Obama: Securing Syria’s Chemical Weapons Could Avert a Strike

Russia offers to broker a deal to put Syria's chemical weapons 'under international control.' By Marina Koren and Brian Resnick

On Monday night, President Obama flooded the networks to make his case for a strike on Syria, emphasizing its narrowness in diminishing Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons. Yet, earlier in the day, he conceivably was given an out to the conflict, with Russia offering to broker a deal to put the Syrian government’s stockpile of chemical weapons under “international control.”

The proposition has prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to postpone a Senate vote on the authorization of force from Wednesday to Thursday, to allow for a diplomatic way out of the situation. Obama told Diane Sawyer on ABC that the strikes may be less effective if Congress doesn’t back him, but that he hadn’t decided what he would do if the strikes are voted down.

In an interview with Fox News, Chris Wallace asked Obama three times if the president would delay a vote in Congress in the wake of the new information. “I am going to make sure that this does not change the calendar of debate in Congress,” Obama responded. “Clearly it’s going to take more time, partly because the American people aren’t convinced.”

NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked Obama if he felt confident about getting enough votes to push the resolution authorizing the use of force through Congress. “I wouldn’t say I’m confident. I’m confident that the members of Congress are taking this issue very seriously, and they are doing their homework. At a press conference in Sweden last week, however, the president said he was sure Congress would approve the measure.

But perhaps there is some hope it won’t come to blows. To multiple news outlets, Obama repeated that if the Russian deal can be verified, it could deter a strike. At the same time, he said such a deal would not have come about without the looming threat of U.S. missiles, echoing former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s remarks earlier in the day. Here’s what he told Wolf Blitzer on CNN, a sentiment he shared in all of his interviews:

If we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference. On the other hand, if we don’t maybe maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure, I do not think we will get the kind of movement I would like to see.

On Fox, Obama said the next step involves getting “actual language” from the Russians for a proposal that would take chemical weapons out of the Assad regime’s hands. He paraphrased Ronald Reagan’s “trust, but verify,” a line the 40th president spoke in his 1989 farewell address about America’s relationship with the Soviet Union. “We’ll put this on a fast track,” Obama said of determining how “serious” Russia is about pressuring Syria.

Obama also maintained that the United States does not have to fear a retaliation from Assad in the wake of a strike (as Assad had told Charlie Rose in an bizarrely concurrent interview on PBS). Obama told Blitzer:

Assad doesn’t have a lot of capability. He has capability relative to children, he has capability relative to an opposition that is still getting itself organized and are not professionally trained fighters. He doesn’t have a credible means to threaten the United States…. The notion that Mr. Assad could significantly threaten the United States is just not the case.

Obama will continue his press blitz from the White House on Tuesday night, when he addresses a nation that largely disapproves of U.S. military intervention in Syria. In the end, public opinion may carry more weight in the president’s decision than murky proposals from overseas. Obama told NBC, “I will evaluate after that whether or not we feel strongly enough about this that we are willing to move forward.”

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.