President Obama on Wednesday said he didn’t set a red line on Syria — the world did.
He also said it wasn’t his credibility that was on the line if there was no response to what his administration contends was a chemical attack by Syria’s government that killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.
“I didn’t set a red line — the world set a red line,” he said.
He cited Congress passing legislation condemning the violence in Syria and approving a treaty prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.
“That wasn't something I just kind of made up,” Obama said. “I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it.”
The president warned that the United States must respond or else “international norms begin to erode” and “other despots” would think they could get away with chemical weapons use.
“If we don't [act], we are effectively saying that even though we may condemn it and issue resolutions and so for and so on, someone who is not shamed by resolutions can continue with impunity,” Obama said.
The president has asked Congress to authorize a military strike against Syria, but the fate of the request is uncertain. While prospects appear positive in the Senate, it is no sure thing that the House will grant approval.
Reluctant lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of any action in Syria, saying it is uncertain to have much of an effect.
Some have also criticized Obama for getting his country into the mess by saying last year that the use of chemical weapons would represent a red line in the conflict. Critics argue that leaves Obama little choice but to press for a military strike now that Syria's government has been accused of using chemical weapons twice.
Votes are expected next week when the Congress returns to Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry will testify at the House Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday to urge support for the authorization.
Internationally, few countries are offering direct help, though there have been criticisms of Syria’s regime.
Obama heads to the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg after his visit to Sweden. The summit is hosted by Russia, a fierce opponent of a military strike.
Obama sidestepped a question Wednesday about whether he would act if Congress rejects his request, saying he believed Congress would approve it.
“As difficult as it is to take any military action,” he said, America and Congress recognize the importance of maintaining the international norms against chemical weapons use.
Asked how he came to the surprising decision to ask for Congress’s approval, Obama said the idea had been “brewing in my mind for awhile.”
“Had I been in the Senate in the midst of this period, I probably would have suggested to a Democratic or Republican president that Congress should have the ability to weigh in,” Obama said.
Obama said he was “frustrated” by those who condemned the use of chemical weapons but were unwilling to act.
“If, in fact, you're outraged by the slaughter of innocent people, then what are you doing about it?” Obama said.
Obama said he was “frustrated” by those who condemned the use of chemical weapons but were unwilling to act. He also suggested that the world would increasingly face challenges like Kosovo, Syria, and Rwanda where the nation "may not be directly imminently threatened," but that "our humanity" would be impacted in a "profound way."