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WASHINGTON — Facing near-certain defeat in Congress and overwhelming public opposition to military strikes against Syria, President Obama is steadfastly holding to his conviction that the U.S. must intervene – but first he plans to work with Russia, China and other American allies in non-military, diplomatic effort to force Syria to hand over its chemical weapons.
In his address to the nation Tuesday night, Obama declared, “[A]fter careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States 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.”
Obama also declared a time-out in his quest to seek congressional approval for the targeted military strike. The president said he had asked Congress to postpone a vote on authorizing airstrikes to give a new diplomatic option a chance.
He promised there will be “no boots on the ground” in Syria, and it would not be an open-ended action, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama added, “And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.”
Faced with growing opposition, Obama decided 10 days ago to seek congressional authority for a strike on the Syrian regime, in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack on its own people.
But, the entire diplomatic situation changed Monday when Secretary of State John Kerry made an apparently an off-the-cuff offer which the Russians promptly accepted, with the Syrians quickly following suit.
At a press conference in London, Kerry had said, with a shrug, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid the threat of a U.S. military strike by placing all of its chemical weapons under international control, adding, “But he isn’t about to.”
Once Russia embraced the notion, the U.S. State Department tried to backtrack on the comment, saying it was more of a rhetorical statement than a genuine offer.
But, by the end of the day, the administration had made a full U-turn, with Obama fully embracing the idea as a way to possibly avoid military action.
When the proposal was expanded to include destroying all of Syria’s chemical weapons, the president said it “could potentially be a significant breakthrough.”
The Senate then postponed a vote scheduled for Wednesday on whether to give the president authorization to conduct a punitive military strike on Syria.
The president said the plan the diplomatic plan now under consideration grew out of discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and administration officials reportedly claimed the White House has been working on the plan with the Russians for a year, before Kerry did accidentally revealed the news on Monday.
But the president did not explain, if that is true, why he was pushing for a military strike as recently as yesterday, instead of giving time for the plan to work.
The administration blames the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus Aug. 21 that killed more than 1,400 people.
WND security analyst Michael Maloof has reported former U.S. intelligence analysts claim current intelligence analysts have told them Assad was not responsible for the poison gas attack.
They claim the “growing body of evidence” indicates the incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters.
“The aim is reported to have been to create the kind of incident that would bring the United States into the war,” one former U.S. intelligence analyst said.
Another growing concern has been the cost of military action, and committee member Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., grilled Kerry about whether the deep cuts in military caused by the sequestration would affect the military’s ability to strike Syria.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said future operations might be affected, but, “I’m not concerned about this operation.”
Monday, Kerry said any attack on Syria would be “unbelievably small,” but in his speech the president said the U.S. military does not do pin-pricks.
And, on Tuesday, Dempsey said a strike would be significant.
The general said the attack could come in two waves, and the purpose would be to degrade Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons again and to threaten its neighbors.
Kerry claimed intelligence shows Syria has 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, most of it unmixed and stored in tanks.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria’s two-year long civil war.