U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday backed away from an imminent military strike against Syria to seek the approval of the U.S. Congress, in a decision that likely delays U.S. action for at least 10 days.
Obama, in a statement from the White House Rose Garden, said he had authorized the use of military force to punish Syria for an August 21 chemical weapons attack, which, according to U.S. officials, killed 1,429 people. Military assets are in place and ready to carry out a strike on his order, he said.
But in an acknowledgement of protests from U.S. lawmakers and concerns from war-weary Americans, Obama added an important caveat: he wants Congress to approve the intervention.
Congress is currently in recess and not scheduled to return to work until September 9.
"Today I'm asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move as one nation," Obama said.
Obama's decision was a big gamble that he can gain approval from Congress in order to launch a limited strike against Syria to safeguard an international ban on chemical weapons usage, guard U.S. national security interests and protect regional allies, including Israel, Turkey and Jordan.
"I have long believed that 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.
His decision was also a significant shift away from what was perceived to be a plan to strike fairly soon against Syrian targets. He had been prepared to act unilaterally after the British parliament refused to go along with American plans.
Nevertheless, Obama emphasized that while he respects the views of those who called for caution in Syria, he believes U.S. must acknowledge the costs of inaction. The president said he was "comfortable" launching a strike without the backing of the UN.
"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."
Obama has broad legal powers to take military action, and he insisted he felt he had the authority to launch a strike on his own. But he said he wanted Congress to have its say.
"… while I believe I have the authority to carry out this action without specific congressional authorization I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective," he said.
Protracted and expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have left Americans reluctant to get involved in Middle Eastern conflicts.
Most Americans do not want the United States to intervene in Syria. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken this week showed only 20 percent believe the United States should take action, but that was up from 9 percent last week.
The president recognized that the American people are weary of war and emphasized that he is not contemplating putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.
A debate has raged for days in Washington among members of the U.S. Congress over whether, or how quickly, Obama should take action.
House Speaker John Boehner confirmed the U.S. House of Representatives will consider a measure on military action against Syria the week of September 9.
"In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9th. This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people," his statement said.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell backed the move, which he said Obama had told him about.
"The president's role as commander in chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress," said McConnell.
Obama's decision was announced after he met his national security team at the White House. Top aides were to brief senators later in the day and members of the House of Representatives are to receive a classified briefing from administration officials on Sunday.
The objective is to show solid proof that U.S. intelligence officials say shows conclusively that the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad launched a large chemical weapons assault in Damascus suburbs that left among the dead 426 children.
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