Middle East/North Africa

Obama refuses to say if he’d attack Syria without congressional approval

President Obama on Friday refused to say whether he would attack Syria if Congress voted against it.

The president was pressed repeatedly at the G-20 summit about an aide’s remark that it is neither his “desire nor his intention” to carry out an attack alone, but declined to answer.

“You’re not getting a direct response,” Obama told reporters, adding that he wasn’t going to engage in the “parlor game” of debating a hypothetical.

{mosads}His refusal to rule out acting over the objections of Congress came just hours after White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said the president wouldn’t strike at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime without backing from lawmakers.

“The president of course has the authority to strike, but its neither his desire nor his intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him,” Blinken told NPR.

Still, the president hinted it was unlikely he would proceed if the House or Senate rejected his request. He said that he “did not put this before Congress just as a political ploy or symbolism.”

“I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States,” Obama said.

Separately, Obama acknowledged that he “knew this was going to be a heavy lift” as he attempted to sell Congress on military action.

“I understand the skepticism,” Obama said. “I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through systematically making the case to every senator and every member of Congress, and that is what we’re doing.”

He sought to assure members of Congress who were concerned that a strike could escalate into full-blown war if Assad used chemical weapons again.

“Now, is it possible that Assad doubles down in the face of our action and uses chemical weapons more widely? I suppose anything’s possible, but it wouldn’t be wise,” Obama said. “I think at that point, mobilizing the international community would be easier, not harder.”

The president also said he knew he was “elected to end wars and not start them.”

“This is not something we’ve fabricated,” Obama said. “This is not something that we are using as an excuse for military action.”

Obama will attempt to make his case to the public in an address from the White House on Tuesday.

“For the American people at least, the concern really has to do with understanding that what we’re describing here would be limited and proportionate and designed to address this problem of chemical weapons use and upholding a norm that helps keep all of us safe,” Obama said. “And that is going to be the case that I try to make, not just to Congress, but to the American people over the coming days.”


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