President Obama spoke to the nation on Tuesday night and said the U.S. is using diplomatic channels to force Syria to cede control of its chemical weapons, but warned that the U.S. “doesn’t do pinpricks” and said the military would be in place if necessary.
“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 President Obama. Though he pledged in his speech there would be no American boots on the ground in Syria and said America is not the world’s policeman, he said even a limited strike would “send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.”
Following the speech, New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who chairs the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that “the diplomatic door has opened ever so slightly, and while I have doubts about this 11th hour offer, it would be wrong to slam the door shut without due consideration,” referrring to the negotiations with Russia and other countries to avert a military response.
Menendez added though, that while a negotiated solution is always preferable, “should diplomacy fail, an authorization of force will send an unequivocal message to the Assad regime and other international actors that the use of chemical weapons will be met with a military response to prevent their use and proliferation.”
California Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said Obama could not have been more clearer that “the use of chemical weapons is despicable and cannot be tolerated by the civilized world.” Becerra added that through Obama’s resolve and call for a limited and targeted military response, “President Obama may have pried open the door for a diplomatic solution which the Syrians, with the backing of the Russians, had nailed shut.”
Texas Republican Congressman Bill Flores took the opposing view, saying Obama “did not lay out a compelling case that Syria represents a clear and present danger to the U.S. nor that military operations in Syria are in the best interests of the country.” The Republican legislator further added that “few Americans have confidence in the president’s diplomatic and military initiatives in the Middle East as evidenced by the Admininistration’s failures in Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Libya.”
Flores echoes the view of many Republicans who have expressed reservations about any military action against Syria. Last week Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who had been advocating involvement in Syria for the last few years, voted in a Senate committee against the use of military force in Syria. He said the Obama administration had not acted soon enough before.
California Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, while saying that Obama’s direct address to the American people was a welcome one, said she remained concerned about the consequences of military action, saying a limited strike could quickly lead into direct engagement with Syria and would not deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.
“I believe it is necessary to work with the international community within the legal frameworks we have agreed to in order to addess the illegal use of chemical weapons,” said Sanchez.
An NBC News/WSJ poll found 58 percent of Americans said their member of Congress should vote against authorizing military force in Syria, and only 44 percent said they favored even limited military action.
Obama said in his speech that “I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress.” But like in other issues, support for the President’s actions on Syria have been falling largely along partisan lines.
“The speech is largely symbolic and unlikely to move opinion one way or another,” said University of Washington political scientist and Latino Decisions principal Matt Barreto.
NBC Latino contributor and Northern Arizona University political scientist Stephen Nuño says much of the Syria debate in Congress “has more to do with partisan politics than war weariness – right now, this is really about domestic politics.”