WASHINGTON, Sept 11: US President Barack Obama has asked the American people to support a military strike against Syria, even as he pledged to pursue a diplomatic solution to the standoff.
“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…I believe we should act,” he said in a prime time address to his nation on the night of the 12th anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The speech followed two weeks of high-stakes drama, which many thought would end in a US military action against Syria over the Aug 21 alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus.
The United States and its allies blame the Syrian government for carrying out that attack but the Syrian government rejects the charge and put the blame on the opposition forces.
The build-up for a US military action, however, fizzled out on Monday when Russia and Syria unexpectedly embraced a casual US suggestion for handing over all chemical weapons to the United Nations.
US Secretary of State John Kerry made this suggestion at a news conference in London on Monday, saying that Syria could avoid a US military strike if it “hands over every bit” of its chemical weapons to the UN.
President Obama referred to these developments in his speech, which he originally intended to prepare Americans for a military action against Syria.
The diplomatic initiative, he noted, had “the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad’s strongest allies”.
But President Obama also warned that it was still “too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments”.
President Obama spent most of the 15-minute speech making the case for the use of force against Syria, saying that during the more than two-year civil war in Syria, his administration had tried “diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations” but the Assad government still used chemical weapons.
If the US looked the other way, “other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them,” he said.
As the US media noted, for the most part Mr Obama delivered the kind of speech he would have delivered had the Russian diplomatic option not surfaced.
“I have ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond,” he informed his nation.
He said an attack on Syria would not be comparable to the invasion of Iraq or even the Nato strikes on Kosovo. This would be a “limited strike,” that did not risk dragging the country into another war.
He quoted from the history to show how, when and where chemicals weapons had been used and why the international community should not tolerate such violations of its norms.
Earlier in the day, President Obama visited Capitol Hill and delivered an important message to Senate Republicans: “Do not undermine my authority to threaten military action agai-nst Syria”, The New York Times reported.