Let me be perfectly clear
Posted by aogThursday, 12 September 2013 at 12:56 TrackBack Ping URL

A rush transcript of President Obama’s speech. There may be a few errors here and there.

My fellow Americans, tonight I want do what I think I do best, which is to deliver a monologue on tv — because I haven’t noticed that no televised address of mine has helped win you over since I took office.

Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad, who Hillary was calling a reformer at the time, has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement. But I have resisted calls for military action, as you would expect, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force. Not that it can’t be done - it worked here, and in Korea, and there was a danger we were going to do it in Vietnam until members of my party including my new Secretary of State got us out of the way so the Communists could win. I just mean that we can’t do it, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and especially Iraq. Actually it’s been twelve years in Afghanistan, and five of those years have been while I’ve been President. In fact, all four of the American military’s bloodiest years in Afghanistan have been since I took office, which you’d know if I let my party have those anti-war protests any more or if I let the press talk about Afghanistan ever.

Back to Syria though -the situation profoundly changed on August 21st, when Assad’s government (which my administration has not described as “reformist” since Hillary left the Cabinet) gassed to death over a thousand people, and because this is the part I want you to get emotional over I’m going to skip right over the fact that this number is literally one percent of the total fatalities and instead describe how gruesome these deaths were, including the deaths of children. To drive home the emotional point, I’m going to mention dead children three times. Dead children.

Now here’s some history about poison gas that my speechwriting intern got off of Wikipedia. It contains a mention of dead American servicemen, the Nazis, and another reference to dead children, plus Overwhelming International Consensus. That consensus is against the use of poison gas.

On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity, in a way that the deaths of the other hundred thousand people didn’t really affect. No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. It was on the internet.

Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible. That was on the internet too. They distributed gasmasks to their troops, and why would you do that if you thought the other side was going to use poison? Here’s more evidence for you. Serious stuff.

When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. Like when Saddam gassed a bunch of people, and then my party - including both myself and in 1991 my Vice President - staunchly resisted removing him from power, because he was supposed to be in some kind of “box” along with his victims. The question now is what the United States of America, and the red-line-drawers in the international community, is prepared to do about it. Yes, that is the question that I, the world’s greatest orator and distinguished graduate of Harvard Law School, wish to put to you in my prepared written statement: What is we prepared to do? I shall conclude this paragraph by mentioning dead children for a fifth time and international law for the second, and also making my first mention of national security.

Let me explain. No, is too much - let me sum up. Just kidding, I can never talk too much. This is another one of those deals where something that has been a problem for years if not decades demands immediate action right now because I say so. If we fail to act immediately, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians. And that’s not the only way this is nothing like Iraq.

If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran — hey, remember that time I said I’d meet with Iran without preconditions? Or before that how I said that the National Intelligence Estimate showed the Iranians weren’t working on nuclear weapons any more? Well, now I think they might be again.

That is why, after literally a period of time of careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security slash political interests of the United States and its President (who is me) to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.

That’s my judgment as Commander-in-Chief. But I’m also the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. And a Harvard Law graduate, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Grammy winner, and even at my age I could make the traveling team for a playoff caliber NBA squad. So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, as I did in Libya, and as I’ve done through drone strikes in Yemen and I don’t even remember where else, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, and in the presence of a significant political risk to myself, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress. And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together. And I sure as hell know it’s going to be easier for me to blame Congress if and when things go south than it would be for me to point fingers at the military. Well, not “easier”. More effective.

That is why, after literally a period of time of careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security slash political interests of the United States and its President (who is me) to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.

That’s my judgment as Commander-in-Chief. But I’m also the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy, and a Harvard Law graduate, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Grammy winner, and even at my age I could make the traveling team for a playoff caliber NBA squad. So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, as I did in Libya, and as I’ve done through drone strikes in Yemen and I don’t even remember where else, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, and in the presence of a significant political risk to myself, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress. And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together. And I sure as hell know it’s going to be easier for me to blame Congress if and when things go south than it would be for me to point fingers at the military. Well, not “easier”. More effective.

This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the President, and by “decade” I again mean “twelve years” but I also mean “George Bush”, who placed terrible burdens on our troops by expecting them to win wars, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force. I mean, George Bush’s first term was nothing but one long rush to war. It’s all we ever talked about.

Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan and especially Iraq, the idea of any military action, no matter how unbelievably small, is not going to be popular. After all, I’ve spent more time talking about how I end wars than I have having my autopen sign condolence letters to the 1600+ Americans who’ve been killed in Afghanistan since I took office promising to expand the war there. I’ve eliminated the American presence in Iraq, and most of our influence. Our troops are coming home from Afghanistan, most of them still alive. And I know Americans want all of us in Washington- especially me, everybody loves me and knows I can do great things if everybody else would just do what I say — to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home: recovering from our fifth Recovery Summer, haven’t mentioned kids in three paragraphs, and shit - 13 paragraphs in to this thing and I haven’t said “middle class” yet. My bad. No it isn’t.

