Political Musings September 15, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry seals deal with Russia over Syria chemical weapons disarmament

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Kerry seals deal with Russia over Syria chemical weapons disarmament (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video
On the third day of talks between the United States and Russia in Geneva, Switzerland about Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the two countries came to an agreement on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 to destroy Syria’s chemical….READ MORE

Full Text Political Transcripts September 15, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry & Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks after their Meeting about Syria, Iran & Peace Talks

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. Secretary, John, a pleasure to welcome you again in Jerusalem. I very much appreciate the fact that you’re here today. You’ve got a lot on your plate. Despite that busy schedule of yours, you took the time to come to Jerusalem. It’s deeply appreciated. I appreciate the fact that you’re making a great personal effort on matters of vital strategic importance for all of us.

We have been closely following and support your ongoing efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. The Syrian regime must be stripped all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer. The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction, because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.

Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community by its pursuit towards nuclear weapons. What the past few days have showed is something that I’ve been saying for quite some time, that if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of Iran – or what is true of Syria is true of Iran, and by the way, vice versa.

John, I appreciate the opportunity we’ve had to discuss at some length our quest for peace with the Palestinians and the ongoing talks. We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all. I want to welcome you once again to Jerusalem. I want to promise all of those who are seeing us now that this will not be our last long meeting.

SECRETARY KERRY: No. (Laughter.) Not by any means.

Mr. Prime Minister, my friend Bibi, thank you very much for one of your generous welcomes here again. I’m very appreciative, very happy to be back here in Israel, and only sorry that it’s a short time and a short visit. I thank you for your generous hospitality and I pick up on your comments that the road ahead is not easy. If it were easy, peace would have been achieved a long time ago. But what is clearer than ever today is that this is a road worth traveling. And so I’m delighted to have spent a good period of time – (clears throat) – excuse me, folks, the benefits of a lot of travel. (Laughter.)

I’m really happy to have spent a serious amount of time with the Prime Minister this afternoon talking in some depth about the challenges of the particular road that we are on. This is a follow-up to a very productive meeting that I had in London last week with President Abbas, so I am talking to both presidents directly as we agreed –

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Don’t elevate me to the role of president.

SECRETARY KERRY: President – Prime Minister and President, I apologize.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I can’t reach those heights –

SECRETARY KERRY: (Laughter.) Both leaders.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: — and I respect Mr. Peres greatly and –

SECRETARY KERRY: I am talking to both leaders directly. And everybody, I think, understands the goal that we are working for. It is two states living side by side in peace and in security. Two states because there are two proud peoples, both of whom deserve to fulfill their legitimate national aspirations in a homeland of their own, and two states because today, as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, I think everybody is reminded significantly of the costs of conflict and the price, certainly, that Israelis have paid in the quest for their security and identity.

The Prime Minister and I and all of the parties involved have agreed that we will not discuss details at any point in time. We are convinced that the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately with confidence that everybody will respect that process. And since I have asked for that from all the parties, I’m not going to break it now or at any other time. We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on.

I do want to comment, however, as the Prime Minister has, on the challenge of the region and what we have just been doing in the last few days of negotiations in Geneva. And that is, as the Prime Minister has said, an issue that directly affects the stability of this entire region, and ultimately, weapons of mass destruction, which are at stake in this issue, are a challenge to everybody on this planet. So this is a global issue, and that is the focus that we have tried to give it in the talks in Geneva in the last days, but we want to make sure people understand exactly what we are trying to achieve and how.

The ongoing conflict in Syria has enormous implications for all of the neighbors – the press of refugees, the fact of weapons of mass destruction having been used against the people of their own state. These are crimes against humanity, and they cannot be tolerated, and they are a threat to the capacity of the global community to be able to live by standards of rules of law and the highest standards of human behavior.

So I want people to understand the key elements of what we agreed to in Geneva. It is a framework, not a final agreement. It is a framework that must be put into effect by the United Nations now. But it is a framework that, with the Russian and U.S. agreement, it has the full ability to be able to, as the Prime Minister said, strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria. The Russians have agreed, they state, that the Assad regime has agreed to make its declaration within one week of the location and the amount of those weapons. And then we will put in place what we hope to put in place through the United Nations, what Russia and the United States agreed on, which is the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal effort well beyond the CWC that has been designed.

Now this will only be as effective as its implementation will be, and President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains. The threat of force is real, and the Assad regime and all those taking part need to understand that President Obama and the United States are committed to achieve this goal. We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs because that affects all other issues, whether Iran or North Korea or any other.

The core principles with respect to the removal of these weapons and the containment of these weapons, which we want to achieve, as we said in the document, in the soonest, fastest, most effective way possible – if we achieve that, we will have set a marker for the standard of behavior with respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea and any other state, rogue state, group that decide to try to reach for these kinds of weapons.

The core principles will have the full backing of the international community through the UN Security Council. And Russia agreed that any breach of compliance, according to standards already set out in the CWC, any breach of the specifics of this agreement or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria will result in immediate referral and action by the Security Council for measures under Chapter 7, which means what they select, up to and including the possibility of the use of force.

