On Saturday, President Obama announced that the United States “should take military action against Syrian targets,” and that he would ask for Congressional approval to carry out a strike — though he maintained he didn’t need to.
“While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective,” he said in a nine-minute Rose Garden address. “We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual.”
Obama demanded that the House and Senate vote to approve a “limited” bombing campain against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in response to a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on Aug. 21.
“This would not be an open-ended intervention, we would not put boots on the ground. Instead our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope,” he said. “But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior and degrade their capacity to carry it out.”
Obama’s insistence on military action follows a huge blow in the British House of Commons, where a measure to join American action against Syria was rejected. France, however, has announced that it will support action against Syria. French President Francoise Hollande said “All options were on the table,” and that “France wants action that is in proportion and firm against the Damascus regime.”
Officials in the Obama administration have been constantly calling for international cooperation during this process. Speaking to reporters in the Philippines, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said it was “the goal of President Obama and our government that whatever decision is taken that it be an international collaboration and effort.”
Obama seemed to strike a slightly different tune during his Saturday announcement, saying that cooperation from other nations and approval from the United Nations Security Council was unnecessary:
“We can have serious conversations with our allies and our friends around the world about this. But, ultimately, we don’t want the world to be paralyzed. And, frankly, part of the challenge that we end up with here is that a lot of people think something should be done, but nobody wants to do it.”
His unilateral tone is interesting, given that his defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary was partly based on her support for the Iraq war. While the surface similarities between Iraq and Syria now hang awkwardly in the forefront of this discussion, the Obama administration insists that this attack would be nothing like the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In a 19-minute speech calling for military action in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry rejected those comparisons, saying, “Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and rereviewed information regarding this attack. And I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment.”
He also said the administration would be declassifying proof of the use of chemical weapons to officials “who can judge for themselves.” While much of the information will remain classified and released only to Congress, Kerry did offer the following:
“So, what do we really know that we can talk about? Well, we know that the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons program in the entire Middle East. We know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year, and has used them on a smaller scale but still it has used them against its own people, including not very far from where last Wednesday’s attack happened.”
There are currently five warships positioned off the coast of Syria waiting to carry out potential strike orders. In his address, Obama said the military is “prepared to strike whenever we choose” and that “mission is not time sensitive.”
“[The mission] will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now. And I am prepared to give that order,” he said.
Almost 200 House members have signed letters asking the White House to seek Congressional approval before any attack on Syria, and, according to Politico, the White House has already been making individual calls to lawmakers seeking support and will be providing briefings on the situation to “every member” of Congress.
Watch Obama’s full announcement below: