President Barack Obama announced on Saturday that he has decided to strike the Syrian military in retaliation for its nerve gas attack on civilians — but that he’ll wait for Congressional authorization before launching an attack.
“I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage,” he said. “Today, I’m asking Congress to send a message to the rest of the world that we are ready to move together.”
“I have the authority to carry out this military action…. [and] I know the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be more effective” if it is approved by Congress, he said in a short statement delivered in the White House’s Rose Garden.
Obama said congressional leaders have agreed to hold a debate after Congress returns from its August recess on September 9.
Obama’s request for congressional approval is unexpected, partly because he has implemented numerous actions in the last few years in the face of congressional opposition. These actions include a partial amnesty for younger illegal immigrants and partial enforcement of drug laws.
However, congressional approval is important for Obama because he’s facing opposition from the progressive left to any use of force — opposition that could damage Democratic turnout the 2014 mid-term election.
Obama indirectly acknowledged the opposition from his fellow progressives, saying that the nation is opposed to military campaigns, and that he wants to end “a time of war that I was elected, in part, to end.”
Obama indicated he is willing to delay any strike for weeks.
“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose,” Obama said. “The Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I’m prepared to give that order,” he said.
Obama also said he would use the next few weeks to build international support for action to enforce what he said is an global “norm” against the use of chemical weapons.
“What is the purpose of the international system that we built without enforcement?” he said.
Without enforcement of a ban on chemical weapons, other threats — such as nuclear weapons, terrorism and genocide — may grow, he said. Top officials say the President is planning a limited strike to deter the Syrian government and other governments from using chemical weapons in the future. (RELATED: Obama and aides signal caution, delay on Syrian response)
The statement came as top administration officials continue briefing legislators about the Syrian government’s Aug. 21 nerve gas on a rebel-held neighborhoods on the edge of Syria’s capital city, Damascus.
Many Democratic legislators are backing action by the Democratic president, but many GOP leaders are keeping their distance, and have not urged a quick decision for or against a strike.
“If the president believes this information makes a military response imperative, it is his responsibility to explain to Congress and the American people the objectives, strategy, and legal basis for any potential action,” said a Friday statement from the office of House Speaker John Boehner. “We — and the American people — look forward to more answers from the White House.”
Some GOP legislators, including Sen. Mike Lee, and 120 House members, have signaled opposition to any strike.
Obama and his aides have said any operation would be limited, but have also left themselves room to delay action, pending approval from foreign governments.
The U.K. and Canadian governments have declined to participate in any strike. The French government may participate, and provide political support.
But any delays will could reduce the chance of a strike, because Obama is due to attend an international summit mid-September.
Also, the White House and Congress have scheduled several high-stakes, and time-consuming domestic battles for September and October, including fights over budgets, spending cuts, Obamacare and the federal government’s debt limit.
The political battles will also be sharpened if Obama and his allies continue to push for a transformational bill that would double immigration during a period of high unemployment.
On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry issued an emotional call for action.
“At least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children,” Kerry said.
Kerry’s statement was timed with the release of a report summarizing intelligence data that shows the Syrian army launched the chemical-tipped rockets at 12 sites in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.
After the attack, reports showed “people twitching with spasms, coughs, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth… unconscious and dead,” Kerry said. “The question is not what we know, but what we do.”
“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,” he said.