So again, I reiterate diplomacy has always been the preferred path of the President of the United States, and I think is any peace-loving nation’s preferred choice. But make no mistake, we’ve taken no options off the table. President Obama’s been absolutely clear about the remainder of the potential of use of force if there is noncompliance or refusal to take part, because the egregious use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against innocent men, women, children, their own citizens all indiscriminately murdered in the dead of night, is unacceptable. And we have said in no uncertain terms that this should never happen again. This country understands the words, “Never again,” perhaps better than any other.

I’ve been in contact with many of my counterparts, with Foreign Secretary Hague of the United Kingdom, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Their partnership on these issues has been essential. And I will see both of them tomorrow and Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey in Paris, where I’ll also meet Foreign Minister Saud Faisal of Saudi Arabia in order to talk about the road ahead to achieve our goals.

Our attention and our efforts will now shift to the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN Security Council, and the international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its commitments, and we expect Russia to join with us in holding them accountable.

I also want to make clear this effort is not just about securing chemical weapons in Syria. We are not just standing up for a redline that the world drew some 100 years ago, and which is worth standing up for. Our focus now must remain on ending the violence, ending the indiscriminate killing, ending the creation of more and more refugees that is not only tearing Syria apart, but threatens the region itself.

As President Obama has said, and I have said many times, there is no military solution to this conflict. We don’t want to create more and more extremist elements and we don’t want to see the implosion of the state of Syria. So our overall objective is to find a political solution through diplomacy, and that needs to happen at the negotiating table, and we will stay engaged with a sense of urgency. And I say to the Syrian opposition and all those in Syria who recognize that just removing the chemical weapons doesn’t do the job, we understand that, and that is not all we are going to seek to do. But it is one step forward, and it eliminates that weapon from the arsenal of a man who has proven willing to do anything to his own people to hold onto power.

Foreign Minister Lavrov and I met with Special Envoy Brahimi yesterday. We will meet again in New York. We are committed to continue to work towards the Geneva 2. And we have made clear that our support to the opposition in an effort to get there will continue unabated.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, I know you and I are both clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. We have to summon the grit and the determination to stay at this, to make the tough decisions – tough decisions about eliminating weapons of mass destruction and tough decisions about making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will not lose sight of the end game. I know that from talking with the Prime Minister today. And I think both of us remain deeply committed, and we hope very much with our partners in the region, to doing our best to try to make this journey towards peace get to its destination.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: John, another sound bite. (Laughter.)

Political Headlines September 12, 2013: John Kerry to Test Russia’s Seriousness on Syria Solution

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

John Kerry to Test Russia’s Seriousness on Syria Solution

JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva Thursday for talks with Russia about Syria’s chemical weapons and was met by a statement from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he was not surrendering the arsenal because of any U.S. threats….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 12, 2013: John Kerry Rejects Syria’s Demand to Drop Threat

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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John Kerry Rejects Syria’s Demand to Drop Threat

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Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday rejected a call from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the U.S. to drop its threat of force before Syria gives up its chemical weapons.

“President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these weapon,” Kerry told reporters at the start of a multi-day negotiation with the Russians over how such a disarmament might take place….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 11, 2013: Congress Halts Syria Vote; Skepticism of Russia Proposal Spreads

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Congress Halts Syria Vote; Skepticism of Russia Proposal Spreads

The U.S. Congress is standing down on votes to authorize military force against Syria while the Obama administration attempts to solidify an international agreement under which the Assad regime would give up its chemical weapons stockpiles. Many members of Congress are skeptical that the potential diplomatic solution will succeed….READ MORE

Political Musings September 11, 2013: President Barack Obama addresses the nation about Syria, selling military and diplomatic plans

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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Obama addresses the nation about Syria, selling military and diplomatic plans (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video

President Barack Obama delivered a rare televised address to the nation from the East Room of the White House about the crisis in Syria on Tuesday evening, Sept. 10, 2013 at 9 p.m. President Obama’s speech made…READ MORE

Political Musings September 11, 2013: New developments shifts US Syria response from military action to diplomacy

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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New developments shifts US Syria response from military action to diplomacy (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video
There have been major shifts in the Syria crisis in the last 24 hours from Monday morning, Sept. 9, 2013 until President Barack Obama delivered his address to the nation on Syria, Tuesday evening, Sept, 10, 2013. These developments shifted…READ MORE

Political Headlines September 10, 2013: President Barack Obama Pleads His Case on Syria in Address to Nation: ‘I Believe We Should Act’

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Pleads His Case on Syria: ‘I Believe We Should Act’

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Stymied by lagging public opinion and an 11th-hour diplomatic curveball, President Obama Tuesday night argued that he still needs congressional authorization for military strikes against Syria even though its possible he may not have to use it.

“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act,” Obama said during a rare primetime televised address to the nation….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 10, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech Addressing the Nation on Syria

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Watch Live: President Obama’s Address to the Nation on Syria

Source: WH, 9-10-13

Tonight at 9:00 PM ET, President Obama will address the nation from the East Room of the White House.

The President will be speaking about the United States’ response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons that killed more than 1,400 civilians — including more than 400 children.

You can watch the President’s speech live below or on WhiteHouse.gov/Syria.

Pool photo by Evan Vucci

President Obama spoke in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday.

Text

Obama’s Remarks on Syria

Source: NYT, 9-10-13Following is the complete text of President Obama’s speech about Syria from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, as transcribed by Federal News Service.

MR. OBAMA: My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria, why it matters and where we go from here. Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition and to shape a political settlement.

But I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening, men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.