It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress, and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me, and in transcripts of your emails and phone calls that have been provided to me by the NSA.

First, many of you point out that war is bad, especially if it’s like Bush’s war in Iraq.

My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan or especially Iraq. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or like what Hillary’s husband did in Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities. You can’t ask for a clearer objective than achieving deterrence.

Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a “pinprick” strike in Syria.

Let me make something clear: I am too macho to use the word “prick” without giggling a little. Even an unbelievably small strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force — we learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next, and let me be perfectly clear: I will never accept responsibility for anything. But a targeted strike can make Assad, or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons, in a way that capturing and hanging him the way Bush did to Saddam never could.

Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation. We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Again, not being dismissive, just characterizing what they could do as not serious, everyday, mundane, ordinary, and in a word not that big of a deal. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakeable support of the United States of America, so a while ago when I said there was a danger to them if we didn’t act and fighting spilled over, that was complicated and different and shut up.

Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated, and where — as one anonymous person wrote to me in a question that echoed something I saw in the Times that I wanted to address — “those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights?”

It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists, as are most of mine. But al Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death. I mean, if al Qaeda was trying to create a stronghold in an Arab country and murdering innocent people and the world did nothing, that would just be awful if the murders involved poison gas. The majority of the Syrian people — and the Syrian opposition we work with — just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom and perhaps an occasional beheading for those who insult the Prophet of Islam with their churchgoing and such. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism while of course leaving the Assad regime in place.

Finally, many of you have asked: Why not do what you always criticized George Bush for not doing even while he was doing it, and forge an international coalition?

I agree, and I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions and/or unmanned drone strike assassinations. Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warning and negotiations, dinner with John Kerry and flattering profiles in Vogue — but chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

However, over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs. Now I’m not saying I snapped my fingers and Putin jumped, but the Russian government has indicated a willingness to take Assad’s weapons off of his hands before we attack, which they have literally never done for an Arab dictator before except in 2003. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.

It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, or even whether the Russians rescind this offer now that we’ve agreed to it and make another one that’s even more favorable to them. It wouldn’t be the first time. I mean, I know I’m more flexible now, but hey Putin - the decade of the 1980s called? On the phone? And it asked if you could send its foreign policy back, through time, over the phone. Because acting like there’s some kind of rivalry between us is just so 80s. And of course any agreement must verify the complete elimination of chemical weapons from Syrian territory during a civil war in which the regime doesn’t even control all of that territory. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies so we know they’re acting in the interests of world peace.

I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote that I would almost certainly lose while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue receiving my own instructions from President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, the one whose Parliament already gave a vote of no confidence and the one that hasn’t actually offered us any military assistance since we were driving the Germans off of their soil, and we will work together in consultation with the Veto Brothers to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council like the ones that Saddam was able to flout for over a decade while winning admiration around the Arab world until he was killed in a war that I always opposed. And we will continue to rally support from allies from Europe to the Americas — from Asia to the Middle East — from the Middle East to Syria — from Syria to Damascus — from Damascus to a nice part of Damascus — who agree on the need for action.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to sail aimlessly around the Mediterranean to show I’m tough on Assad, and to be in a position to do something immediately if I suddenly change my mind about diplomacy. And since I’m on tv tonight, I give thanks again to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security, except obviously for Bush’s decade of warmongering in Iraq and Afghanistan and especially Iraq. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements, like the Chemical Weapons Convention I said Assad would sign like that would end the conflict — it has meant enforcing them. Not in a global policeman, cowboy diplomacy kind of way, but in a smart diplomacy kind of way. The Democrat way. The Chicago way. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them, and by “we” I mean “me”. Or “I”.

And so, to the people I call my friends on the right, I ask you how you can be so fired up about having a strong military when you don’t care about obvious injustice, because that is how I treat the people I call my friends on the right: I treat them like they are stupid, and amoral, and not actually my friends at all. To my friends on the left, I acknowledge that we are virtuous and say dead children again. For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough. Sometimes you have to say dead children until people approve of more killing.

Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, maybe get a little drunk first, or watch The Notebook, whatever makes you really emotional, I’ve heard Old Yeller is good for that kind of thing though that movie just makes me hungry, and then ask: 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? Will it be the kind of world my party fought so hard to create until I was elected?

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.” And then he locked up citizens whose parents or grandparents had been born in Japan, and turned away Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, albeit our national security is at stake in a totally nonthreatening kind of way as I said earlier.

America is not the world’s policeman. But we are concerned about our global neighborhood, and we’re able to shoot at someone who’s much less well armed than we are if we think they’re up to no good even if some would argue they don’t pose an imminent threat. America is kind of like the world’s Sanford Neighborhood Watch captain. Let me say children two more times, and then some boilerplate crap about rah-rah America and humility. I’m out.

bgates

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Jeff Guinn Friday, 13 September 2013 at 02:16

I did find a mistake.

The question now is what the United States of America, and the red-line-drawers in the international community, is prepared to do about it.

are prepared …

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