President Barack Obama responded to detractors on both sides of the political aisle while defending his administration’s military pressure on Syria in a televised address on Tuesday night.
“Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at statke in Syria,” Obama said. “Along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America’s not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe. And it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.”
Obama repeated his pledge that a prospective U.S. attack on his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad’s forces would not draw American troops into a ground-based conflict, while rejecting the idea that a limited strike would be a “pinprick effort.”
“The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks,” Obama said. “Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.”
The president also acknowledged the “encouraging signs” that Syria would accept a Russian proposal to give up its chemical weapons arsenal and submit to international inspection, saying that both he and Secretary of State John Kerry would continue to discuss the issue with Russian officials and that United Nations inspectors would get the time they needed to report their findings on the alleged Aug. 21 attack by Assad’s troops that touched off the White House’s drive to seek support for an attack.
Assad has said there is “no evidence” linking him to the attack, which killed nearly 1,500 people, including 426 children.
“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed,” Obama said of the renewed diplomatic efforts. “Any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But, this initiative has the potential to remove the threats of chemical weapons without the use of force.”
Obama also repeated that he has asked lawmakers to delay a vote on whether to authorize a strike while his administration works with officials in Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France to bring a resolution before the UN Security Council ordering Syria to surrender and destroy its chemical weapons. Toward the end of the address, he pushed back against critics in both conservative and progressive circles.
“To my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just,” Obama urged. “To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor.”
Watch the entire address, as aired by NBC News on Tuesday, below.