This was not always the case. In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust. Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 government that represent 98 percent of humanity.

On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.

No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cellphone pictures and social media accounts from the attack. And humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.

Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area they where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.

Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack. And the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.

When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other day until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied.

The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.

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.

If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.

This is not a world we should accept. This is what’s at stake. And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. That’s my judgment as commander in chief.

But I’m also the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possessed the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress, and I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.

This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.

Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular. After all, I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq, our troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and I know Americans want all of us in Washington, especially me, to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home, putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class. It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.

First, many of you have asked: Won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.

My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

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. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.

Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation. We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other — any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.

Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights? It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But al-Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death. The majority of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition we work with just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.

Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force?

And several people wrote to me, we should not be the world’s policeman. I agree. And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations. But chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

However, over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.

It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.

I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to met his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closet allies, France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

We’ll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st. And we will continue to rally support from allies, from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East who agree on the need for action.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. And tonight I give thanks again to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.

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.

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.

Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask: What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way? Franklin Roosevelt once said our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.

Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.

With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Political Headlines September 10, 2013: President Barack Obama Makes Syria Pitch on Capitol Hill to Senate Democrats & Republicans

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Obama Makes Syria Pitch on Capitol Hill

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With skepticism on Syria rising in Congress, President Obama delivered a personal pitch on Capitol Hill, meeting behind closed doors in rare back-to-back sessions with Senate Democrats and Republicans….READ MORE

Political Musings September 8, 2013: Obama fails to gain international support for Syria strike at G20 Summit

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Obama fails to gain international support for Syria strike at G20 Summit (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video

President Barack Obama returned from the G20 Summit on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 unable to gain a wide backing for a military strike against Syria from the majority of the G20 countries present at the summit. President Obama is leading….READ MORE

Political Musings September 8, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Syria strike PR includes weekly address, interviews & televised speech

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Obama’s Syria strike PR includes weekly address, interviews & televised speech (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video
President Barack Obama launched a campaign to gain support for a military strike against Syria; he devoted his weekly address released on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 to the Syria crisis, will be interviewed on Monday, Sept. 9 by six…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 7, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Calling for Limited Military Action in Syria

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Weekly Address: Calling for Limited Military Action in Syria

Source: WH, 9-7-13

Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3

In his weekly address, President Obama makes the case for limited and targeted military action to hold the Assad regime accountable for its violation of international norms prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.  The President realizes the American people are weary after a decade of war, which is why U.S. action would not include U.S. boots on the ground.  Instead, the President has put forward a proposed authorization that is focused on his clearly stated objectives – preventing and deterring the use and proliferation of chemical weapons (CW) within, to, or from Syria, degrading the Assad regime’s capacity to carry out future CW attacks, and deterring this behavior in others who would otherwise feel emboldened to use such weapons.  The President acknowledged it is not a decision he made lightly, but failing to respond to such actions poses a serious threat to our national security.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
September 7, 2013

Almost three weeks ago in Syria, more than 1,000 innocent people – including hundreds of children – were murdered in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century.  And the United States has presented a powerful case to the world that the Syrian government was responsible for this horrific attack on its own people.

This was not only a direct attack on human dignity; it is a serious threat to our national security.  There’s a reason governments representing 98 percent of the world’s people have agreed to ban the use of chemical weapons.  Not only because they cause death and destruction in the most indiscriminate and inhumane way possible – but because they can also fall into the hands of terrorist groups who wish to do us harm.

That’s why, last weekend, I announced that, as Commander in Chief, I decided that the United States should take military action against the Syrian regime.  This is not a decision I made lightly.  Deciding to use military force is the most solemn decision we can make as a nation.

As the leader of the world’s oldest Constitutional democracy, I also know that our country will be stronger if we act together, and our actions will be more effective.  That’s why I asked Members of Congress to debate this issue and vote on authorizing the use of force.

What we’re talking about is not an open-ended intervention.  This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan.  There would be no American boots on the ground.  Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope – designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so.

I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down.  That’s why we’re not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else’s war.

But we are the United States of America.  We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we’ve seen out of Syria.  Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again; that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.  All of which would pose a serious threat to our national security.

That’s why we can’t ignore chemical weapons attacks like this one – even if they happen halfway around the world.  And that’s why I call on Members of Congress, from both parties, to come together and stand up for the kind of world we want to live in; the kind of world we want to leave our children and future generations.

Thank you.

Full Text Obama Presidency September 6, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks in a Press Conference at the G20 Summit about Syria Military Response

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Remarks by President Obama in a Press Conference at the G20

Source: WH, 9-6-13

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G20 Summit Site
St. Petersburg, Russia

5:55 P.M. MSK

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good evening.  Let me begin by thanking President Putin and the people of St. Petersburg and the people of Russia for hosting this G20.  This city has a long and storied history, including its heroic resistance and extraordinary sacrifices during the Second World War.  So I want to take this opportunity to salute the people of St. Petersburg and express our gratitude for their outstanding hospitality.

This summit marks another milestone in the world’s recovery from the financial crisis that erupted five years ago this month.  Instead of the looming threat of another financial meltdown, we’re focused for the first time in many years on building upon the gains that we’ve made.  For the first time in three years, instead of an urgent discussion to address the European financial crisis, we see a Europe that has emerged from recession.

