Political Musings September 30, 2013: Obama and GOP battle over spending bill as government shutdown nears

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Political Musings September 29, 2013: Obama is first US president in 34 years to speak to an Iranian leader

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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Obama is first US president in 34 years to speak to an Iranian leader (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

This past week for the first time in 34 years the United States and Iran took the first steps towards the resumption of some sort of thaw in diplomatic relations, with the ultimate step being President Barack Obama’s…READ MORE

Political Musings September 29, 2013: Obama sells healthcare law implementation while slamming GOP opposition

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama sells healthcare law implementation while slamming GOP opposition (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Days before the Affordable Cart Act will be start being implemented for individuals and small businesses President Barack Obama has taken to the road to again to sell the unpopular law to Americans while Congressional Republicans staunchly oppose the law…READ MORE

Political Musings September 29, 2013: Obama’s approval and favorability ratings reach new lows amid budget battles

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama’s approval and favorability ratings reach new lows amid budget battles

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama’s poll ratings are falling according to three new polls; CBS News/The New York Times, Bloomberg and Gallup polls released on Sept. 25, 2013. Obama reached his lowest approval since 2011 based on a recent…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly about Middle East Diplomacy Doctrine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama in Address to the United Nations General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-24-13

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at United Nations General Assembly (September 24, 2013) President Barack Obama delivers remarks during his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, N.Y., Sept. 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

United Nations
New York, New York

10:10 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen:  Each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution.  For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires.  Divisions of race and religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies.  The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.

It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking.  The leaders who built the United Nations were not naïve; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars.  But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble, and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet, they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on.  And so they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.

For decades, the United Nations has in fact made a difference — from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace.  But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested.  The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

For much of my tenure as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime.  Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are once again being lifted out of poverty.  But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunities that they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Together, we’ve also worked to end a decade of war.  Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world.  Today, all of our troops have left Iraq.  Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing.  Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.  We’re transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.

As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago.  But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates that dangers remain.  In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall, and our hearts go out to the families of those who have been affected.  In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church.  In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a terrible part of life.  And meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which doesn’t give them the capacity at this point to carry out attacks like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe.

Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended and people grapple with what comes next.  Peaceful movements have too often been answered by violence — from those resisting change and from extremists trying to hijack change.  Sectarian conflict has reemerged.  And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction continues to cast a shadow over the pursuit of peace.

Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria.  There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter.  In the face of such carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity — Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd — and the situation spiraled into civil war.

The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge.  Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced.  A peace process is stillborn.  America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis.  Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime.  And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

Now, the crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront.  How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa — conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them?  How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war?  What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct?  What is the role of the United Nations and international law in meeting cries for justice?

Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues.  With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons.  When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly.  I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and in the interest of the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the United Nations itself.  The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity.  It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocating in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st.  U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians.  These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods.  It’s an insult to human reason — and to the legitimacy of this institution — to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

Now, I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council.  But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all.  However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue.  And in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.

The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles.  Now there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so.  If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.  On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.

Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria.  I do not believe that military action — by those within Syria, or by external powers — can achieve a lasting peace.  Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria; that is for the Syrian people to decide.  Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country.  The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy.

It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome that they fear:  an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate.  In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears and concerns of Alawites and other minorities.

We are committed to working this political track.  And as we pursue a settlement, let’s remember this is not a zero-sum endeavor.  We’re no longer in a Cold War.  There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the wellbeing of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring that it does not become a safe haven for terrorists.

I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war.  And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries.  America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million.  No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to rebuild their country, but it can help desperate people to survive.

What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria?  I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of American resolve in the region.  Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows we’ve learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes.  In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades:  the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.

I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world.  But these contradictory attitudes have a practical impact on the American people’s support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region — as well as the international community sometimes — to avoid addressing difficult problems themselves.

So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.

We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.  Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people.  Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror.  But when it’s necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.  Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime.

Now, to say that these are America’s core interests is not to say that they are our only interests.  We deeply believe it is in our interests to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous, and will continue to promote democracy and human rights and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity.  But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action, particularly through military action.  Iraq shows us that democracy cannot simply be imposed by force.  Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community and with the countries and peoples of the region.

So what does this mean going forward?  In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues:  Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.  This mistrust has deep roots.  Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War.  On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly — or through proxies — taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.

I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight — the suspicions run too deep.  But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Since I took office, I’ve made it clear in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.  Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement.  We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.  But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.  After all, it’s the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place.  And this is not simply an issue between the United States and Iran.  The world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.

But I want to be clear we are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course.  And given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.  For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential — in commerce and culture; in science and education.

We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.  I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state.  Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible.  And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.  But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state.  On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations.  They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation.  But they too recognize that two states is the only real path to peace — because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

So the time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace.  Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks.  President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state.  Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.

