Obama noted that he has the authority to strike Syria without a vote in Congress, but that a debate over the use of force would ‘strengthen’ the country. He did not say whether he would go forward with an attack if Congress does not give him authorization.
President Obama declared Saturday that he has decided to take unilateral military action against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, but will seek congressional authority before launching an attack.
‘This menace must be confronted and after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,’ Obama said from the Rose Garden Saturday.
‘Our military has positioned assets in the region. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose,’ he added. ‘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.’
‘For the last several days we’ve heard form members of Congress who want their voices to be heard,’ he said. ‘I absolutely agree.’
He said he spoke to congressional leaders Saturday morning and that they have agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote when Congress comes back into session.
Obama made the remarks after meeting at the White House with members of his national security team, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs chairman Martin Dempsey and Vice President Joe Biden.
The White House said it would be giving Senate Republicans and Democrats separate briefings on Saturday. House members of both parties also received an invitation to attend an in-person, members-only classified briefing at 2 p.m. Sunday.
The Syrian army responded to the looming threat of U.S. strikes on Saturday by saying it will respond with force and has its ‘finger on the trigger.’
‘The Syrian army is fully ready, its finger on the trigger to face any challenge or scenario that they want to carry out,’ Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said in a written statement aired on state television.
The statement from the Syrian army came after the Obama administration on Friday made its strongest case yet for a ‘limited, narrow’ punitive military action against Assad.
‘History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s use of chemical weapons,’ Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday, calling Assad a ‘thug’ and a ‘murderer.’
‘Some cite the risk of doing things,’ he added. ‘But we need to ask, “What is the risk of doing nothing?”’
The administration also released a four-page intelligence report Friday that said at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, were killed by the chemical weapons attack on August 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin countered Saturday that it would be ‘utter nonsense’ for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons and urged the U.S. to hold off on any military action.
‘While the Syrian army is on the offensive, saying that it is the Syrian government that used chemical weapons is utter nonsense,’ he said. ‘I would like to address Obama as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate: before using force in Syria, it would be good to think about future casualties.’
He challenged the U.S. to provide any evidence tying Assad’s forces to the attack and suggested that top leaders discuss the issue next week at the G20 summit.