PRESIDENT OBAMA: My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria, why it matters and where we go from here.
TRANSLATION: I’ve been talking about Syria for a while, and I said the use of chemical weapons was a red line. Unfortunately, I have no proof that the Syrian government actually used chemical weapons in Ghouta, and the Syrian rebels have been caught with chemical weapons in Turkey. The U.N. has also blamed the rebels for at least one other chemical weapons attack, not to mention beheading priests and eating the hearts of Syrian government soldiers. I know I said the use of chemical weapons was a red line, but I only meant for the red line to apply to the Syrian government. Also, the beheadings and cannibalism are more of a yellow line.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America’s 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.
TRANSLATION: We spent years trying to sow revolution in Syria and overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad. After almost three years of revolution, the Syrian rebels haven’t been able to dislodge Bashar al-Assad. Our grand scheme to get rid of old Soviet client states has resulted in a humanitarian disaster, and the expansion of Al-Qaeda throughout the Middle East and North Africa. We’re trying to shape a settlement with cruise missiles, and the threat of military force, but I’ve alienated much of the world and managed to undermine America’s credibility. No one believes me anymore, and therefore they don’t believe in us, because I’m the leader of us. I will now reverse course and say that we cannot resolve these civil wars by force, even though I resolved Libya’s civil war with just enough force to push Gaddafi’s government over the edge. I’m hoping you don’t pick up on the contradiction.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over 1,000 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.
TRANSLATION: We don’t have proof that Assad’s government gassed over 1,000 people to death, nor do we have any evidence to substantiate our death toll of 1,429. Again, I’m switching gears to say over 1,000 people died in the chemical weapons attack, because we got caught without any actual proof. In fact, the mainstream media even questions whether or not we have evidence that a chemical attack actually occurred. That’s ridiculous, because we don’t even have to wait for the U.N. to complete its tests on samples from Ghouta. Why? Because we have our own samples, that we haven’t shown any chain of custody for, or even presented any information as to the location where those samples were collected.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: This was not always the case. In World War I, American G.I.s 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 governments 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, cell phone 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 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.
TRANSLATION: I hope you understand that Bashar al-Assad is a Nazi, a liar, and a bad man, and that the proof is in my gut feeling that he is a Nazi, a liar, and a bad man. My gut instinct is never incorrect.
In fact, no one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria, except for the New York Times. We know that the Assad regime was responsible, because there are known unknowns, unknown knowns, known knowns, and unknown unknowns, and what we know is a known known is that Assad used chemical weapons in Ghouta.
We know it, and so you know it.
Also, Nazis used chemical weapons; therefore, because we know Assad used chemical weapons, he must be a Nazi.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way 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.
TRANSLATION: When I commit atrocities, like supporting Al Qaeda rebels in Libya and propping up a revolution in Egypt that eventually resulted in the Muslim Brotherhood seizing power, it’s okay because I’m not a dictator. I won an actual election because the Republican Party fielded John McCain and Mitt Romney in two successive elections, thereby guaranteeing that I would win and win easily. Thanks so much for that.
What is the international community going to do about my murderous rampage with drone strikes, killing civilians left and right, and my semantic reclassification of all military age men in the proximity of a drone strike as militants? Not a damn thing. I’m the king of the world.
Because they have failed to act, I will continue to kill innocent civilians and American citizens without due process, and I will do so with impunity. Over time, Middle Eastern civilians who didn’t hate us before will grow to hate us, and I will spawn more terrorists and thereby create the need for even greater incursions against your civil liberties in the name of national security. It’s the liberal way: create a problem so you can make a solution to the problem.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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.
TRANSLATION: I ignore international law all the time. When I violate international law, it’s okay, because I’m the king of the world. We have 5,000 nuclear warheads, which gives us the right to tell Iran not to build even one nuke. In fact, we are the only country in history to have ever used a nuclear weapon in war. Because we won that war, we were right.
In fact, even Time magazine has said that any strike of Syria would be illegal, but what do they know? I’m the king of the world, and whatever I do is therefore right and just. The Founding Fathers fought a war against a monarch with the power to unilaterally wage war, and they drafted a Constitution that explicitly gave Congress the sole authority to declare war. In fact, each instance of an undeclared war, such as the Quasi War, was accompanied by statutory authorizations from Congress.
It wasn’t until Korea that any president had the gall to try what I do as a matter of routine: go to war without congressional authorization. Indeed, I even harbor terrorists in violation of international law. I am 200% awesome, and did I mention that I’m the king of the world?
Also, of course this will spill over to other countries. That’s our hope and our desire.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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 possess 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.
TRANSLATION: I don’t care about strong democracy, because democracy is in the way. How dare you people have the temerity to write and phone your elected representatives and demand that they vote no?! That’s why my Secretary of State is out there saying I can go bomb Syria anyway.
I can order military strikes even when we haven’t been attacked. How do you know that I’m telling the truth? Look at the recent past. I did it in Libya. I did it in 16 other countries with drones, and with no declaration of war whatsoever. That original authorization for the use of military force after 9/11 only authorized force against those involved in the planning and execution of 9/11. I think we’ve established that I’ve gone far beyond that authorization, and no one is stopping me.
I don’t even believe these words are coming out of my mouth right now. We’re stronger when you sit down, shut up, and let me do what I want to do. I know things you don’t know, and you didn’t bitch about this when George W. Bush was in power.
I will never make the mistake of involving the people’s representatives in the use of force ever again. The fact that you think you can get your way over my way is absurd.
I’ve given you lower unemployment by making people drop out of the labor force altogether, and our education system is the thirty-third best in the world, and the most expensive. You should be grateful for what I’ve done for you. I’ll grow the middle class by cutting their hours via Obamacare, because I’m magical like that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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.”
TRANSLATION: It is a wonder to me that you think you can ask me hard questions and get honest answers. Have you learned nothing? I’ve stonewalled everything from Fast & Furious to the auto bailout to politically motivated closures of car dealerships to the political targeting of my opponents by the IRS. Lots of people with more power than you ask me hard questions every day, or at least they try to ask me hard questions. Being the president, the king of the world, means I don’t have to answer their questions or yours.
You know what I’m sick and tired of? Listening to you act like you have a point to make and someone who cares enough to listen to it. I signed Obamacare into law against the will of 60% of Americans. I took us to war in Libya over the objections of two-thirds to three-quarters of Americans. I do what I want to do, when I want to do it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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.
TRANSLATION: After I bomb the hell out of Assad’s regime and the Syrian army, Al Qaeda will handle the rest. We don’t have to remove another dictator with force; we just have to weaken him enough to allow Al Qaeda to do it for us.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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 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 unshakeable support of the United States of America.
TRANSLATION: Yeah, I know I just totally made the point that Assad isn’t a threat to us, and completely blew any legitimate reason for using force against Syria, but I don’t care. It’s not about making sense: power is both a means and an end, and I have it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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 Qaeda 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? As several people wrote to me, “We should not be the world’s policeman.”
TRANSLATION: The majority of the Syrian people haven’t lined up to overthrow Bashar Assad, which is why he’s still in power. The Syrian opposition we work with isn’t interested in living in peace; they wouldn’t have started a revolution and began chopping the heads off of Christians and Alawite Muslims if they were peaceful. I am lying right now, openly and obviously, but you can’t do anything to stop me from lying or acting on my lies.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I agree, and I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warning 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.
TRANSLATION: I have used peaceful solutions in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Really, I have. I even won a Nobel Peace Prize. Of course, I have also redefined peace to include the killing of innocent civilians and children with drones. In fact, over the past five years, I have killed more people with my decisions than Bashar Assad could ever hope to kill. My decision to back rebel forces affiliated with Al Qaeda led to hundreds of thousands of deaths in North Africa and the Middle East.
I have taken regimes that have been in power for decades, in countries with high standards of living who haven’t attacked us, and I have overthrown their governments. But that’s okay, because I didn’t use sarin gas in a single one of those countries.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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 meet 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 closest 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.
TRANSLATION: I can’t win a vote authorizing the use of military force, which is why I’m seeking to postpone it so my friends in Al Qaeda can unleash another chemical weapons attack in Syria that I can then blame on the Assad regime. I’ll also impose additional conditions on any diplomatic negotiations with the Assad regime to ensure their refusal to comply, and I will then cite that refusal as a basis for military action.
I will not refer to the rebels’ use of chemical weapons as a red line.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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 is 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.
TRANSLATION: If you don’t authorize me to use force in Syria, you hate the troops. Since I am not a dictator, but a democratically elected leader, my violations of international law aren’t the same as Bashar Assad’s violations of international law. My sponsorship of rebel forces affiliated with terrorist organizations is in no way as bad as the use of poison gas, even though the rebels I’ve been supporting for years without congressional oversight or authorization have been caught in Turkey with poison gas.
Stop hating the troops. Give me the authorization to use military force against Syria’s government for a chemical weapons attack I have no proof was carried out by the Syrian government. Authorize me to strike Syria even though they haven’t attack the United States.
I am the king of the world, and what I demand must be given to me, or I will do it anyway.