention.

• The United States and its military will “be in position to respond if diplomacy fails” to address the crisis in Syria, Obama said, not ruling out military intervention in the war-torn country.

• Targeted military strikes against Syria would serve several purposes, including deterring Syria’s government from using chemical weapons, making it more difficult for them to do so and making clear to the world that the use of chemical weapons won’t be tolerated, Obama said.

• “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria,” Obama said. He also vowed not to “pursue an open-ended action” in the war-torn country.

• Obama said that while any U.S. military action would be limited, “even a limited strike will send a message” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government.

• Obama accused Syrian forces of preparing for the August 21 attacks, passing out gas masks, then firing rockets into a rebel stronghold outside Damascus.

• Obama said Syria’s government violated the “basic rules” of warfare, adding: “The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America (will) do about

• Obama said “the situation (in Syria) profoundly changed on August 21,” referring to a chemical weapons attack he blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Previous developments:

Diplomacy

• Kerry and Lavrov have been appointed by their respective presidents as the point people on the Syrian chemical weapons issue, a senior U.S. administration official said Tuesday. The two diplomats have talked nine times since the August 21 attack in the Damascus area.

• U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will bring a team of experts with him for talks, beginning Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, senior State Department officials said Tuesday. Another U.S. official said this group will include weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons experts from the U.S. military. The Kerry-Lavrov meeting will include several sessions spread across two days, officials said, cautioning that the issue may not be resolved by then.

If and when an accord is reached, it will be included as part of a U.N. Security Council resolution, according to the officials.

• When the two diplomats meet, the Obama administration’s position will be that “we need a verifiable process under international control with timelines and modalities worked out with the Russians and through the United Nations,” a second senior administration official said.

• Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Tuesday, before leaving Moscow, that his government is “ready to fully cooperate” with a Russian initiative that would include Damascus joining the Chemical Weapons Convention and turning over its chemical weapons.

“We are ready to disclose the location(s) of chemical weapons, stop manufacturing chemical weapons, also show the locations to representatives from Russia and other countries and the U.N.,” Moallem said in his remarks, as translated from Arabic.• Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the plan to avert an international military strike in Syria by having Syria’s government hand over its chemical weapons “will only mean anything if the United States and other nations supporting it tell us that they’re giving up their plan to use force against Syria.”

The Russian leader added, “You can’t really ask Syria, or any other country, to disarm unilaterally while military action against it is being contemplated.”• Russia will propose a U.N. draft declaration backing an initiative to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Lavrov has told France that its own draft resolution holding the Syrian government responsible for the use of chemical weapons is “unacceptable.”

• France is planning to offer a five-point U.N. Security Council resolution, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. The points include condemning the August 21 massacre, having Syria shed light on its weapons of mass destruction and placing them under international control, having international inspections, forcing Syria to face severe consequences if it violates its obligations, and submitting the perpetrators of the August 21 massacre to international justice.

• Putin said the United States and its allies should “pledge to renounce the use of force” as world powers work to deal with the Syrian chemical weapons issue. “It is difficult to make any country — Syria or any other country in the world — to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration,” he told Russian TV on Tuesday.

• French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Obama agreed Tuesday to work together to explore the Russian proposal seriously, a White House official said. The talks will begin in earnest at the United Nations later Tuesday and will include a discussion on a potential U.N. Security Council resolution.

• The opposition Syrian Coalition said Tuesday that the Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control “is a political strategy that aims to stall for more time” and “does not address the issue of accountability for crimes against innocents.”

• Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi said Damascus supports the Russian initiative, Syria state TV reported. The plan “aims to stop the Syrian bloodshed and prevent a war,” Al-Halqi said. “Yesterday we held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and from his side, there was a proposal for an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And by evening (Monday) we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Moallem said. He said Syria had agreed because it would “remove grounds for American aggression.”

• Russia said it’s working on a plan for Syria to hand over chemical weapons. “We, the Russian side, are currently engaged in the preparation of a workable, clear, specific plan for which — literally this minute — we are in contact with the Syrian side,” Lavrov said. “We expect to present this plan in the near future and are prepared to refine and work it out with the participation of the U.N. secretary-general, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and with the participation of the members of the Security Council.”

