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  • The President: My fellow Americans,

  • tonight I want to talk to you about Syria --

  • why it matters, and where we go from here.

  • Over the past two years,

  • what began as a series of peaceful protests

  • against the repressive 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 has 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.

  • The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st,

  • when Assad's government gassed to death over a thousand 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.

  • This was not always the case.

  • In World War I, American GIs 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 gasmasks 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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."

  • 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.

  • 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 unshakable support

  • of the United States of America.

  • 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."

  • I agree, and I have a deeply held preference

  • for peaceful solutions.

  • Over the last two years,

  • my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions,

  • warnings 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.

  • 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.

  • 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