WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama on Saturday made the case for consequences against Syria for an alleged chemical attack, and said he will seek authorization from Congress for a military strike.
“We are the United States of America. We cannot, and will not, turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus,” Obama said Saturday in a speech in the White House rose garden.
With Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea ready to strike, Obama said he had decided the United States should take military action, but also determined “our country will be better off” if Congress renders its own opinion.
But Obama asked members of both parties in Congress to “take this vote for national security,” and said “all of us should be accountable as we move forward.” Members of Congress will have an opportunity to debate the proposed authorization and vote upon it.
He challenged lawmakers to consider “what message will we send to a dictator” if he is allowed to killed hundreds of children with chemical weapons without suffering any retaliation.
He said he would not be waiting for the United Nations to come to a conclusion on the issue.
“I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a U.N. Security Council that so far has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold (Syrian President President Bashar al-) Assad accountable,” Obama said.
Congress is scheduled to return from a summer vacation on Sept. 9.
The president didn’t say so, but his strategy carries enormous risks to his and the nation’s credibility, which the administration has argued forcefully is on the line in Syria. Obama long ago said the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that Syrian President Bashar Assad would not be allowed to cross with impunity.
Only this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat when the House of Commons refused to support his call for military action against Syria.
Obama’s decision met with some criticism Saturday. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Obama does not need Congressional approval for a strike and should be using his own executive authority.
“President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The president does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria,” King said in a statement. “If Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians deserves a military response, and I believe it does, and if the president is seeking congressional approval, then he should call Congress back into a special session at the earliest date. The president doesn’t need 535 Members of Congress to enforce his own redline.”
Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors left Syria overnight, after searching for evidence of the use of chemical weapons.
Soil samples from the alleged Syrian chemical attack, as well as samples from victims, were on their way to Europe for testing Saturday morning.
More than 1,400 people were killed in what Obama believes was an “intentional” gassing by the Syrian regime outside Damascus, and he has been considering launching a military strike to punish the Syrian president. The soil sample testing was intended to confirm whether or not the alleged attack was, in fact, a chemical weapons strike.
But the Obama administration is confident that the Syrian regime is responsible for gassing its own people.
“We know where the rockets were launched from, and at what time. We know where they landed, and when. We know rockets came only from regime controlled areas,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
But the top U.N. spokesman said any notion that the departure of the U.N. chemical weapons inspection team from Syria opens a window for a U.S. attack is “grotesque.”
Spokesman Martin Nesirky noted that about 1,000 international and U.N. staff remained in Syria Saturday, and the United Nations is just as concerned about their welfare as it is about its team of inspectors. He also said the Syrian population would be vulnerable to harm.
Nesirky spoke at a news conference Saturday after U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane briefed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the investigation into the alleged chemical weapons strike.
Nesirky said Ban will be briefed further by the head of the UN chemical weapons team Sunday. The team is in Europe and will have to analyze the evidence in laboratories before making their report.
Meanwhile Saturday, Syria’s international ally, Russia, weighed in, CBS News reported. President Vladimir Putin asked the U.S. to refrain from carrying out any strikes on Syria and suggested that next week’s G20 meeting would be a good venue for international discussion on what to do, according to CBS News.
Obama has the support of some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“Bottom line is this — what Assad did is despicable, to use chemical weapons on innocent women and children, and it’s an awful death and intolerable thing,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Schumer told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall he backs a limited military strike.
“One possibility could be to use tomahawk missiles, which are fired from 1,000 miles away – do not put American troops at risk – in a limited action to take out Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons again,” he said.
He emphasized that another land war is not desirable.