Obama appeals to country to back U.S. military force in Syria

WASHINGTON Sat Sep 7, 2013 6:16pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia September 6, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia September 6, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama appealed on Saturday to a dubious American public to back his bid to use military force in Syria while supporters scrambled to persuade lawmakers to authorize the move.

Fresh from a European trip in which he failed to forge a consensus among global leaders on the need for a military strike on Syria, Obama told his war-weary country that America needs to use force to deter future chemical weapons attacks there.

But the president, clearly still the reluctant warrior who rose to political prominence on his opposition to the Iraq war, said he did not want another costly and protracted conflict.

"This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan," Obama declared in his weekly radio address, previewing arguments he will make in a nationally televised address on Tuesday.

"I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. That's why we're not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else's war," Obama said.

Lawmakers returning to Washington after a summer break say many of their constituents have told them they do not think the United States should respond militarily to the August 21 chemical weapons attack that Washington blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week said 56 percent of Americans believed the United States should not intervene in Syria; only 19 percent supported action.

Obama said last week he would seek congressional approval for a strike, but early vote counts in do not look encouraging for the president, with scores of lawmakers still undecided. The U.S. Senate is expected to take action this week; the House of Representatives will vote later.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Saturday sent her fifth letter to Democratic lawmakers urging them to back Obama, noting that Congress had voted overwhelmingly to condemn Syria's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction a decade ago.

The influential pro-Israel group AIPAC said it planned a major lobbying effort this week to try to round up support for military action, with about 250 activists in Washington to meet senators and representatives.

In his radio address, Obama said failing to respond to the attack would threaten U.S. national security by increasing the chance of future chemical attacks from the Syrian government, terrorist groups, or other nations. The United States said more than 1,400 people were killed, including hundreds of children.

"We are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we've seen out of Syria," he said.

But it was unclear whether the wheedling was working.

Senator Mark Pryor, a member of the president's Democratic Party who is running for re-election next year, said on Saturday that he would not support action against Syria at this time.

Pryor said that before U.S. military action is taken, the administration must prove a compelling national security interest, define the mission and build a "true" coalition of participating allies - criteria he said had not been met.

PROTESTS VERSUS PERSUASION

Outside the White House, about 200 opponents of U.S. action in Syria gathered on Saturday, chanting "Hands Off Syria" and waving signs that read: "Tell Congress: no war on Syria."

"The American people are tired of war. The government is not," said retired teacher Andra Sufi, 66, of northern Virginia, who was dressed in white and carried a rainbow "Peace" flag.

"It will exacerbate things. It's not a solution."

Democratic congressional aides said Obama's planned speech to the nation on Tuesday and briefings that top members of Obama's national security team will give to the entire House on Monday would prove pivotal in the thinking of many lawmakers.

Administration officials have already given public testimony and daily closed-door briefings on Syria this week to members of Congress already in town, many of whom remain concerned that even limited strikes could draw the United States into a prolonged war and spark a broader regional conflict.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough goes on Sunday talk shows to make the case for action, and national security adviser Susan Rice will deliver a speech on Monday. On Tuesday morning, McDonough will visit House Democrats.

In Vilnius, Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday welcomed a European Union statement that said there appeared to be strong evidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical attack on civilians. But the EU statement stopped short of lending support to military action.

Obama has just returned from a Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, at which he won some support but no consensus for limited U.S. strikes.

According to a CNN count aired on Saturday, just 25 U.S. senators have gone on the record in favor of military force, while 19 are against and the rest undecided. It will likely take 60 of the Senate's 100 members to advance the measure to the House of Representatives.

In the House, where 218 votes will be required to pass the resolution, CNN said that just 24 members are on record in support of military action, with 119 opposed.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Patricia Zengerle, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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Comments (75)
ruhr wrote:
As the world awaits the decision of the U.S. Congress regarding President Obama’s call to launch limited strikes on the Syrian regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians, support for a military option by the international community appears to be waning.

Having said that, no doubt the international community- including our Russian and Chinese friends- are loathed to see chemical and or biological weapons elevated to the norm in modern day conflict, leading to who knows what.

Is there an alternative to military action? Quite possibly a small window remains ajar.

