President Obama remained fuzzy on whether he’ll strike at Bashar al-Assad without approval from Congress, telling reporters at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg that he won’t engage in “parlor games” before the whipping and final vote is done.
Insisting he’s not “itching for a military action,” the president also compared the current situation Americans face to the intervention questions posed by the blitzkrieg on Britain and the Rwandan genocide, noting that getting involved today “probably wouldn’t poll very well.”
Obama’s statement at the press conference focused on economic issues, yet “even as we focused on our shared prosperity — and although the primary task of the G-20 is to focus on our joint efforts to boost the global economy — we did also discuss a grave threat to our shared security: and that’s the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.”
He announced that he would directly make a case to the American people from the White House on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office hasn’t yet released the floor schedule for Monday. The Foreign Relations Committee sent an amended version of Obama’s use of force authorization to the full Senate in a 10-7-1 vote this week. It’s unknown yet if the bill has the 60 votes needed to overcome any procedural block.
Obama gave Russian President Vladimir Putin, an Assad ally, “credit” for holding a dinner with member nations last night where “a full airing of views on the issue” was heard.
“Obviously, this is disputed by President Putin, but if you polled the leaders last night, I’m confident that you’d get a majority who said it is most likely, we are pretty confident, that the Assad regime used it,” he said. “Where there is a division has to do with the United Nations. You know, there are number a of countries that just as a matter of principle believe that if military action is to be taken, it needs to go through the U.N. Security Council.”
He stressed “I was elected to end wars, not start them.”
“I’ve spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people,” the president continued. “…This is not convenient. This is not something that I think a lot of folks around the world, you know, find an appetizing set of choices.”
“You know, if people who, you know, decry international inaction in Rwanda and, you know, say how terrible it is that there are these human rights violations that take place around the world, then why aren’t we doing something about it? And they always look to the United States. Why isn’t the United States doing something about this? The most powerful nation on Earth. Why are you allowing these terrible things to happen?”
In 2009, President Clinton apologized to survivors in Kigali for doing nothing in 1994 to stop the slaughter of 800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide.
Obama theorized that after the UN inspectors’ report is complete, “it may be more difficult for Mr. Putin to maintain his current position about the evidence.”
“You know, and what I’ve tried to explain is, look, we may not solve the whole problem, but this particular problem of using chemical weapons on children, this one we might have an impact on and that’s worth acting on.… And that is something that can only come about I think if, as different as our perspectives may be, myself, Mr. Putin, and others, are willing to set aside those differences and put some pressure on the parties on the ground.”
Asked about growing opposition in Congress, Obama acknowledged he “knew this was going to be a heavy lift.” He disputed some members’ assertions that they’re coming out of administration briefings more skeptical of military action.
“I think that when they go through the classified briefings, they feel pretty confident that, in fact, chemical weapons were used and that the Assad regime used them,” he said. “Where you will see resistance is people being worried about a slippery slope and how effective a limited action might be.”
“…Now, is it possible that Assad doubles down in the face of our action and uses chemical weapons more widely? I suppose anything’s possible, but it wouldn’t be wise.”