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Live updates: President Obama’s Syria speech

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President Obama spoke from the White House about Syria beginning just after 9 p.m. ET. Stay here for real-time reaction on the president’s address, and watch the full speech below.


Obama embraces American Exceptionalism

One thing that is striking about President Obama’s speech tonight was his full-throated call to American Exceptionalism — the idea that intervening in Syria is a reflection of this country’s unique role in the world.

“Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong, but when with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act,” Obama said near the conclusion of his address. ”That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

His words were all the more notable given the criticism early in his presidency that he had walked away from the concept, in a news conference during his first trip abroad as commander in chief.

Obama was asked whether he subscribes, as his predecessors did, “to the school of American Exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world.”

His answer, which was often used against him by Republicans: “I believe in American Exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

Tonight, however, was not a theoretical proposition. Obama has framed the Syria question as a test of whether a war-weary nation still sees itself as having a unique role in the world.

During his address Tuesday night, President Obama said he is asking Congress to postpone a vote on military intervention in Syria as he explores diplomatic options with allies.

RNC hits Obama for Syria policy

The Republican Party remains split on whether to authorize the president to use force — though its members are much more opposed than supportive.

Despite the party not having an official position, the Republican National Committee offered a statement that broadly criticizes President Obama’s leadership on the issue.

“The administration’s handling of the U.S. response to Syria has been so haphazard, it’s disappointed even the president’s most ardent supporters,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “This rudderless diplomacy has embarrassed America on the world stage. For a president who campaigned on building American credibility abroad, the lack of leadership coming from the Oval Office is astounding.”

Full transcript of Obama's speech

You can read the full transcript of President Obama’s speech here.

Sen. Blumenthal says he's skeptical

One of the key undecided senators in this debate, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), says he continues to have serious reservations after Obama’s speech.

“I remain concerned about the resolution now before the Senate authorizing the use of military force,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “It is too broadly written, lacks international support, and risks entangling us in Syria’s protracted civil war.”

No mention of punishment

As President Obama repeats that his goal for military strikes — “deterring” the use of chemical weapons — he makes no mention of punishment for Assad having  used them.  That seems to avoid the “consequences” for the Aug. 21 strike that he and other officials initially said was part of their justification for the proposed attack.

If the Russian proposal goes ahead and the strike is canceled in exchange for international monitoring and destruction of Syria’s chemicals, “consequences” would apparently go away.

Obama's 'olive branch' and 'arrows'

As the president wrapped up his remarks, CBS News anchor Scott Pelley summed it up thusly for viewers: “Like the presidential seal, President Obama had an olive branch in one hand and arrows in the other.”

Menendez: Don't 'slam the door' on diplomacy

One of the first lawmakers to react to President Obama’s Syria speech was Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.),  chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez said that while he has doubts about the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the situation, it would be wrong to shut the door on the possibility. His full statement:

“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. A negotiated solution to a crisis is always preferable and if this possibility is legitimate, I’ll give it serious thought. At the same time, the credible use of military force is necessary to keep on the table.

“We arrived at this moment as a direct result of action taken last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when we passed a bipartisan Authorization for Use of Military Force and made clear our intention to act in the national security interest if the Assad regime refuses to abide by international norms against the use of chemical weapons. I am now working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to consider this diplomatic initiative within the context of the committee’s resolution. 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.”

Obama speaks for 15 minutes

What was billed as a major address wound up clocking in at just a hair over 15 minutes.

Before the speech, rumor had it that it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 minutes — likely shorter than it might have been before the diplomatic progress of the last few days.

Obama used his brief time to respond to broadly held concerns about the mission.

A White House spokesman offered the rationale for that:

'Ideals and principles' at stake

President Obama painted a picture of a very high-stakes situation in Syria with a far-reaching impact.

“Our ideals and principles as well as our national security are at stake in Syria,” Obama declared near the end of his speech.

Throughout his address, the president time and again sought to make the case to the American people that an overseas situation matters at home. We will find out in the coming days if it shifts public opinion, which heretofore has been decidedly against military action.

Obama makes case for GOP, Democratic support

President Obama took a moment to tell members of both parties why they should support military action in Syria.

“And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with the failure to act when a cause is so plainly just,” Obama said.

As for the left, Obama said: “I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.”

