Obama makes his case for military strikes in Syria, but asks Congress to delay vote; Florida reactionsby George Bennett | September 10th, 2013
In a 15-minute address to a skeptical nation, President Barack Obama tonight acknowledged criticism of his plan for military strikes in Syria but said the U.S. has both a moral and national security interest in responding to Bashar Assad‘s use of chemical weapons.
After more than a week of pressing Congress with apparently little success to approve the use of military force in Syria, Obama tonight asked the House and Senate to delay a vote on authorizing force while the U.S. pursues a diplomatic solution brokered by Russia that emerged Monday.
Two of Florida’s strongest supporters of military strikes — Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton — responded soon after Obama’s speech by urging Congress to approve military action in case negotiations fail.
But U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, said the president’s address didn’t shake his opposition to military force in Syria.
“It is the threat of military force that has brought Assad to the point of considering international control of his chemical weapons. What Congress should do now is authorize the president’s request of a limited strike. Assad should be warned that if he does not turn the chemical weapons over to international custody in the next three weeks, then the president is authorized to strike,” Nelson said.
Deutch credited the threat of force with spurring diplomacy, but said the U.S. should remain poised to respond militarily.
“Unfortunately, for the past two years Russia has blocked every international effort to protect innocent Syrians from Bashar Al Assad’s campaign of mass murder. It is only now, faced with the threat of U.S. military action, that Russia has suddenly expressed any interest addressing the crisis in Syria through peaceful means,” Deutch said.
“I am truly hopeful that a proposal allowing for the seizure of Assad’s chemical weapons is more than another attempt by a brutal dictator to skirt accountability. What remains clear is that the threat of U.S. military force must always remain credible. We must not give Assad or anyone else a reason to doubt that America – and the world – unequivocally reject chemical warfare.”
Rooney said he listened to Obama with an open mind.
“But all of the concerns and questions I have remain,” Rooney said. “I still don’t see an imminent threat to the U.S. I still believe an air strike would exacerbate the situation and create even more imbalance in the Middle East. Once that happens we are faced with an even bigger problem.”
As for the prospects of diplomacy, Rooney said, “I am hopeful, albeit skeptical that the international community can disarm and hold accountable Assad for his deplorable actions. There are few good options here. But elevating a civil war into an international event should not be one of them.”
In calling for military strikes, Obama has pledged to a war-weary nation that U.S. ground troops would not be deployed and any action would be limited and would not be aimed at toppling Assad. Secretary of State John Kerry this week described potential U.S. action as “unbelievably small” — leading some critics to question whether the strikes would be effective.
Obama sought to allay that concern tonight.
“Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver,” the president said.
He also addressed the criticism from Rooney and others that Syria’s civil war doesn’t pose a national security threat to the U.S.
“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” Obama said. “As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.”
Obama’s call for military action so far has drawn opposition from both sides of the aisle in Congress. He tried to appeal to both tonight.
“And so, to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just,” Obama said. “To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor. For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.”