In a surprise move, US President Barack Obama has sought congressional approval for limited military intervention in Syria to win more support for his plan to punish the Bashar al-Assad regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
“After careful deliberation, I have decided the United States should take military action against Syrian targets. I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons,” Obama said in an address to the nation from the Rose Garden of the White House.
“This attack is an attack on human dignity and it risks making a mockery of the global prohibition of the ban on chemical weapons. In a world with many dangers, this attack must be confronted. The US should take military action,” he asserted.
“I will seek authorisation for the use of force by the representatives of the US people, the members of the US Congress,” he said urging lawmakers to put aside their differences to vote for military action against Syrian regime.
“Some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment. Today I’m asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are united as one nation,” he said.
After Obama sought Congressional approval for the strike, the White House sent a draft resolution to the Congress to empower the US President to authorise the use of American military force in Syria.
The draft resolution does not set any deadline for US action, but it authorises Obama to take all necessary action against the Assad regime for the alleged chemical weapons attack on 21st August.
However, Obama has decided to bypass the UN Security Council, saying the 15-member body is unwilling to hold the Assad regime accountable.
“I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralysed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable,” Obama said.
Arguing in favour of his move to go ahead with a strike on Syria, Obama, without naming anyone, put the blame on those countries who are not willing to support his agenda in the war-torn country.
“I don’t expect every nation to agree with the decision we have made. Privately we’ve heard many expressions of support from our friends. But I will ask those who care about the writ of the international community to stand publicly behind our action,” Obama said.
“While the UN investigation has some time to report on its findings, we will insist that an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated, it must be confronted,” the US President said.
Presenting his case to the American people and the Congress, Obama said the US “cannot and must not turn a blind eye” to what happened in Damascus. “America must keep its commitments,” he said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel immediately came out in support of Obama. Hagel “supports” Obama’s decision on “congressional authorisation for use of force in Syria, agrees we cannot turn blind eye to Syrian chemical weapons use,” his spokesman George Little said.
The remarks by Obama came a day after his administration released its intelligence assessment blaming the Assad regime for using chemical weapons against its own people that killed 1,429, including at least 426 children.
Obama called his French counterpart Francois Hollande after taking the decision to take military action.
“The President informed Hollande that after careful deliberation he has determined it is in the national security interest of the US to take limited military action against the Syrian government to confront this atrocity, and informed him that he would call on the Congress to authorise the use of military force in Syria,” the White House said in a statement.
Earlier, Hollande has said that France is still ready to take action in Syria alongside the US, despite UK MPs blocking British involvement.
“Obama thanked Hollande for France’s principled commitment to upholding the international norm against the use of chemical weapons and enforcing the consequences that give this norm meaning. France is a valued ally and friend of the US and we will continue to consult closely on Syria in the coming days,” the statement said.
On Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called France America’s “oldest ally” as he praised the country for its support for military action in Syria.
America’s warm words for France represent a significant turnaround from the hostility of a decade ago, when France refused to back the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
The two leaders agreed that the international community must deliver a resolute message to the Assad regime that these crimes are unacceptable and those who violate this international norm will be held accountable by the world, the White House said.