WASHINGTON, August 31 (RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama slammed the brakes Saturday on fast-moving plans to launch a military strike on Syria, saying he would seek approval from Congress first even though he believes such action is necessary and justified.
In a statement from the White House Rose Garden, Obama said he had decided that the United States should take military action against targets in Syria, reiterating US assertions that the government of President Bashar Assad was to blame for the apparent use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.
But Obama went on to say that the decision was too important for any president to take alone and required a national debate in order for the will of the American people to be heard through the legislative branch of government.
“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,” Obama said.
“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. … We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual.”
The United States has six warships positioned near Syria, and Obama said US military commanders assured him they are ready to launch a strike at any time.
Obama did not respond to a question shouted by a reporter after he concluded his statement on what he would should Congress reject military action against Syria.
While the Obama administration has made clear in recent days its view that the Assad regime is responsible for the apparent use of chemical weapons in Syria, many remain skeptical and the outcome of the looming congressional debate is difficult to predict.
In a statement released minutes after Obama spoke, US House Speaker John Boehner, whose Republican party controls the House of Representatives, said lawmakers would debate the issue formally during the week of Sept. 9, when lawmakers are set to return from the summer break.
Obama, a former constitutional law professor who built his own campaign for the presidency largely around criticism of his predecessor, George W. Bush, for resorting to military power in foreign affairs without consulting Congress, said he did not think UN approval of a strike on Syria was needed.
“I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for UN inspectors,” he said. “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.”
Russia has insisted since the start of the conflict in Syria two years ago that any outside intervention in the conflict would be permissible only if approved by the UN Security Council. Moscow has faced scathing US criticism for blocking, together with China, US-led efforts to win UN backing for an intervention.
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier Saturday described US arguments that Assad’s forces were behind the apparent use of chemical weapons as “utter nonsense” and said Moscow was “sure” they were used by rebel forces as a “provocation” to draw the United States into the Syrian conflict.
Obama acknowledged that not all countries agreed with the United States on who was to blame for the chemical weapons use and how it should be addressed, though he said that “privately” Washington had received expressions of support from “friends.”
Obama’s announcement Saturday marked an extraordinary turn of events capping an eight-day stretch that saw Washington switch from demanding Syria let UN inspectors examine sites of chemical weapons use to saying it was too late for that and ramping up plans for a military strike on Syrian targets.
Those plans were thrown into dramatic and unexpected disarray on Thursday when British Prime Minister David Cameron, who until then had been at the forefront of calls for military action in Syria, failed to win a vote in the House of Commons authorizing such a move.
Obama acknowledged the impact the British vote had had on decision-making in Washington, saying many in the United States were taken aback “when the parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution” allowing Cameron to join the United States in action against Syria.
But he stressed that his administration’s position on what happened in Syria and how it should be dealt with is unwavering.
“Just as I will take this case to Congress, I will also deliver this message to the world: While the UN 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.”
He said he is “looking forward” to the debate with Congress on Syria and called on lawmakers to back his administration’s case for limited military action against Syria, which he said was needed to preserve US security and uphold US values.