Good afternoon, everybody. Ten days ago, the world watched in horror as men, women and children were massacred in Syria in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century. Yesterday the United States presented a powerful case that the Syrian government was responsible for this attack on its own people.
Our intelligence shows the Assad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place. And all of this corroborates what the world can plainly see — hospitals overflowing with victims; terrible images of the dead. All told, well over 1,000 people were murdered. Several hundred of them were children — young girls and boys gassed to death by their own government.
This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.
In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.
Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.
Our military has positioned assets in the region. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I’m prepared to give that order.
But having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And that’s why I’ve made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.
Over the last several days, we’ve heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree. So this morning, I spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session.
In the coming days, my administration stands ready to provide every member with the information they need to understand what happened in Syria and why it has such profound implications for America’s national security. And all of us should be accountable as we move forward, and that can only be accomplished with a vote.
I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable. As a consequence, many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress, and undoubtedly, they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the Parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the Prime Minister supported taking action.
Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual. And this morning, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell agreed that this is the right thing to do for our democracy.
A country faces few decisions as grave as using military force, even when that force is limited. I respect the views of those who call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in part to end. But if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we just acknowledge the costs of doing nothing.
Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?
Make no mistake — this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?
We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.
So just as I will take this case to Congress, I will also deliver this message to the world. While the U.N. investigation has some time to report on its findings, we will insist that an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated, it must be confronted.
I don’t expect every nation to agree with the decision we have made. Privately we’ve heard many expressions of support from our friends. But I will ask those who care about the writ of the international community to stand publicly behind our action.
And finally, let me say this to the American people: I know well that we are weary of war. We’ve ended one war in Iraq. We’re ending another in Afghanistan. And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military. In that part of the world, there are ancient sectarian differences, and the hopes of the Arab Spring have unleashed forces of change that are going to take many years to resolve. And that’s why we’re not contemplating putting our troops in the middle of someone else’s war.
Instead, we’ll continue to support the Syrian people through our pressure on the Assad regime, our commitment to the opposition, our care for the displaced, and our pursuit of a political resolution that achieves a government that respects the dignity of its people.
But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning. And we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations. We aren’t perfect, but this nation more than any other has been willing to meet those responsibilities.
So to all members of Congress of both parties, I ask you to take this vote for our national security. I am looking forward to the debate. And in doing so, I ask you, members of Congress, to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment.
Ultimately, this is not about who occupies this office at any given time; it’s about who we are as a country. I believe that the people’s representatives must be invested in what America does abroad, and now is the time to show the world that America keeps our commitments. We do what we say. And we lead with the belief that right makes might — not the other way around.
We all know there are no easy options. But I wasn’t elected to avoid hard decisions. And neither were the members of the House and the Senate. I’ve told you what I believe, that our security and our values demand that we cannot turn away from the massacre of countless civilians with chemical weapons. And our democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together.
I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage. Today I’m asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation.
President Obama meets with the 2012 Intel Science Talent Search finalists in the Eisenhower Building
Michael Tomasky on GOP Plans to Sink the Economy: Every month brings improved job news – and bleaker prospects for the Republicans in November. Which is why they’re contemplating economic sabotage as their only hope.
We’re just under eight months away from Election Day now, which means that the GOP is starting to run out of time to think up new ways to ruin the economy so that Barack Obama doesn’t get reelected …. There are three fronts – gas prices, jobs, and the budget…
….. By opposing everything Obama wanted with such ferocity; by saying all those thousands of times that he had no clue about the economy; by sending out a parade of presidential candidates, from the semi-serious to the clown posse, all of whose central criticism of Obama is that he killed the economy – in all of these ways the party has more invested in economic failure than any out-party I can remember in my lifetime. Its best hope for now is gas prices, but even they eventually get lower, usually by late summer. Beyond that, all the GOP has to rely on is Mitt Romney’s unstoppable charisma.
Marketwatch: U.S. stocks rose Tuesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index extending an advance into a fifth session, after retail sales climbed the fastest in five months in February.
“The rising sales were pretty impressive in that rising gas prices hasn’t hurt the consumer,” said Nick Raich, director of research at Key Private Bank in Cleveland …. The Commerce Department reported retail sales climbed 1.1% to $407.8 billion in February, while the prior two months were revised higher.
The upward revisions imply first-quarter economic growth could be “a bit stronger” than first estimated, noted Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG LLC in New York.
National Journal: More Americans trust President Obama than congressional Republicans to make the right decisions to bring down the price of gasoline, according to a new poll, although neither side commands a majority.
What’s more, as prices continue to rise and the specter of $5-per-gallon gas for the summer driving season looms over the political landscape, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows the public slightly more supportive of the energy priorities of the Democrats and the president than those of the GOP.
Forty-four percent of respondents trust Obama more “to make the right decisions to help bring down the price of gasoline,” versus 32 percent for Republicans in Congress….
Deaniac (The People’s View): After Washington Post/ABC News put out their poll drastically over-representing GOP and Republican leaning voters, New York Times and CBS News have come up with brand new blunders of their own on their poll released late afternoon yesterday, showing the president at an approval rating of “all time low” 41%. This poll has the most glaring, dumbfounding proof that its sample is rigged staring at you in the very front page of the poll’s crosstabs.
Raw Story: The Republican fight against health care rights for women may end up hurting the party on election day, according to a new poll. A Washington Post survey released Monday found that Democrats are perceived as caring more about issues that are important to women by 25 points, 55 percent to 30 percent.
The poll also showed that a large majority of all voters support the idea that businesses should be required to cover the “full cost” of contraception for female employees. Among all voters, 61 percent supported a mandate for birth control coverage, while 35 percent did not.
