Even if you were stuffing yourself full of the first weekend of college football, by now you know that President Barack Obama conducted one of the most important Rose Garden addresses in the history of the modern Presidency.
Taking the baton from his Secretary of State John Kerry, he again laid out, in forceful, passionate language, the situation as it was in Syria. He explained that the intelligence community had concluded with great certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks in contested areas of Damascus the week before. He passionately argued that American values and national interest dictated that Assad’s regime be punished militarily for the use of those chemical weapons against civilians. He stated that the military had assets in place and was ready to go at any time.
And then he did something no modern president had done. Even though he believed he had the authority to act, he knew that this was a divisive issue, and that the people’s representatives had to join in the decision. He called for Congress to debate and vote on a resolution granting him specific authority to militarily strike Assad for violating international treaties banning the use of chemical weaponry, some of the oldest weapons conventions in international law. He had heard the rumblings from Congress saying that he had to seek approval before any strike, and agreed.
But why did he agree? This is where he pivots beyond what all the pundits and talking heads expected. Just before declaring that he would seek Congressional approval, he reiterated that he believed that he had the authority to conduct the attacks with or without Congressional approval. But such an action, in a region of the world where such action could quickly spiral out of control, needed more than just Barack Obama’s say-so as Commander in Chief. Syria is not Libya. In the Libyan crisis, the President had a UN resolution with which to work. As a signatory to the UN charter, all member nations had a duty to enforce Security Council resolutions. That was all the authorization he needed.
President Obama talks with Yolanda Renee King, 5, granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., her mother Arndrea Waters, and Martin Luther King III
The complete ceremony, forward to 30 minutes for the start:
President Obama’s speech:
With Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and Mark Barden, father of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Daniel Barden, Peter Yarrow, left, and Paul Stookey, right, of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary
“Good morning. My name is Hannah Nelson, I’m sixteen years old, and I’m from Belfast,” was how the student chosen as the warm up speaker for Michelle Obama introduced herself to 2,000 invited guests at the Waterfront Hall.