Moreover, the United States is a source of strength in the global economy.  Our manufacturing sector is rebounding.  New rules have strengthened our banks and reduced the chance of another crisis.  We’re reducing our addiction to foreign oil and producing more clean energy.  And as we learned today, over the past three and a half years, our businesses have created seven and a half million new jobs — a pace of more than 2 million jobs each year.  We’ve put more people back to work, but we’ve also cleared away the rubble of crisis and laid the foundation for stronger and more durable economic growth.

We’re also making progress in putting our fiscal house in order.  Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.  And as Congress takes up important decisions in the coming months, I’m going to keep making the case for the smart investments and fiscal responsibility that keep our economy growing, creates jobs and keeps the U.S. competitive.  That includes making sure we don’t risk a U.S. default over paying bills we’ve already racked up.  I’m determined that the world has confidence in the full faith and credit of the United States.

As the world’s largest economy, our recovery is helping to drive global growth.  And in the emerging markets in particular, there’s a recognition that a strong U.S. economy is good for their economies, too.

Yet we came to St. Petersburg mindful of the challenges that remain.  As it emerges from recession, Europe has an opportunity to focus on boosting demand and reducing unemployment, as well as making some of the structural changes that can increase long-term growth.  Growth in emerging economies has slowed, so we need to make sure that we are working with them in managing this process. And I’m pleased that over the past two days we reached a consensus on how to proceed.

We agreed that our focus needs to be on creating jobs and growth that put people back to work.  We agreed on ways to encourage the investments in infrastructure that keep economies competitive.  Nations agreed to continue pursuing financial reforms and to address tax evasion and tax avoidance, which undermines budgets and unfairly shifts the tax burden to other taxpayers.

We’re moving ahead with our development agenda, with a focus on issues like food security and combating corruption.  And I’m very pleased that the G20 nations agreed to make faster progress on phasing down certain greenhouse gases a priority.  That’s an important step in our fight against climate change.

During my trip, we also continued our efforts to advance two key trade initiatives:  the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And I believe that if we continue to move forward on all the fronts that I’ve described, we can keep the global economy growing and keep creating jobs for our people.

Of course, even as we’ve focused on our shared prosperity, and although the primary task of the G20 is to focus on our joint efforts to boost the global economy, we did also discuss a grave threat to our shared security and that’s the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.  And what I’ve been emphasizing and will continue to stress is that the Assad regime’s brazen use of chemical weapons isn’t just a Syrian tragedy.  It’s a threat to global peace and security.

Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors — Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel.  It threatens to further destabilize the Middle East.  It increases the risk that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. But, more broadly, it threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations, and those nations represent 98 percent of the world’s people.

Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes, and terrorist organizations that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence.  And that’s not the world that we want to live in.

This is why nations around the world have condemned Syria for this attack and called for action.  I’ve been encouraged by discussions with my fellow leaders this week; there is a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by.  Here in St. Petersburg, leaders from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm against the use of chemical weapons must be upheld, and that the Assad regime used these weapons on its own people, and that, as a consequence, there needs to be a strong response.

The Arab League foreign ministers have said the Assad regime is responsible and called for “deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime.”  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation — its general secretariat has called the attack a “blatant affront to all religious and moral values and a deliberate disregard of international laws and norms, which requires a decisive action.”

So, in the coming days, I’ll continue to consult with my fellow leaders around the world, and I will continue to consult with Congress.  And I will make the best case that I can to the American people, as well as to the international community, for taking necessary and appropriate action.  And I intend to address the American people from the White House on Tuesday.

The kind of world we live in and our ability to deter this kind of outrageous behavior is going to depend on the decisions that we make in the days ahead.  And I’m confident that if we deliberate carefully and we choose wisely, and embrace our responsibilities, we can meet the challenges of this moment as well as those in the days ahead.

So with that, let me take some questions.  I’ve got my handy list.  And I will start with Julie Pace from AP.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  You mentioned the number of countries that have condemned the use of chemical weapons, but your advisors also say you’re leaving this summit with a strong number of countries backing your call for military action.  President Putin just a short time ago indicated it may only be a handful of countries, including France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us publicly what countries are backing your call for military action?  And did you change any minds here?  President Putin also mentioned your meeting with him earlier today.  Can you tell us how that came about, and did you discuss both Syria and Edward Snowden?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I believe that there will be a statement issued later this evening — although hopefully in time for you guys to file back home — that indicates some of the additional countries that are making public statements.

Last night we had a good discussion.  And I want to give President Putin credit that he facilitated I think a full airing of views on the issue.  And here’s how I would describe it — without giving the details or betraying the confidence of those who were speaking within the confines of the dinner.  It was unanimous that chemical weapons were used — a unanimous conclusion that chemical weapons were used in Syria.  There was a unanimous view that the norm against using chemical weapons has to be maintained, that these weapons were banned for a reason and that the international community has to take those norms seriously.

I would say that the majority of the room is comfortable with our conclusion that Assad — the Assad government was responsible for their use.  Obviously this is disputed by President Putin.  But if you polled the leaders last night, I am confident that you’d get a majority who said it is most likely, we are pretty confident that the Assad regime used them.

Where there is a division has to do with the United Nations.  There are a number of countries that, just as a matter of principle, believe that if military action is to be taken it needs to go through the U.N. Security Council.  There are others — and I put myself in this camp, as somebody who’s a strong supporter of the United Nations, who very much appreciates the courage of the investigators who had gone in and looks forward to seeing the U.N. report, because I think we should try to get more information, not less in this situation — it is my view and a view that was shared by a number of people in the room that given Security Council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use, then an international response is required and that will not come through Security Council action.

