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What was President Obama's message on Syria?

September 11th, 2013
12:12 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Mick Krever is the Digital Producer of “Amanpour”

If you watched President Obama’s speech on Syria last night and wondered “what was his message?” you’re not alone.

The original goal was to convince the American people, and the U.S. Congress, to authorize him to use military force against Syria in response to President Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

But what the world saw was not a full-throated endorsement of that goal, but rather a melange of mixed messages.

That’s because now he had to balance the credible threat of force with the fast-moving diplomatic breakthroughs it has produced.

So the President said he had over the past two and a half years resisted calls for military action, and did not want to try to resolve “someone else’s civil war through force.”

Nonetheless, he said, now that Assad had used chemical weapons, it is indeed now time to become involved.

“It is in the national security interests of the United States,” President Obama said, “to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.”

And to be clear, he added, “the United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.”

(Just a day earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: "That is exactly what we’re talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”)

But hold the phone.

Now that Russia had “indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons,” Obama said, a military strike will be put on hold, though he declared that he had “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.”

So Congress, he said, can stand down – for now. Anyway, his allies needed more time to get a vote that could be approved.

“I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.”

The most effective part of President Obama’s speech was the genuine anguish he displayed over the brutal killing of men, women, and hundreds of children by Assad’s chemical weapons – and his call to congress, the American people, and the world to put their conscience first.

“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?”


Filed under:  From the Amanpour team
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