Obama and Kerry: What Action Will They Take on Syria?
Policy + Politics

Obama and Kerry: What Action Will They Take on Syria?

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It’s still unclear as of late Friday afternoon what, if anything, the United States is going to do in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons against civilians within his own country.

Both President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made closely watched statements this afternoon about the chemical weapons crisis that occurred in Syria on August 21.

Kerry, speaking first at the State Department, told the nation any military strike would be carefully considered – and that a military response would not resemble prolonged U.S. involvement such as in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or a U.S. role in the NATO mission to depose Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

“Any action that he [President Obama] might decide to take will be [a] limited and tailored response to ensure that a despot’s brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons is held accountable,” Kerry said.

The Secretary of State also called Assad a “thug and murderer,” while insisting that the use of chemical weapons could not be tolerated. Acknowledging that the American people are tired of war, Kerry said that “fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.”


On Friday the U.S. government also released an unclassified intelligence report that included many details of the chemical attack. Referencing that intelligence, Kerry said, “The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children. Even the first responders, the doctors, nurses and medics who tried to save them – they became victims themselves. We saw them gasping for air, terrified that their own lives were in danger…

“This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.” He said the United States could not turn “a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Kerry’s statement on Friday seemed to lay the groundwork for an American strike, despite the fact that Great Britain has now refused to participate after Prime Minister Cameron's argument to support the United States in a response against Syria was turned down by the British Parliament. France, meanwhile, has pledged its support to the U.S. in sanctioning Syria.  

Hours after Kerry spoke, President Obama, at the White House, said that a decision to strike Syria has yet to be made. At the same time, he hinted that limited military action could be imminent.

He defended his administration’s as-yet lack of military action, despite U.S. intelligence documents showing Assad was responsible for the attack, a key violation of the president’s “red line.” “I meant what I said: that the world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons,” Obama said.