And that’s where I think the division comes from.  And I respect those who are concerned about setting precedence of action outside of a U.N. Security Council resolution.  I would greatly prefer working through multilateral channels and through the United Nations to get this done.  But ultimately, what I believe in even more deeply, because I think that the security of the world and — my particular task — looking out for the national security of the United States, requires that when there’s a breech this brazen of a norm this important, and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn’t act, then that norm begins to unravel.

And if that norm unravels, then other norms and prohibitions start unraveling.  And that makes for a more dangerous world.  And that, then, requires even more difficult choices and more difficult responses in the future.

Over 1,400 people were gassed.  Over 400 of them were children.  This is not something we’ve fabricated.  This is not something that we are using as an excuse for military action.  As I said last night, I was elected to end wars, not start them.  I’ve spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people.  But what I also know is, is that there are times where we have to make hard choices if we’re going to stand up for the things that we care about.  And I believe that this is one of those times.

And if we end up using the U.N. Security Council not as a means of enforcing international norms and international law, but rather as a barrier to acting on behalf of international norms and international law, then I think people, rightly, are going to be pretty skeptical about the system and whether it can work to protect those children that we saw in those videos.

And sometimes the further we get from the horrors of that, the easier it is to rationalize not making tough choices.  And I understand that.  This is not convenient.  This is not something that I think a lot of folks around the world find an appetizing set of choices.  But the question is, do these norms mean something?  And if we’re not acting, what does that say?

If we’re just issuing another statement of condemnation, or passing resolutions saying “wasn’t that terrible,” if people who decry international inaction in Rwanda and say how terrible it is that there are these human rights violations that take place around the world and why aren’t we doing something about it — and they always look to the United States — why isn’t the United States doing something about this, the most powerful nation on Earth?  Why are you allowing these terrible things to happen?  And then, if the international community turns around when we’re saying it’s time to take some responsibility and says, well, hold on a second, we’re not sure — that erodes our ability to maintain the kind of norms that we’re looking at.

Now, I know that was a lengthy answer and you had a second part to your question.

The conversation I had with President Putin was on the margins of the plenary session and it was a candid and constructive conversation, which characterizes my relationship with him.  I know, as I’ve said before, everybody is always trying to look for body language and all that.  But the truth of the matter is that my interactions with him tend to be very straightforward.  We discussed Syria, and that was primarily the topic of conversation.  Mr. Snowden did not come up beyond me saying that — reemphasizing that where we have common interests I think it’s important for the two of us to work together.

And on Syria, I said — listen, I don’t expect us to agree on this issue of chemical weapons use, although it is possible that after the U.N. inspectors’ report, it may be more difficult for Mr. Putin to maintain his current position about the evidence.  But what I did say is that we both agree that the underlying conflict can only be resolved through a political transition as envisioned by the Geneva I and Geneva II process.  And so we need to move forward together.  Even if the U.S. and Russia and other countries disagree on this specific issue of how to respond to chemical weapons use, it remains important for us to work together to try to urge all parties in the conflict to try to resolve it.

Because we’ve got 4 million people internally displaced.  We’ve got millions of people in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon who are desperate, and the situation is only getting worse.  And that’s not in anybody’s interest.  It’s not in America’s interest.  It’s not in Russia’s interest.  It’s not in the interest of the people in the region, and obviously it’s not in the interest of Syrians who’ve seen their lives completely disrupted and their country shattered.

So that is going to continue to be a project of ours.  And that does speak to an issue that has been raised back home around this whole issue.  You’ve heard some people say, well, we think if you’re going to do something, you got to do something big, and maybe this isn’t big enough or maybe it’s too late — or other responses like that.  And what I’ve tried to explain is we may not solve the whole problem, but this particular problem of using chemical weapons on children, this one we might have an impact on, and that’s worth acting on.  That’s important to us.

And what I’ve also said is, is that as far as the underlying conflict is concerned, unless the international community is willing to put massive numbers of troops on the ground — and I know nobody is signing up for that — we’re not going to get a long-term military solution for the country.  And that is something that can only come about I think if — as different as our perspectives may be — myself, Mr. Putin and others are willing to set aside those differences and put some pressure on the parties on the ground.

Brianna.

Q:  On the resolution to authorize the use of force, one of the big challenges right now isn’t just Republicans, but it’s from some of your loyal Democrats.  It seems that the more they hear from classified briefings that the less likely they are to support you.  If the full Congress doesn’t pass this, will you go ahead with the strike?  And also, Senator Susan Collins, one of the few Republicans who breaks through her party to give you support at times — she says, “What if we execute the strike and then Assad decides to use chemical weapons again?  Do we strike again?”  And many Democrats are asking that as well.  How do you answer the question?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, in terms of the votes and the process in Congress, I knew this was going to be a heavy lift.  I said that on Saturday when I said we’re going to take it to Congress.  Our polling operations are pretty good — I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current popular opinion is.  And for the American people, who have been through over a decade of war now, with enormous sacrifice in blood and treasure, any hint of further military entanglements in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion.  And that suspicion will probably be even stronger in my party than in the Republican Party, since a lot of the people who supported me remember that I opposed the war in Iraq.