• Kerry said Tuesday that Russia’s foreign minister is sending along “some interesting observations about the ways in which he thinks we might be able to achieve” having Syria turn over its chemical weapons. Speaking in a Google+ Hangout, Kerry said the fact Syria’s president “has been running a highly controlled and very hierarchical process” leads Washington to believe that Syria’s government “can control access to these sites.”

• China welcomes and supports Russia’s proposal to have Syria hand over chemical weapons to international control, the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

• Iran said it welcomes the Russian initiative for Syria “to put a halt to militarism in the region,” according to a banner on state-run Press TV’s website.

• Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — whose nation has been a longtime ally of Syria and staunch adversary of the United States, which has led efforts to stymie Iran’s nuclear program — said Tuesday on Press TV that Iran is willing to do whatever it can to prevent a broader regional war he surmised would be “very dangerous … first of all for those who would initiate that war.” Speaking of weapons of mass destruction, which include nuclear as well as chemical weapons, Rouhani said, “We would like to see a WMD-free region, including chemical weapons.”

• Russia has withdrawn its request for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on the Syrian crisis that had been set for later Tuesday afternoon, a U.N. diplomat said. Russia, which has been a key player in efforts to have Syria give up its chemical weapons, dropped its request due to “changing circumstances,” according to the diplomat.

• France had planned to go to the Security Council on Tuesday with its proposal for Syria to hand over and destroy its chemical weapons, Fabius said. He said France will not accept “delaying tactics.” It was not clear how the cancellation of Tuesday afternoon’s meeting affected the French approach, if at all.

• There are consultations with France and others about how to move quickly at the United Nations to test whether Russia and Syria are serious about the initiative to place chemical weapons under international control, a senior U.S. administration official said.

• Obama and Putin, despite their chilly relationship, have been talking for roughly a year about the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, a senior U.S. administration official said Tuesday.

• Eight more countries have signed onto a statement to “support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons,” the White House announced Tuesday. Georgia, Guatemala, Kuwait, Malta, Montenegro, Panama, Poland and Portugal join 25 other countries in agreeing to the joint statement.

• A 22-year-old man died Tuesday in southern Turkey during a clash between police in that country and demonstrators rallying against the prospect of a broader international war in neighboring Syria, his mother said. Police released video showing protesters throwing stones at armored vehicles from rooftops, yet witnesses claimed Ahmet Atakan — who is an Alawite, the same Muslim sect as Syria’s leadership — died after being shot in the head with a tear gas canister.

• As the diplomatic debate continued to rage about what to do regarding Syria, the death toll in the war-ravaged nation rose. According to the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria, 76 deaths were reported Tuesday around the country, including seven children and five women. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have died since the civil war began in 2001, with more than 2 million people crossing borders as refugees and another 4.25 million displaced within Syria.

U.S. Congress and government

• The Syrian regime has “about 1,000 metric tons of numerous chemical agents, binary components, including finished sulfur, mustard, binary components for sarin and VX,” Kerry told a House committee on Tuesday. “Most of that is in the form of unmixed binary components, probably stored mostly in tanks. But they also possess sarin-filled munitions and other things I can’t go into here.”

• A White House official told CNN that since August 23, the Obama administration has had discussions with at least 93 senators and more than 350 House members regarding Syria. In addition to the president’s efforts and his much-anticipated speech on Syria scheduled for Tuesday night, Vice President Joe Biden met with a group of House Republicans and House Democrats at the White House, the official said.

• Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Russian plan has “given the president a victory” and said White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has told House Democrats, “if it is serious, if it is credible, if it is real, will be given every consideration.” Democratic leaders say the plan doesn’t take the wind out of the administration’s efforts but “validates what the president is doing,” Pelosi said.

• U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman met Tuesday with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, to discuss Moscow’s proposal to have Syria give up its chemical weapons, the California Democrat said. Sherman, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the meeting informative and said he believes “the Russian proposal deserves very serious attention to develop the details needed to carry it out.”

