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Obama opts for diplomacy instead of war

George E. Curry | NNPA | 9/11/2013, 10:51 a.m.
Speaking to a war-weary nation Tuesday night, President Barack Obama asked Congress to postpone a vote authorizing him to launch ...
President Barack Obama said Tuesday night September 10, 2013, that Syria's government violated the "basic rules" of warfare, adding: "The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America (will) do about it." POOL

— Speaking to a war-weary nation Tuesday night, President Barack Obama asked Congress to postpone a vote authorizing him to launch an air attack against Syria while he explores a Russian diplomatic proposal that could rid Syria of its arsenal of chemical weapons.

In a televised 16-minute address from the White House, Obama said: “…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. Assad has since admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.”

In a speech originally planned to drum up support for military action against Syria, President Obama changed gears as he expressed willingness to exhaust all diplomatic initiatives before using force.

“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.”

Russia, a close ally of Syria, announced that it had gotten Syria’s agreement to turn over its chemical weapons to Russia, the United Nations and other countries. However, Russia is opposing a UN resolution that would authorize military action if Syria does not follow the outlined plan. President Obama announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his Russian counterpart in Switzerland on Thursday and that he would continue to hold talks with Putin in an effort to break the stalemate with Syria.

Opinion polls show that most Americans opposed taking military action against Syria although they are convinced Assad gassed his own people.

The latest intervention by Russia gives Obama time to seek more support in Congress. There was little doubt that the president’s plan, at least in its present form, was headed for defeat on Capitol Hill. Postponing the vote spares President Obama public humiliation.

In an uphill battle to shift public opinion, President Obama listed and answered many of the “hard questions” Americans have against being involved in yet another war: Won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? It is worth acting if we don’t take out Assad? What about the dangers of retaliation? Why should we get involved at all in this place that’s so complicated, and where those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights? Why not leave this to other countries, or seek solutions short of force? Why should we be the world’s policeman?

Obama offered a point-by-point rebuttal to each objection, all of which led back to the president’s primary theme:

“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.