And what’s also true is, is that that experience with the war in Iraq colors how people view this situation not just back home in America, but also here in Europe and around the world.  That’s the prism through which a lot of people are analyzing the situation.

So I understand the skepticism.  I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through systematically making the case to every senator and every member of Congress.  And that’s what we’re doing.

I dispute a little bit, Brianna, the notion that people come out of classified briefings and they’re less in favor of it.  I think that when they go through the classified briefings, they feel pretty confident that, in fact, chemical weapons were used and that the Assad regime used them.

Where you will see resistance is people being worried about a slippery slope and how effective a limited action might be.  And our response, based on my discussions with our military, is that we can have a response that is limited, that is proportional — that when I say “limited,” it’s both in time and in scope — but that is meaningful and that degrades Assad’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons not just this time, but also in the future, and serves as a strong deterrent.

Now, is it possible that Assad doubles down in the face of our action and uses chemical weapons more widely?  I suppose anything is possible, but it wouldn’t be wise.  I think at that point, mobilizing the international community would be easier, not harder.  I think it would be pretty hard for the U.N. Security Council at that point to continue to resist the requirement for action, and we would gladly join with an international coalition to make sure that it stops.

So one of the biggest concerns of the American people — certain members of Congress may have different concerns; there may be certain members of Congress who say we’ve got to do even more, or claim to have previously criticized me for not hitting Assad and now are saying they’re going to vote no, and you’ll have to ask them exactly how they square that circle.  But for the American people at least, the concern really has to do with understanding that what we’re describing here would be limited and proportional and designed to address this problem of chemical weapons use and upholding a norm that helps keep all of us safe.

And that is going to be the case that I try to make not just to Congress, but to the American people over the coming days.

Q:  Just a follow-up — must you have full cooperation from Congress?  What if the Senate votes yes and the House votes no — it’s go ahead with the strike?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Brianna, I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate, because right now I’m working to get as much support as possible out of Congress.  But I’ll repeat something that I said in Sweden when I was asked a similar question.  I did not put this before Congress just as a political ploy or as symbolism.  I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed a imminent, direct threat to the United States.  In that situation, obviously, I don’t worry about Congress.  We do what we have to do to keep the American people safe.  I could not say that it was immediately, directly going to have an impact on our allies.  Again, in those situations I would act right away.  This wasn’t even a situation like Libya, where you’ve got troops rolling towards Benghazi and you have a concern about time in terms of saving somebody right away.

This was an event that happened.  My military assured me that we could act today, tomorrow, a month from now; that we could do so proportionately, but meaningfully.  And in that situation, I think it is important for us to have a serious debate in the United States about these issues.

Because these are going to be the kinds of national security threats that are most likely to occur over the next five, 10 years.  They’re very few countries who are going to go at us directly.  We have to be vigilant, but our military is unmatched. Those countries that are large and powerful like Russia or China, we have the kind of relationship with them where we’re not getting in conflicts of that sort.  At least over the last several decades, there’s been a recognition that neither country benefits from that kind of great power conflict.

So the kinds of national security threats that we’re going to conflict — they’re terrorist threats; they’re failed states; they are the proliferation of deadly weapons.  And in those circumstances, a President is going to have to make a series of decisions about which one of these threats over the long term starts making us less and less safe.  And where we can work internationally, we should.

There are going to be times, though, where, as is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons.  And if that’s the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, what are you going to do about it?

And that’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy.  There was a leader of a smaller country who I’ve spoken to over the last several days who said, I know don’t envy you because I’m a small country and nobody expects me to do anything about chemical weapons around the world.  They know I have no capacity to do something.

And it’s tough because people do look to the United States. And the question for the American people is, is that a responsibility that we’re willing to bear.  And I believe that when you a limited, proportional strike like this — not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground; not some long, drawn-out affair; not without any risks, but with manageable risks — that we should be willing to bear that responsibility.

Chuck Todd.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Good morning — or good evening.  I think it’s still “good morning” back home.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  By tonight it will be tonight when we get back home.  (Laughter.)

Q:  I think we’re all relieved.  I want to follow up on Brianna’s question, because it seems these members of Congress are simply responding to their constituents and you’re seeing a lot these town halls, and it seems as if the more you pressure your case, the more John Kerry presses the case on your behalf, the more the opposition grows.  And maybe it’s just — or the more the opposition becomes vocal.  Why do you think you’ve struggled with that?  And you keep talking about a limited mission.  We have a report that indicates you’ve actually asked for an expanded list of targets in Syria, and one military official told NBC News — he characterized it as “mission creep.” Can you respond to that report?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  That report is inaccurate.  I’m not going to comment on operational issues that are sourced by some military official.  One thing I’ve got a pretty clear idea about is what I talked with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about, and what we have consistently talked about is something limited and proportional that would degrade Mr. Assad’s capabilities.

In terms of opposition, Chuck, I expected this.  This is hard, and I was under no illusions when I embarked on this path. But I think it’s the right thing to do.  I think it’s good for our democracy.  We will be more effective if we are unified going forward.

And part of what we knew would be there would be some politics and injecting themselves –

Q:  You believe it’s all politics?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  No, I said “some.”  But what I have also said is, is that the American people have gone through a lot when it comes to the military over the last decade or so.  And so I understand that.  And when you starting talking about chemical weapons and their proliferation, those images of those bodies could sometimes be forgotten pretty quickly — the news cycle moves on.

