Obama, in a stern statement from the White House Rose Garden, said
he had authorised the use of military force to punish Syria for a chemical
weapons attack August 21 that US officials say killed 1,429 people. Military
assets to carry out a strike are in place and ready to move on his order, he
But in an acknowledgement of protests from US lawmakers and
concerns from war-weary Americans, Obama added an important caveat: he wants
Congress to approve.
"We should have this debate, because the issues are
too big for business as usual," he said.
Congress is in recess and not
scheduled to return to work until September 9. It is unclear which way any vote
"Today I'm asking Congress to send a message to the world that
we are ready to move as one nation," Obama said.
Obama's decision was a
high-stakes gamble that he can gain approval from Congress for a limited strike
against Syria to safeguard an international ban on chemical weapons usage,
defend US national security interests and protect regional allies like Turkey,
Jordan and Israel.
"I have long believed that our power is rooted not
just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by
the people, and for the people," Obama said.
His decision was also a
significant shift away from what was perceived to be preparations for a speedy
strike against Syrian targets. He had made clear he was prepared to act
unilaterally after the British parliament refused to go along with American
Protracted and expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have left
Americans reluctant to get involved in Middle Eastern conflicts.
Americans do not want the United States to intervene in Syria. A Reuters/Ipsos
poll taken this week showed only 20 percent believe the United States should
take action, but that was up from 9 percent last week.
A debate has raged for days among members of the US Congress
over whether, or how quickly, Obama should take action.
Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top US Republican, welcomed the move,
which he said is a response to "serious, substantive questions" being raised
about the ability of the President to launch a military move on his
"In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider
a measure the week of September 9. This provides the President time to make his
case to Congress and the American people," he said.
Obama, who only on
Friday had said nobody was more war-weary than he is, has nonetheless been
appalled by searing video images of Syrians who fell under the chemical weapons
In his Saturday speech, he left no doubt that he feels action
must be taken and is confident that a strike would deter this kind of behaviour
and degrade Syria's ability to carry out similar attacks.
decision may well lead to criticism that he conceivably is stepping away again
from a "red line" he established against Syrian use of chemical
"President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander
in chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The president does
not need Congress to authorise a strike on Syria," said Republican
Representative Peter King.
Obama's decision was announced after he met
his national security team at the White House. Top aides were to brief senators
later in the day and members of the House of Representatives are to receive a
classified briefing from administration officials on Sunday.
objective is to show the intelligence US officials say is solid proof that the
Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad launched a large chemical weapons
assault in Damascus suburbs that left among the dead 426 children.
has broad legal powers to take military action, and he insisted he felt he had
the authority to launch a strike on his own. Now, he has to launch a major
effort to convince Congress.
"Here's my question for every member of
Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if
a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no
price?" he said.