President Obama said at a pool spray with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania this afternoon that he has not made “a final decision about various actions that might be taken to help enforce that norm.”
Obama spoke to reporters shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a snapshot of the administration’s intelligence on Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons usage and stressed “in no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign.”
“Again, I repeat, we’re not considering any open-ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots on the ground approach. What we will do is consider options that meet the narrow concern around chemical weapons, understanding that there’s not going to be a solely military solution to the underlying conflict and tragedy that’s taking place in Syria,” Obama said.
“And I will continue to consult closely with Congress. In addition to the release of the unclassified document, we are providing a classified briefing to congressional staff today. And we’ll offer that same classified briefing to members of Congress as well as our international partners. And I will continue to provide updates to the American people as we get more information.”
The majority of the press availability, though, was focused on lauding the U.S. alliance with the Baltic states present and giving each of the leaders a chance to talk about missile defense and economic cooperation.
“We are still in the planning processes. And, obviously, consultations with Congress, as well as the international community are very important. And, you know, my preference, obviously, would have been that the international community already acted forcefully,” Obama said at the end of the availability when asked a question by a reporter.
“But what we have seen, so far at least, is a incapacity at this point for the Security Council to more forward in the face of a clear violation of international norms. And, you know, I recognize that all of us here in the United States, in Great Britain and many parts of the world, there’s a certain weariness given Afghanistan. There’s a certain suspicion of any military action post-Iraq. And I very much appreciate that,” the president continued.
“On the other hand, it’s important for us to recognize that when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 percent or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used, even in war, and there is no action, then we’re sending a signal that that international norm doesn’t mean much, and that is a danger to our national security.”
Obama added that “obviously if and when we make a decision to respond, there are a whole host of considerations that I have to take into account too in terms of how effective it is, and given the kinds of options that we’re looking at, that would be very limited, and would not involve a long-term commitment or a major operation, you know, we are confident that we can provide Congress all the information they can get, all the input that they need.”
“But ultimately we don’t want the world to be paralyzed. And, frankly, you know, part of the challenge that we end up with here is that a lot of people think something should be done, but nobody wants to do it. And that’s not an unusual situation, and that’s part of what allows, over time, the erosion of these kinds of international prohibitions unless somebody says, ‘No. When the world says we’re not gonna use chemical weapons, we mean it.’ And it would be tempting to leave it to others to do it. And I’ve — I think I’ve shown consistently and said consistently my strong preference for multilateral action whenever possible.”
The president concluded that “part of our obligation as a leader in the world is making sure that when you have a regime that is willing to use weapons that are prohibited by international norms on their own people — including children — that they’re held to account.”