Frankly, if we weren’t talking about the need for an international response right now, this wouldn’t be what everybody would be asking about.  There would be some resolutions that were being proffered in the United Nations and the usual hocus-pocus, but the world and the country would have moved on.

So trying to impart a sense of urgency about this — why we can’t have an environment in which over time people start thinking we can get away with chemical weapons use — it’s a hard sell, but it’s something I believe in.  And as I explained to Brianna, in this context, me making sure that the American people understand it I think is important before I take action.

Jon Karl.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  One of your closest allies in the House said yesterday, “When you’ve got 97 percent of your constituents saying no, it’s kind of hard to say yes.”  Why should members of Congress go against the will of their constituents and support your decision on this?  And I still haven’t heard a direct response to Brianna’s question — if Congress fails to authorize this, will you go forward with an attack on Syria?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Right, and you’re not getting a direct response.  Brianna asked the question very well.  Did you think that –

Q:  It’s a pretty basic question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  — I was going to give you a different answer?  No.  (Laughter.)  What I have said, and I will repeat, is that I put this before Congress for a reason.  I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action.  I’m not going to engage in parlor games now, Jonathan, about whether or not it’s going to pass when I’m talking substantively to Congress about why this is important, and talking to the American people about why this is important.

Now, with respect to Congress and how they should respond to constituents and concerns, I do consider it part of my job to help make the case and to explain to the American people exactly why I think this is the right thing to do.  And it’s conceivable that at the end of the day I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do.  And then, each member of Congress is going to have to decide, if I think it’s the right thing to do for America’s national security and the world’s national security, then how do I vote?  And that’s what you’re supposed to do as a member of Congress.  Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you’ve also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America.

And that’s the same for me as President of the United States.  There are a whole bunch of decisions that I make that are unpopular, as you well know.  But I do so because I think they’re the right thing to do.  And I trust my constituents want me to offer my best judgment.  That’s why they elected me.  That’s why they reelected me even after there were some decisions I made that they disagreed with.  And I would hope that members of Congress would end up feeling the same way.

The last point I would make:  These kinds of interventions, these kinds of actions are always unpopular because they seem distant and removed.  And I want to make sure I’m being clear.  I’m not drawing a analogy to World War II other than to say when London was getting bombed it was profoundly unpopular both in Congress and around the country to help the British.  It doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.  Just means people are struggling with jobs and bills to pay, and they don’t want their sons or daughters put in harm’s way, and these entanglements far away are dangerous and different.

To bring the analogy closer to home, the intervention in Kosovo — very unpopular; but ultimately I think it was the right thing to do.  And the international community should be glad that it came together to do it.

When people say that it is a terrible stain on all of us that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in Rwanda, well, imagine if Rwanda was going on right now, and we asked should we intervene in Rwanda.  I think it’s fair to say that it probably wouldn’t poll real well.

So, typically, when any kind of military action is popular it’s because either there’s been a very clear, direct threat to us — 9/11 — or an administration uses various hooks to suggest that American interests were directly threatened — like in Panama or Grenada.  And sometimes, those hooks are more persuasive than others, but typically, they’re not put before Congress.  And again, we just went through something pretty tough with respect to Iraq.  So all that I guess provides some context for why you might expect people to be resistant.

Q:  But your Deputy National Security Advisor said that it is not your intention to attack if Congress doesn’t approve it.  Is he right?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I don’t think that’s exactly what he said.  But I think I’ve answered the question.

Major Garrett.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Those of us who remember covering your campaign remember you saying that militarily when the United States acts, it’s not just important what it does but how it goes about doing it, and that even when America sets its course, it’s important to engage the international community and listen to different ideas even as it’s pursuing that action.  I wonder if you leave here and return to Washington, seeing the skepticism there, hearing it here, with any different ideas that might delay military action.  For example, some in Congress have suggested giving the Syrian regime 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, get rid of its chemical stockpiles — do something that would enhance international sense of accountability for Syria but delay military action.  Are you, Mr. President, looking at any of these ideas?  Or are we on a fast track to military action as soon as Congress renders its judgment one way or the other?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I am listening to all these ideas.  And some of them are constructive.  And I’m listening to ideas in Congress, and I’m listening to ideas here.  But I want to repeat here:  My goal is to maintain the international norm on banning chemical weapons.  I want that enforcement to be real.  I want it to be serious.  I want people to understand that gassing innocent people, delivering chemical weapons against children is not something we do.  It’s prohibited in active wars between countries.  We certainly don’t do it against kids.  And we’ve got to stand up for that principle.

If there are tools that we can use to ensure that, obviously my preference would be, again, to act internationally in a serious way and to make sure that Mr. Assad gets the message.

I’m not itching for military action.  Recall, Major, that I have been criticized for the last couple of years by some of the folks who are now saying they would oppose these strikes for not striking.  And I think that I have a well-deserved reputation for taking very seriously and soberly the idea of military engagement.

So we will look at these ideas.  So far, at least, I have not seen ideas presented that as a practical matter I think would do the job.  But this is a situation where part of the reason I wanted to foster debate was to make sure that everybody thought about both the ramifications of action and inaction.

