Obama Gives Diplomacy A Chance

BY Terence Burlij  September 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM EST

President Barack Obama on Tuesday laid out his case to the American public for launching a limited military strike against Syria, while also signalling that he wished to pursue a diplomatic opening in the form of a Russian proposal to have the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turn over its chemical weapons.

“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,” Mr. Obama said during a 16-minute address from the East Room of the White House.

The Morning Line The president said he had asked leaders in Congress to postpone a vote on a resolution to authorize military force while the administration pursued diplomatic talks. The decision came as the list of lawmakers opposing military intervention grew longer on Capitol Hill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday became the first congressional leader to announce he was against the resolution.

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, analyzing the president’s speech for the NewsHour Tuesday night, said the delay was not a matter of choice. “If you have the votes, you vote. It’s a very simple rule of legislative politics. They didn’t have the votes,” he said. Indeed, whip counts compiled by the Washington Post show the strike proposal would likely fail in the House by more than 30 votes, and the Senate scale tipping more toward opposition.

The president insisted, however, that the military option must remain on the table, arguing the threat of action helped produce the diplomatic developments, and indicating that there was no guarantee the process would result in a successful outcome.

“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,” the president said. “This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”

Mr. Obama added that such a step would be enough to produce significant results.

“The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.”

And the president also urged Americans to consider what message would be sent if the international community failed to respond to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons on its own people.

“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?” said the president.

Mr. Obama suggested inaction could have a destabilizing effect in the Middle East, with the potential for fighting to spill beyond Syria’s borders, while emboldening others, such as Iran, to disregard international laws by developing a nuclear weapon.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a staunch opponent of military action in Syria, asserted U.S. intervention could add to the instability in the region.

“Would a bombing campaign in Syria make the region more or less stable? Would it make it more or less likely that Iran or Russia becomes more involved?” Paul asked. “Just about any bad outcome you can imagine is made more likely by U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.”

Watch the Shields and Brooks’ post-speech analysis on the NewsHour here or below:

 

And watch the president’s speech in full here or below:

 

Ahead of the president’s speech, Gwen Ifill spoke with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said she had been troubled by what she saw as the administration offering just two options: a military strike or no action at all. “The last few days have put a diplomatic option on the table, and I believe it should be aggressively pursued,” she said. Watch the interview here:

 

NEW YORK CITY RESULTS

  • Bill de Blasio, a former New York City councilman and the most liberal candidate among the city’s packed mayoral field, gained about 40 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary Tuesday. There’s a possibility he could still face a runoff against candidate Bill Thompson if de Blasio’s final vote count doesn’t cross the 40 percent mark. Politico’s Maggie Haberman details how de Blasio’s campaign came out on top, noting that “the Democratic primary, in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, was clearly a referendum on whether to continue in the direction Bloomberg has set for New York.”
  • Early favorite Christine Quinn, the city council speaker who closely aligned herself with current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, conceded Tuesday. Buzzfeed’s Saeed Jones analyzed how Quinn failed to hold her early momentum, and how in a city where identity politics traditionally have mattered, gay voters look more at the issues than demographic representation. “Simply being the LGBT candidate isn’t enough anymore,” Jones writes. “Quinn’s defeat shows that you no longer get to say, ‘I’m out, gay and this will be historic so you should vote for me.’ LGBT voters are savvier than that.”
  • Joseph Lhota, a former Metropolitan Transportation Authority official, won the Republican primary for the mayor’s seat.
  • The New York Times presented clean hard numbers and demographic breakdowns of the exit polls. And WNYC has the city’s votes mapped.
  • Our long national Weiner nightmare is over. The besmirched candidate conceded defeat Tuesday night after gaining no more than 5 percent of votes with 98 percent of precincts reporting. Never failing to provide Internet viral photo fodder, reporters caught him giving a choice gesture through the window of his car.
  • That other redemption-seeking candidate failed in his comeback campaign as well. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer lost the Democratic primary for comptroller to Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president.
  • As we get ready for a new era in New York politics, let’s look back on Bloomberg’s legacy in this interactive timeline.

LINE ITEMS

  • Ceremonies this morning in New York, Washington and elsewhere mark the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
  • Former 9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton penned a New York Times op-ed calling for reforms to homeland security.
  • A car bomb exploded in Benghazi one year after a terrorist attack on U.S. buildings there killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
  • Two Democratic state senators in Colorado who had called for stricter gun laws lost their seats Tuesday night in a recall election. Here’s the story from the Denver Post, and here’s the NewsHour’s Monday night analysis of the politics of the situation.
  • House Republican leaders are looking for votes to defund the Affordable Care Act implementation.
  • Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli released a video saying that he has donated $18,000 to a Richmond charity to put an end to any questions surrounding the Star Scientific matter. Cuccinelli has been under a federal and state investigation since July for his involvement with Star Scientific executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr, who gave Cuccinelli gifts valuing $18,000 and others of much larger value to Gov. Bob McDonnell. Watch the video.
  • Reuters reports on the measure passed by California’s Democratic-led state legislature that would ban new sales of semi-automatic rifles with removable magazines and require those who already own such weapons to register them. The bill now heads to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.
  • Josh Eidelson writes for the Nation about the AFL-CIO’s big convention and new policy platform.
  • Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton writes that she’s noticed two very different sides to Pam Bondi: the state’s attorney general versus the hometown hero.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Jeffrey Brown led NewsHour viewers through the moving war photography exhibit currently at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Watch the story here.

 

TOP TWEETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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