Of one thing we can be fairly certain of in our 24/7 interconnected world; no people of a sovereign state, given the choice will welcome exclusion from associating with the international community. With this in mind the international community should insist Syria abide by the norms of accepted international governance, or be denied the benefits and rights of association.

Until such time as the Syrian regime provides an unconditional guarantee it will destroy its stockpile of chemicals weapons, with the destruction witnessed and verified by independent monitors, exclusion from association with the international community should remain in force.

In addition to economic sanctions, exclusion means the sovereign states of the international community should immediately deny access to their territories to Syria, and Syrians, including diplomatic personnel, but excluding Syrians already domiciled in the state as residents.

This action, the denial of the right to open and free access with the international community is no small matter. It is a massive undertaking to deny a modern day state and people free movement and association with the international community. It is a potent weapon and one readily available to the international community to act in concert for the common good and, unlike military action which may or may not alter the dynamic it is focused on a clear and absolute outcome that places the ball in the court of Syria to comply.

Assad cannot stand indefinitely against his own people, when it is his people clamoring for a new beginning. It is by denying the influential of Syria the right of free movement, that Assad’s will be forced to act.

To President Obama’s, Prime Minister Cameron’s and President Hollande who wrestle with a military response as the only option; look to the people of Syria, ask Syrians to determine if it is Assad they want, or freedom of association.

Sep 06, 2013 9:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ruhr wrote:
As the world awaits the decision of the U.S. Congress regarding President Obama’s call to launch limited strikes on the Syrian regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians, support for a military option by the international community appears to be waning.

Having said that, no doubt the international community- including our Russian and Chinese friends- are loathed to see chemical and or biological weapons elevated to the norm in modern day conflict, leading to who knows what.

Is there an alternative to military action? Quite possibly a small window remains ajar.

Of one thing we can be fairly certain of in our 24/7 interconnected world; no people of a sovereign state, given the choice will welcome exclusion from associating with the international community. With this in mind the international community should insist Syria abide by the norms of accepted international governance, or be denied the benefits and rights of association.

Until such time as the Syrian regime provides an unconditional guarantee it will destroy its stockpile of chemicals weapons, with the destruction witnessed and verified by independent monitors, exclusion from association with the international community should remain in force.

In addition to economic sanctions, exclusion means the sovereign states of the international community should immediately deny access to their territories to Syria, and Syrians, including diplomatic personnel, but excluding Syrians already domiciled in the state as residents.

This action, the denial of the right to open and free access with the international community is no small matter. It is a massive undertaking to deny a modern day state and people free movement and association with the international community. It is a potent weapon and one readily available to the international community to act in concert for the common good and, unlike military action which may or may not alter the dynamic it is focused on a clear and absolute outcome that places the ball in the court of Syria to comply.

Assad cannot stand indefinitely against his own people, when it is his people clamoring for a new beginning. It is by denying the influential of Syria the right of free movement, that Assad’s will be forced to act.

To President Obama’s, Prime Minister Cameron’s and President Hollande who wrestle with a military response as the only option; look to the people of Syria, ask Syrians to determine if it is Assad they want, or freedom of association.

Sep 06, 2013 9:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Laster wrote:
Well according to the news tonight it is AIPAC that is initiating the full court press of our congress.

http://www.aipac.org/policy-agenda/agenda-display?agendaid={CC9BD4B7-CA22-4780-9807-54FF82683ED4}

I have no idea what it is they are doing, or going to do, to my representative but according to the news tonight; phone calls, faxes, and emails to representatives are registering with about a 90% disapproval of military option.

Oddly enough though two polls cited by the Jerusalem Post found:

“The US and European countries should attack Syria, but Israel should not be involved in the assault, two polls in weekend Hebrew newspapers found.

While polls in the US and United Kingdom have found overwhelming opposition to their countries attacking Syria, a Gal Hadash poll published in Israel Hayom found that 66.6 percent of respondents would be in favor of American and European military intervention in Syria.”

http://www.jpost.com/National-News/Polls-Israelis-want-US-Europe-to-attack-Syria-but-against-IDF-intervention-324787

It’s hard enough to get our government to do the right thing in the first place without “national interests” sending things backwards.

Come Tuesday our legislators need to be reminded.

Sep 06, 2013 9:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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