As MSNBC’s Steve Benen noted, 53 percent of voters were women in 2008 … “The gender gap was pretty enormous four years ago,” Benen wrote. “Don’t be surprised if it’s even bigger in November.”
Steve Benen: In Arizona, Democratic Senate candidate Don Bivens released a new ad yesterday, targeting Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, and hoping to take advantage of the controversy surrounding Rush Limbaugh. It’s probably not the last 2012 spot we’ll see highlighting the right-wing radio host.
Liberal Librarian (The People’s View): According to Rick Santorum, I’m doubly un-American. I was born in New York City and lived there until I was 16, at which time my family moved to Los Angeles, where I’ve lived ever since. According to Rick Santorum, I have no values. I don’t know the worth of an honest day’s work. I don’t know the benefits of charity (in which he engages very sparingly). I don’t know the duties of good citizenship. My vote shouldn’t count, because as both a New Yorker and and Angeleno, I was never exposed to rock-ribbed, middle American values. I’m an other. And everyone who lives in my two cities are similarly lacking in American moral fiber.
Kevin Drum (Mother Jones): In the upcoming issue of the Washington Monthly, Paul Glastris has a cover story called “The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama,” a headline almost guaranteed to set your teeth on edge….
….. A sidebar to Glastris’ piece lists Obama’s top 50 accomplishments …. Better to pare it down to 10 really top achievements in order to highlight how many truly major accomplishments Obama has been responsible for. So I did. Except I couldn’t get there. I cut it down to 13 and got stuck. Here they are, in the same order as the original Washington Monthly list (see post)
…. These are all big deals. Big fucking deals, to quote our vice president. Unless you’re just bound and determined to sulk in your tent while insisting that health care was a sellout and the stimulus was too small and Dodd-Frank was feeble and the mini stimuli were more like micro stimuli, there’s just no way around the fact that this is a historically colossal set of progressive accomplishments, especially in the face of a historically hostile political environment.
….. Unlike Paul Glastris, I’m not ready to start chiseling Obama’s mug on Mount Rushmore. But unless national security is pretty much your sole obsession, I really have a hard time understanding progressives who are disappointed in him. Obama has gotten more done for the progressive cause than Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, JFK, or Harry Truman – and, on balance, nearly as much as LBJ, since he doesn’t have any epic disasters to weigh down his successes. For an actual, existing human being, that’s pretty damn good.
Chris Cillizza (Washington Post): In a remarkable act of political gauntlet-throwing, President Obama castigated House Speaker John Boehner for his approach to reducing the country’s deficit, called on Members of Congress to do what’s “right” when it comes to debt reduction and issued a veto threat if a bill that does not meet his standards comes to his desk.
“This is not class warfare, it’s math,” Obama said in response to early Republican critiques of his proposal. At another point he said that GOP members should be “called out” for signing a pledge not to raise taxes ever.
But Obama saved his choicest words for Boehner. Obama said the Speaker had “walked away from a balanced package” during the debt-ceiling negotiations and added that Boehner’s approach to debt reduction was “not smart…it’s not right”.
…. What that means, wethinks, is that Obama has given over the idea of being the compromiser-in-chief – the prevailing sentiment of the first eight months of 2011 – in favor of taking the fight to Republicans and forcing them to respond in kind or feel the political consequences.
…. The 2012 election may still be 14 months away but the central debate on which it will pivot began in earnest this morning.
Greg Sargent: This has to be the clearest sign yet that Obama has taken a very sharp populist turn as he seeks to frame the contrast between the parties heading into 2012. During his remarks this morning, Obama directly responded to Republicans accusing him of “class warfare,” but rather than simply deny the charge, he made the critical point that the act of protecting tax cuts for the rich is itself class warfare, in effect positioning himself as the defender of the middle class against GOP class warriors on behalf of the wealthy.
Don (in the comments in the thread below): Just in case anyone forgot, tomorrow is September 20, 2011, the day DADT is officially over. Is this guy for real or what, he changes the arch of justice and then just goes on about his business quietly. President Obama “gave “Boehner 98% of everything he wanted, which turned out to be ocean front property in Oklahoma. And now Boehner is in a race against time, come November Boehner has to either accept what President Obama gives him or accept what the Super-Committee gives him, which President Obama has already said he will veto if revenues are not included. And this, Professional Lefters, is how it is done.
*drops microphone, turns around and walks away*
Steve Benen: ….. The president has operated under a set of assumptions – GOP leaders are reasonable people, willing to compromise in good faith, acting with the nation’s best interests at heart – that have always seemed rather fanciful.
With the introduction of the American Jobs Act and today’s debt-reduction plan, President Obama and his team appear to have thrown out the old playbook …. It’s about time. The White House suffered some major setbacks, but officials have apparently decided to send congressional Republicans a new message: no more Mr. Nice President.
…. The new playbook is predicated on more realistic expectations: Republicans are going to say no to everything anyway …. What are the major concessions Obama has included in his economic plan? There aren’t any; that’s the point….
….. It took a while, but President Obama seems to have decided to break out of the box Republicans have spent years trying to weld shut. Between the American Jobs Act and today’s debt-reduction plan, the White House appears more invested in presenting what should pass, and less concerned about what might pass.
It’s the difference between following and leading.
Andrew Sullivan: Every single poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy as part of a package to cut the deficit. The margins are staggering: the NYT poll shows a majority of 74 – 21; even Rasmussen shows a majority of 56 – 34. What the president proposed this morning is simply where the American people are at. If he keeps at it, if he turns his administration into a permanent campaign for structural fiscal reform, I don’t see how he loses the argument.