• A White House official said the feeling inside the White House is that, given the Russian proposal on Syria’s chemical weapons, there is now less urgency for a vote on taking action against the country. However, White House officials believe their position has been strengthened since Syria embraced the Russian proposal to place the country’s chemical weapons under international control. At this point, White House officials believe they can let diplomacy take its course, the official said.

• In meetings with Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans — each lasting more than an hour — President Obama asserted that U.S. intelligence assessments indicate that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for a large-scale chemical weapons attack on August 21 outside Damascus, a White House official said.

While reiterating his position that a targeted military strike (without having troops set foot in Syria) was in the national security interests of the United States, the president said that his administration would work to pursue the diplomatic option put forward by Russia, which would involve Syria handing over its chemical weapons, the official said.

• Obama stressed during those meetings with U.S. senators the need to keep open the option of a military strike against Syria, said Sen. Tom Carper. According to the Delaware Democrat, Obama spoke for 10 to 12 minutes, then fielded questions from about 15 senators.

“If we don’t keep that threat open,” Carper said in summarizing the president, “they may very well walk away.”

After the same meeting, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said she felt Obama is working towarda successful diplomatic resolution that would culminate in the documented destruction of the Syrian government’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

• Kerry said Tuesday that the use of force “absolutely should not be off the table” in Congress despite the Russian proposal. But he told House lawmakers that when and how is up to Obama. “The Senate has made a decision to hold off to see if there are any legs in this Russia proposal,” Kerry said, referring to the postponement of a procedural vote scheduled for Wednesday.

• Speaking later Tuesday in the Google+ Hangout, the secretary of state acknowledged that “some things” from the U.S. government have not gotten to opponents of Syria’s al-Assad “as rapidly as one would have hoped.” Without detailing what items were heading toward what he called “the moderate opposition,” Kerry said “many of the items that people complained were not getting to them are now getting to them.”

• Under a new resolution being proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, Obama would have 30 days to work out a “credible plan” regarding Syria’s chemical weapons before he’d be allowed to order strikes, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

• Explaining the evolving timing of U.S. Senate votes on Syria in light of recent developments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reiterated Tuesday, “It’s important that we do this well, not quickly.” The Nevada Democrat added that “the credible threat of our doing something about this (chemical weapons) attack is going to remain.”

Reid’s comments came after Obama asked Senate Democrats to delay voting on authorizing military action in Syria while the diplomatic process works itself out, according to senators in the meeting. The president “asked for some time to work things out — a matter of days into next week,” Sen. Dick Durbin said.

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Tuesday evening that he is canceling a briefing on Syria that had been planned for Wednesday for all senators, explaining that there are just too many moving targets at the moment.

• Sen. Joe Manchin — a West Virginia Democrat who last week had pushed an initiative to put off military action while demanding Syria signs an international convention against chemical weapons — said Tuesday that he is “encouraged” that Syria’s government has decided to sign on to such an agreement. “I have said from the start that being a superpower means more than super-military might; it means super-diplomacy and super-restraint,” Manchin said in a statement.

• A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is working on an alternative resolution that would set key benchmarks to be met in order to avoid a military strike against Syria, according to a source familiar with the talks.

• Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Kerry told lawmakers that a “credible threat of force” in recent weeks has for the “first time” prompted the Syrian regime “to even acknowledge that they have a chemical weapons arsenal.” He added that a Russian proposal to turn over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile can’t be a process for “delay” or “avoidance.”

• Kerry also warned the committee that Iran, a close ally of Syria, “looms out there with its nuclear program.” “They are watching what we do here. If we choose not to act, we will be sending a message to Iran of American ambivalence, American weakness,” he said.

• U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday that he believes there needs to be a detailed timeline for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons. Referring to the Moscow-led efforts calling for such a transfer in the face of threatened U.S.-led military strikes in Syria, Kinzinger said, “It’s important to understand that the Russians may be trying to stall here.”

• The top-ranking Republican in the Senate said Tuesday that he will vote against authorizing military action against Syria. “A vital national security risk is clearly not at play. There are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a speech on the floor of the Senate.