Obama: 'Too early' to judge Russian proposal

President Obama said it is “too early” to judge whether the Russian plan for Syria to give up control of its chemical weapons will work. But, he said, he is asking congressional leaders to postpone a vote on military action while he looks into it.

The question is the timetable — how long will he be looking into it? And when will he judge that Syria will or will not abide by an agreement?

A running transcript ...

Deterrence vs. punishment

Keep an eye on how much Obama focuses on punishing the Syrian regime versus preventing it from using chemical weapons again.

The current debate over Russia’s proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons solves the latter issue but not the former.

If Obama focuses on the latter, it suggests that he may not be as likely to strike Syria if the Russian proposal is successful.

While Obama emphasized the importance of sending a message when it comes to Syria and chemical weapons, he also emphasized ”the purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons and to degrade” his capabilities.

Obama explains 'danger to our security'

President Obama pitched his case that the alleged chemical attack in Syria is not just an isolated incident that affects the region, but is also a danger to the security of the United States.

The attack, Obama said, is not just a violation of international law, but “it’s danger to our security.”

Part of Obama’s challenge in shifting public opinion is convincing Americans why the situation in Syria matters to them. And his remarks reflect he understands that challenge.

Obama uses graphic imagery

President Obama began his speech by mentioning the graphic images of those victimized by chemical weapons in Syria.

Obama mentioned the rows of those who were killed, “others foaming at the mouth” and “dead children.”

“On that gruesome night, we saw in great detail the effect of chemical weapons,” Obama said.

Driving home the “gruesome” nature of the chemical weapons attacks has been a staple in the administration’s case for war. Videos of the victims have been leaked to the press in recent days.

Obama says August attack 'profoundly changed' situation

President Obama opened his speech by noting the weight on the United States of the Aug. 21 alleged chemical attack in Syria, noting that he resisted calls to intervene up until that point, when he says the the situation “profoundly changed.”

Sen. Toomey undecided on military strike

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) remains undecided on whether to support a military strike in Syria, he said Tuesday evening, citing doubts about the “effectiveness” of President Obama’s plan, but also the “risks” of not acting.

Here is Toomey’s complete statement:

“I appreciate President Obama meeting with Senate Republicans today to make his case for military action against the Assad regime and the recent Russian initiatives.

“I am deeply skeptical about the motivation of the Russians and the viability of their plan to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.

“I still have doubts about the effectiveness of the President’s plan for a military strike on Syria; how he would handle unintended consequences of the action; and the prudence of authorizing an act of war that is not broadly supported by the American people.

“That said, the national security risks of inaction — including the message it would send to Iran and the possible proliferation of chemical weapons — are also serious concerns.

“The President’s presentation today leaves a lot of unresolved questions. I will continue seeking more answers before deciding whether to support a military intervention in Syria.”

White House promises Benghazi justice

The White House is out with a new statement on security for the  Sept. 11 anniversary on Wednesday.

Contained in the statement is a pledge to continue to pursue those responsible for the killings of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, a year ago.

“September 11th has been a day of remembrance for 12 years for Americans and others around the world,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “The events of last year, losing four brave Americans – Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods – brought home the reality of the challenges we face in the world.  As we near this day of remembrance, we continue to mourn the death of our cherished colleagues and honor their dedication to public service.  We remain committed to bringing the perpetrators of the Benghazi attacks to justice and to ensuring the safety of our brave personnel serving overseas.”

The statement is a reminder that the current debate is happening on a key anniversary in American foreign policy — one that is likely to bring back memories of two distinct incidents that color people’s opinions about the current debate over the use of military force.

Benghazi also stands out as a low mark on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy record — one that continues to earn it detractors, particularly on the right.

Resolution faces increasingly long odds

We just finished updating our Syria vote count.

Here’s the latest:


* 149 members — a strong majority of them Republicans — have come out against using military force, while another 102 lean against authorization, for a total of 251 likely to vote ‘no.’ That’s well more than the 217 that would be required to kill the resolution.

* Just 26 House members have come out in favor of military action.


* A succession of members came out against military action  Tuesday, including Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). And two Democrats — Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) — who have been supportive of military action expressed concern about the resolution.

* So far, 29 senators oppose the resolution and nine more lean toward opposing it, for a total of 38 likely to vote no.

* Just 23 senators are currently on record as supporting the bill, meaning 28 of the 39 undecided senators would need to support it in order for it to pass.

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