So now the rest of us must be willing to take risks as well.  Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state, and we should say so clearly.  Arab states, and those who supported the Palestinians, must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution and a secure Israel.

All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future.  And moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work.  So let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice.  Let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

Real breakthroughs on these two issues — Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace — would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa.  But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations.  It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations.  And by that measure, it’s clear that all of us have a lot more work to do.

When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope.  And although the United States — like others — was struck by the speed of transition, and although we did not — and in fact could not — dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change.  And we did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.

Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be.  Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive.  The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it, too, has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy — through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press and civil society and opposition parties.

Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal of power.  In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides.  Our overriding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.

That remains our interest today.  And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counterterrorism.  We’ll continue support in areas like education that directly benefit the Egyptian people.  But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.

And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point:  The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.  Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World.  We believe they are the birthright of every person.  And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited, although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and although we will at times be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency, we will be engaged in the region for the long haul.  For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

And this includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria.  We understand such longstanding issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves.  But we’ve seen grinding conflicts come to an end before — most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world.  And so we believe those same sectarian conflicts can be overcome in the Middle East and North Africa.

To summarize, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries.  The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion.  Indeed, as recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show, the danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or to take on every problem in the region as its own.  The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake.  I believe America must remain engaged for our own security.  But I also believe the world is better for it.  Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional — in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.

I must be honest, though.  We’re far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us, that invest in their people instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute — men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew.  Because from Europe to Asia, from Africa to the Americas, nations that have persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity.  And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab world.

This leads me to a final point.  There will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, the violence against civilians so substantial that the international community will be called upon to act.  This will require new thinking and some very tough choices.  While the United Nations was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states.  And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing — places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from their national institutions.

I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect basic human rights.  But we cannot and should not bear that burden alone.  In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace.  In Eastern Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end.  And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action.  Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.

I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson.  They point to the problems that the country now confronts — a democratically elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land.  And so these critics argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail — look at Libya.  No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens — a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi.  But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qaddafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission?  It’s far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.

We live in a world of imperfect choices.  Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order.  But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye.  While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, while we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica?  If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.

But I believe we can embrace a different future.  And if we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better — all of us — at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order.  Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals.  Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules.  Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, not merely its aftermath.  Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized.  And yes, sometimes — although this will not be enough — there are going to be moments where the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occurring.

Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks — one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution and where we all take responsibility.  A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kinds of wars that our forefathers fought.  A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.

These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities.  Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth today can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity.  I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off.  And America is with them, partnering to feed the hungry and care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.

I see it across the Pacific region, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation.  I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, and combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past.  That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa.  It’s happening in Europe and across the Americas.  That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve as well — one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change — to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history.  Last month, I stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President.  Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world.  Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring?  Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on.  We’re ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you — firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity and inalienable rights that cannot be denied.  That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope.  And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
10:52 A.M. EDT

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

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

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

John Kerry to Test Russia’s Seriousness on Syria Solution

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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

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

John Kerry Rejects Syria’s Demand to Drop Threat

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

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

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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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 Headlines September 11, 2013: President Barack Obama Marks 9/11 with Nod to Benghazi, Syria Crisis

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Marks 9/11 with Nod to Benghazi, Syria Crisis

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

From the White House to Capitol Hill to the Pentagon — and at countless ceremonies around the country — Wednesday brought a solemn step back from the frenetic campaign for U.S. military action in Syria and an acknowledgment of the terrorist attacks that shook the entire nation to its core 12 years ago.

President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, along with members of their staffs, began the day by marking the anniversary of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, first with a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House and then, for the president, a wreath-laying ceremony and speech at the Pentagon Memorial….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 11, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the September 11th 9/11 Observance at the Pentagon Memorial

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the September 11th Observance at the Pentagon Memorial

Source: WH, 9-11-13

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden observe a moment of silence to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, Sept. 11, 2013.

The Pentagon
Arlington, Virginia

9:32 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.

AUDIENCE:  Good morning!

THE PRESIDENT:  From Scripture, we learn of the miracle of restoration.  “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again.  From the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.  You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.”

Secretary Hagel, General Dempsey, members of our Armed Forces and most of all, the survivors who bear the wounds of that day and the families of those we lost, it is an honor to be with you here again to remember the tragedy of twelve Septembers ago  — to honor the greatness of all who responded and to stand with those who still grieve and to provide them some measure of comfort once more.  Together we pause and we pray and we give humble thanks — as families and as a nation — for the strength and the grace that from the depths of our despair has brought us up again, has revived us again, has given us strength to keep on.

We pray for the memory of all those taken from us — nearly 3,000 innocent souls.  Our hearts still ache for the futures snatched away, the lives that might have been — the parents who would have known the joy of being grandparents, the fathers and mothers who would have known the pride of a child’s graduation, the sons and daughters who would have grown, maybe married and been blessed with children of their own.  Those beautiful boys and girls just beginning to find their way who today would have been teenagers and young men and women looking ahead, imagining the mark they’d make on the world.

