December 13, 2013
Obama makes case for punishing Syria over gas attack
President Barack Obama vowed that the Syrian government would face "international consequences" for last week's deadly chemical attack, but made clear any military response would be limited to avoid dragging the United States into another war in the Middle East.
Casting the need for action based on US national security interests instead of humanitarian grounds, Obama made his case to a war-weary American public for what is looking like an all-but-certain use of force in Syria, where he has long been reluctant to intervene.
While saying he and allied leaders had not yet made a decision on military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's loyalists, he left little doubt that the choice was not whether to act but when.
"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out, and if that's so, then there need to be international consequences," Obama told "PBS Newshour" in a televised interview.
There were growing signs, however, that the timeline for launching any military strike on Syria could be complicated not only by the UN weapons inspectors' continued presence there but by the Obama administration's efforts to coordinate with international partners and growing demands for consultation with US lawmakers.
On top of that, Britain - a key player in any air assault on Syria - changed its stance, saying the UN Security Council should see findings from weapons inspectors before any military action is taken and that the British parliament should vote on the matter twice.
For his part, Obama insisted that while Assad's government must be punished, he intended to avoid repeating Washington's errors from the Iraq war.
"I have no interest in any open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable," Obama said.
It was Obama's clearest justification yet for a tough response against Assad, who is accused of having crossed a "red line" for large-scale chemical weapons use that Obama established just over a year ago. Hundreds of people were killed in a poison gas attack on Damascus suburb.