White House officials ratcheted up the rhetoric to unprecedented levels Friday as they try to rally international and public support for an airstrike in Syria, following rebuffs by friendly foreign governments and polls showing public skepticism over any intervention.
But Secretary of State John Kerry also hinted that the potential strike may be postponed for some time.
“President Obama will ensure that the United States of America makes our own decisions on our own timelines, based on our values and our interests,” he said.
The statement mixed calls for international solidarity with declarations that the U.S. would decide its own actions.
It included claims that the U.S. has a moral duty to respond to the attack with cold-blooded statements that the U.S. would act on its own interests.
Kerry spoke after attending a lengthy White House meeting with President Barack Obama.
Concurrent with Kerry’s speech, the White House released an assessment that found that 1,429 people, including 426 children were killed in the alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21.
“This assessment will certainly evolve as we obtain more information,” the four-page paper read.
After the attack, reports showed “people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness and death,” Kerry said.
“The question is not what we know, but what we do,” he said.
“It matters because a lot of other countries are watching. … They want to see if the U.S. and our friends mean what we say. … They’re watching to see if Syria can get away with it,” he said, citing Iran and North Korea.
The response “will directly effect our role in the world and our interests in the world,” he said. “It is also about who we are — we are the United States of America, we are the country that has tried, not always successfully … to honor a set of universal values.”
Kerry also tried to reassure Americans and other countries that any U.S. response will not be excessive.
“Any action [Obama] might decide to take will be limited and tailored,” and will not involve the deployment of U.S. ground troops, he said.
“This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this crime against the most fundamental principles of international community, against the norm of the international community, this matters to us,” Kerry said.
Governments in the United Kingdom and Canada have declined to participate in a strike.
France’s president, Francois Hollande, has indicated he may support an airstrike.
France has a history of involvement with the region stretching back to 1798, and ruled Syria between World War I and World War II. France also tries to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia, which is supporting some Syrian rebel factions.
A new NBC poll shows weak public support for a military operation in Syria.
Only 42 percent of people in the poll backed military action in Syria in response to the chemical attacks. Fifty percent said the U.S. should not take military action. The poll was conducted Aug. 28 and 29.
The poll goosed support up to 50 percent by asking the respondents if they would support a response that is “limited to air strikes using cruise missiles launched from U.S. naval ships that were meant to destroy military units and infrastructure that have been used to carry out chemical attacks.”