They left this Earth.  They slipped from our grasp.  But it was written, “What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose.”  What your families lost in the temporal, in the here and now, is now eternal.  The pride that you carry in your hearts, the love that will never die, your loved ones’ everlasting place in America’s heart.

We pray for you, their families, who have known the awful depths of loss.  And in the quiet moments we have spent together and from the stories that you’ve shared, I’m amazed at the will that you’ve summoned in your lives to lift yourselves up and to carry on, and to live and love and laugh again.

Even more than memorials of stone and water, your lives are the greatest tribute to those that we lost.  For their legacy shines on in you — when you smile just like him, when you toss your hair just like her, when you foster scholarships and service projects that bear the name of those we lost and make a better world.  When you join the firehouse or you put on the uniform or you devote yourself to a cause greater than yourself, just like they did, that’s a testimony to them.  And in your resilience you have taught us all there is no trouble we cannot endure and there is no calamity we cannot overcome.

We pray for all those who have stepped forward in those years of war — diplomats who serve in dangerous posts, as we saw this day last year in Benghazi, intelligence professionals, often unseen and unheralded who protect us in every way — our men and women in uniform who defend this country that we love.

Today we remember not only those who died that September day.  We pay solemn tribute to more than 6,700 patriots who have given their full measure since — military and civilians.  We see their legacy in the friendships they forged, the attacks they prevented, the innocent lives they saved and in their comrades in Afghanistan who are completing the mission and who by the end of next year will have helped to end this war.

This is the path that we’ve traveled together.  These are the wounds that continue to heal.  And this is the faith in God and each other that carries us through, that restores us and that we summon once more each time we come to hallowed ground — beside this building or in a Pennsylvania field or where the towers once stood.  Here, in such moments of grace, we are renewed.  And it is here that we reaffirm the values and virtues that must guide us.

Let us have the strength to face the threats that endure, different though they may be from 12 years ago, so that as long as there are those who would strike our citizens, we will stand vigilant and defend our nation.

Let us have the wisdom to know that while force is at times necessary, force alone cannot build the world we seek.  So we recommit to the partnerships and progress that builds mutual respect and deepens trust and allows more people to live in dignity, prosperity and freedom.

Let us have the confidence in the values that make us American, which we must never lose, the shining liberties that make us a beacon of the world; the rich diversity that makes us stronger, the unity and commitment to one another that we sustain on this National Day of Service and Remembrance.

And above all, let us have the courage like the survivors and families here today to carry on, no matter how dark the night or how difficult the day.  “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again.  And from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.  You will increase my greatness and you will comfort me again.”

May God bless the memory of those that we lost.  May he comfort you and your families and may God bless these United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
9:40 A.M. EDT

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:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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 Headlines September 10, 2013: Hillary Clinton Discusses Syria, Partisanship, But Can’t Avoid 2016 Talk

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Hillary Clinton Discusses Syria, Partisanship, But Can’t Avoid 2016 Talk

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Just over an hour before President Obama was scheduled to speak Tuesday evening, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the president’s call for a “strong response” to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but acknowledged that the debate over the issue is “good for our democracy.”

“The Assad regime’s inhuman use of lethal chemicals against men, women, and children…violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order,” she said Tuesday at the National Constitution Center, where she was honored and awarded the organization’s Liberty Medal….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:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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’

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

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

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Makes Syria Pitch on Capitol Hill

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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 Headlines September 9, 2013: Harry Reid Sets Senate First Test Vote on Syria for Wednesday

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Reid Sets First Test Vote on Syria for Wednesday

Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Monday that the first procedural vote, not the final one, on the use of military force against Syria will occur “sometime” Wednesday.

“The Senate will give this matter the serious attention that it deserves,” Reid said on the Senate floor Monday….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 9, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Syria Media Blitz Includes All Major News Programs

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama’s Syria Media Blitz Includes All Major News Programs

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Before President Obama makes his case to the nation on Tuesday for military action against Syria, he’ll sit down with the anchors of the major U.S. news networks and PBS on Monday in separate one-on-one interviews….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 9, 2013: President Barack Obama to Visit Capitol Hill to Make Case for Syria Strike

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama to Visit Capitol Hill to Make Case for Syria Strike

Source: ABC News Radio, 9-9-13

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama is planning to visit Capitol Hill on Tuesday, making his case on Syria face-to-face with senators.

The president is scheduled to meet with Senate Democrats at their weekly policy luncheon, two Democratic aides said, intensifying his outreach as part of the administration’s push for military strikes on Syria.  He could also meet with other members of Congress, particularly those who remain undecided on Syria, officials said….READ MORE

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama in a Press Conference at the G20

Source: WH, 9-6-13

90813_Obama_G20_Press_Conference_Video

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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

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