Q:  So currently, the only way to enforce this international norm is militarily, and even giving the Assad regime extra time would not achieve your goals?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  What I’m saying, Major, is that so far what we’ve seen is a escalation by the Assad regime of chemical weapons use.

You’ll recall that several months ago I said we now say with some confidence that at a small level Assad has used chemical weapons.  We not only sent warnings to Assad, but we demarched — meaning we sent a strong message through countries that have relationships with Assad — that he should not be doing this.  And rather than hold the line, we ended up with what we saw on August 21st.  So this is not as if we haven’t tested the proposition that the guy, or at least generals under his charge, can show restraint when it comes to this stuff.  And they’ve got one of the largest stockpiles in the world.

But I want to emphasize that we continue to consult with our international partners.  I’m listening to Congress.  I’m not just doing the talking.  And if there are good ideas that are worth pursuing then I’m going to be open to it.

I will take the last question.  Tangi — AFP.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Yesterday night you had two unscheduled bilateral meetings with your Brazilian and Mexican counterparts after they voiced very strong concerns about being allegedly targeted by the NSA.  What was your message to them?  And do the revelations — the constant stream of revelations over this summer make it harder for you to build confidence with your partners in international forums such as this one?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I did meet with President Rousseff as well as President Peña Nieto, of Brazil and Mexico, respectively, to discuss these allegations that were made in the press about the NSA.  I won’t share with you all the details of the conversation, but what I said to them is consistent with what I’ve said publicly.  The United States has an intelligence agency, and our intelligence agency’s job is to gather information that’s not available through public sources.  If they were available through public sources then they wouldn’t be an intelligence agency.  In that sense, what we do is similar to what countries around the world do with their intelligence services.

But what is true is that we are bigger, we have greater capabilities.  The difference between our capabilities and other countries probably tracks the differences in military capabilities between countries.  And what I’ve said is that because technology is changing so rapidly, because these capabilities are growing, it is important for us to step back and review what it is that we’re doing, because just because we can get information doesn’t necessarily always mean that we should.

There may be costs and benefits to doing certain things, and we’ve got to weigh those.  And I think that, traditionally, what’s happened over decades is the general assumption was, well, you just — whatever you can get you just kind of pull in, and then you kind of sift through later and try to figure out what’s useful.  The nature of technology and the legitimate concerns around privacy and civil liberties means that it’s important for us on the front end to say, all right, are we actually going to get useful information here?  And, if not — or how useful is it? If it’s not that important, should we be more constrained in how we use certain technical capabilities.

Now, just more specifically, then, on Brazil and Mexico.  I said that I would look into the allegations.  I mean, part of the problem here is we get these through the press and then I’ve got to go back and find out what’s going on with respect to these particular allegations — I don’t subscribe to all these newspapers, although I think the NSA does — now at least.  (Laughter.)

And then, what I assured President Rousseff and President Peña Nieto is, is that they should take — that I take these allegations very seriously.  I understand their concerns; I understand the concerns of the Mexican and Brazilian people, and that we will work with their teams to resolve what is a source of tension.

Now, the last thing I’d say about this, though, is just because there are tensions doesn’t mean that it overrides all the incredibly wide-ranging interests that we share with so many of these countries.  And there’s a reason why I went to Brazil.  There’s a reason why I invited President Rousseff to come to the United States.  Brazil is an incredibly important country.  It is a amazing success story in terms of a transition from authoritarianism to democracy.  It is one of the most dynamic economies in the world.  And, obviously, for the two largest nations in the hemisphere to have a strong relationship, that can only be good for the people of our two countries, as well as the region.

The same is true of Mexico, one of our closest friends, allies, and neighbors.

And so we will work through this particular issue.  It does not detract from the larger concerns that we have and the opportunities that we both want to take advantage of.

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you, St. Petersburg.

END
6:42 P.M. MSK

Full Text Obama Presidency September 6, 2013: Joint Statement on Syria

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Joint Statement on Syria

Source: WH, 9-6-13

The Leaders and Representatives of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America made the following statement on the margins of the Group of 20 Nations Leader’s Meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia:

The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal.  The use of chemical weapons anywhere diminishes the security of people everywhere.  Left unchallenged, it increases the risk of further use and proliferation of these weapons.

We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st that claimed the lives of so many men, women, and children.  The evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime.

We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated. Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable.

Signatories have consistently supported a strong UN Security Council Resolution, given the Security Council’s responsibilities to lead the international response, but recognize that the Council remains paralyzed as it has been for two and a half years.  The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability.  We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

We commit to supporting longer term international efforts, including through the United Nations, to address the enduring security challenge posed by Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  Signatories have also called for the UN fact finding mission to present its results as soon as possible, and for the Security Council to act accordingly.

We condemn in the strongest terms all human rights violations in Syria on all sides.  More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, more than 2 million people have become refugees, and approximately 5 million are internally displaced.  Recognizing that Syria’s conflict has no military solution, we reaffirm our commitment to seek a peaceful political settlement through full implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique.  We are committed to a political solution which will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.

We have contributed generously to the latest United Nations (UN) and ICRC appeals for humanitarian assistance and will continue to provide support to address the growing humanitarian needs in Syria and their impact on regional countries. We welcome the contributions announced at the meeting of donor countries on the margins of the G20.  We call upon all parties to allow humanitarian actors safe and unhindered access to those in need.

European signatories will continue to engage in promoting a common European position.

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