• On CNN’s “New Day,” Sen. John McCain upbraided the Obama administration’s discussions of Syria. “There’s a degree of incoherence that I have never seen the likes of,” the Arizona Republican said. He noted that Kerry said any strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.” “What does that mean?” McCain asked. “We still haven’t determined what the goal of these military strikes are.”

• Frederic Hof, who served as a special adviser to Obama on Syria during its ongoing civil war, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he’s a “bit skeptical” of the Russian proposal on chemical weapons, further pointing out that Monday was the first day Syria’s government ever admitted to having such an arsenal.

In his speech Tuesday night, “The president absolutely has to get across (the point) that diplomacy is not possible without the credible use of force remaining on the table,” said Hof, now a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council think tank. “Absent that, the Russian proposal will go away.”

• While U.S. forces are in position and capable of striking immediately, the Pentagon needs more guidance from President Barack Obama about time frames for a possible strike against Syria, a senior U.S. military official said.

The official noted that the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz can’t stay in the Red Sea much longer as it is already overdue to go home, while destroyer ships in the area will also need to be switched out. “The question is how long do we stay at a certain … high-readiness level,” the official said.

American public opinion

• A new national poll suggests that as Obama prepares to tell a skeptical American public why the United States should take military action against Syria, he’s partly to blame for the box into which he’s put himself.

• The CNN/ORC International Poll indicates that Americans are divided evenly on whether Obama is a strong leader as well as whether he’s honest and trustworthy.

• The poll also found that one in five said they completely understand Obama’s Syria policy. A little more than half said they “somewhat” understand the administration’s game plan, and about three in 10 said they are not clear about the administration’s strategy or don’t understand it at all.

The full transcript of the President’s remarks are as follows:

“My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria — why it matters, and where we go from here.

“Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war.  Over 100,000 people have been killed.  Millions have fled the country.  In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement.  But I have resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children.  The images from this massacre are sickening:  Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas.  Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath.  A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.  On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits — a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.

“This was not always the case.  In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe.  In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.  Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them.  And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 governments that represent 98 percent of humanity.

“On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.  No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria.  The world saw thousands of videos, cell phone pictures, and social media accounts from the attack, and humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.

“Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible.  In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas.  They distributed gasmasks to their troops.  Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.  Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded.  We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack, and the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed.  We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.

“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory.  But these things happened.  The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it.  Because what happened to those people — to those children — is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

“Let me explain why.  If we fail to 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.

“This is not a world we should accept.  This is what’s at stake.  And that is why, after careful deliberation, 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.

“That’s my judgment as Commander-in-Chief.  But I’m also the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.  So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress.  I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress.  And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.

“This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the President, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.

“Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular.  After all, I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them.  Our troops are out of Iraq.  Our troops are coming home from Afghanistan.  And I know Americans want all of us in Washington — especially me — to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home:  putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class.

“It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions.  So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress, and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.

“First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war?  One man wrote to me that we are “still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.”  A veteran put it more bluntly:  “This nation is sick and tired of war.”

“My answer is simple:  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.

“Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad.  As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a “pinprick” strike in Syria.

“Let me make something clear:  The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.  Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.  I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force — we learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next.  But a targeted strike can make Assad, or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons.

“Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation.  We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military.  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 unshakeable support of the United States of America.

“Many of you have asked a broader question:  Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated, and where  — as one person wrote to me — “those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights?”

“It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists.  But al Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.  The majority of the Syrian people — and the Syrian opposition we work with — just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom.  And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.

“Finally, many of you have asked:  Why not leave this to other countries, or seek solutions short of force?  As several people wrote to me, “We should not be the world’s policeman.”

“I agree, and I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions.  Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warning and negotiations — but chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

“However, over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs.  In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.  The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.

“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments.  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.

“I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.  I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.  I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and to ultimately destroy them under international control.  We’ll also give U.N. 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.

“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 is a better place because we have borne them.

“And so, to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.  To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor.  For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

“Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask:  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?

“Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.”  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.

“America is not the world’s policeman.  Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

“Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.”

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