U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday he has not made a final decision on attacking Syria, but made clear he thinks doing so would be in the interest of national security.
Syria has become a threat to the United States, he said, “by violating well established international norms against the use of chemical weapons, by further threatening friends and allies of ours in the region, like Israel, and Turkey and Jordan, and it increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future, and fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us.”
Speaking briefly at the White House, Obama said he has consulted with the U.S. military, members of Congress and U.S. allies, as well as the wider international community.
He also made clear his frustration with the United Nations’ inability to agree on a course of action against Damascus.
“What we have seen so far at least is an incapacity at this point for the Security Council to move forward in the face of a clear violation of international norms,” Obama said.
It was a point that Secretary of State John Kerry made earlier in the afternoon, and he blamed Russia, an ally of the Syrian government.
“And because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act, as it should,” Kerry said.
The administration spent Friday laying out its arguments for a response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as it tries to build support at home and abroad for a strike on Syria.
Kerry acknowledged there are risks to acting against the government of President Assad, but said the risks of not acting are greater. Not acting, he said, could embolden other countries to build and use chemical and nuclear weapons, such as Iran and North Korea.
As Kerry spoke Friday afternoon, the White House released an unclassified report, saying the U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that Assad’s government used chemical weapons on August 21 against civilians in several Damascus suburbs.
With Obama’s comments and Kerry’s speech, along with the release of the intelligence summary on the chemical weapons attack, the administration pushed forward its effort to build support at home and abroad for a strike on the Damascus government.
Kerry acknowledged that after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are tired of conflict.
“But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency. These things, we do know,” he said.
Two former U.S. presidents have weighed in. Former Republican president George W. Bush said Obama has a “tough choice to make”.
Former Democratic president Jimmy Carter said a punitive military response would be illegal under international law and “only harden existing positions and postpone a sorely needed political process” in Syria.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged world powers to hold off on possible military action until a U.N. chemical weapons inspection team completes its work in the country.
The inspectors left early Saturday and some are expected to meet with Ban in the next few days. But, it could be weeks before their final report is issued. Kerry noted that the U.N. inspectors’ mission was to establish whether chemical weapons were used, but not to determine who used them.