U.S. Prepared To Launch Syrian Military Strike Alone

President Obama says that strike will be a 'limited act,' no open-ended intervention.
27:05 | 08/30/13

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Transcript for U.S. Prepared To Launch Syrian Military Strike Alone
I'm Dan -- new -- this ABC news digital special report no decision yet President Obama says he's still looking at a wide range of options. That he is consulting with congress and the military about a response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. No boots on the ground -- no long term campaign and that if in fact there is a military response he would be a limited act. Those some of the having again made the case for US intervention in Syria just an hour ago the secretary of state. -- out some of the cases and some of the evidence that was released in an unclassified reports. And in just a few seconds we're gonna go down to the White House for the president has been meeting with the presidents of three Baltic States. Let's listen in -- -- up. -- obviously I'm very grateful to have. What we're live here. Vice president before it begins. -- a few -- about the situation -- -- As you've seen today we release are unclassified assessment. Detailing -- high confidence. That the Syrian regime carried out the chemical weapons attack that killed. Well over a thousand people. This -- of images that shocked us all. This -- of attack is a challenge. We cannot accept a world where women and children. And innocent civilians -- This kind of attack threatens our national security interests. By violating. Well established -- -- against the use chemical weapons. By further threatening friends and allies. -- the region like Israel and Turkey and Jordan. And it increases the risk the chemical weapons. Will be used in the future and fall of the of terrorists who might use them against us. So. I have said before. And I met Melissa. The world has an obligation. To make sure that we may. -- I have not made by. About. Various factions that might be taken to help enforce that -- -- I have had my military. Team look at a wide range of options. We have consulted. And we. Allies consulted with congress. I've been in conversations. We -- falling interest on its. And it can no longer are we considering. Any kind of military action that -- Involved boots on the ground. That war. Involved in long term campaign. But we are looking. The possibility. -- Act that war and help. Make sure that. Not only Syria but others around the world. The international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons. Bad and normal. Both of them are repeat -- not considering an open ended. Commitment without considering and boots on the ground approach. What we will do. That are options that meaning the -- concern -- chemical weapons understanding that there's not going to be. A solely military solution to the underlying conflict and tragedy. That's taking place. Insert. And I -- continue to consult closely with congress in addition to the release of the unclassified document. Your -- a classified briefing to. Congressional staff today. And will offer that say classified briefing. Two members cops as -- our international partners and I will continue. Provide updates. To the American people says. Get more information. -- that I want well. Presence he'll risk. Rules discussion. Karadzic. Approach to the White House. These countries that they represent all -- very deep ties. To the United States -- -- allies. Because of its workers people -- people relations. That we have. With the country's I want to thank all the president's where your and the nation's -- -- promote democracy. Not only -- their own countries but. Around the world. The baltics are among our most reliable allies. In our commitment to their security. Is rock solid. Our soldier's sacrifice together in Afghanistan. And the Baltic ports continue to help support our troops as we transition the NATO mission. Today we're gonna spend some time talking about -- commitments to transatlantic. Trade and investment partnership negotiations. Which -- jobs in the baltics and the United States. -- working. Development assistance projects including building institutions and strengthening. Civil society emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Obviously had. Discussions about our NATO relations. -- security concerns that we share together so. -- -- -- -- All three presidents. Wide variety of settings and what writers summits they have been outstanding friends of the United States of America. We are very proud of them and I want to thank each of them for the leadership. We know how far can Estonia Latvia Lithuania have come -- just past few decades and I know that won't accomplish even more. In the decades to come so -- that I wanted to do each of these leaders chance few works that we're gonna. Start will present -- Thank you and our collective begin. By thanking President Obama for inviting me here and we are quite grateful for the states. And you personally for your leadership commitment and support. The main issue on her agenda today is global and regional security and the question of course and everyone's minds the situation in Syria. First -- the use of chemical weapons. Deplorable. The attack demands a response those responsible must be held accountable. Violations cannot -- When it comes our security we appreciate the commitment to the United States has shown -- region and Europe. The hall and we attach great importance to continue US engagement in. Security. -- and we'll continue to them. -- Syria and how in fact the US might respond militarily. I want to bring in Steve Simon former Obama national security advisor now head of the International Institute for Strategic Studies also counterterrorism expert. Richard -- interest and all of -- first Steve I want I want to talk to you do you think the president's comments that we just heard there. Some of the specifics that were outlined -- no boots on the ground no long term commitment that it would be -- limited engagement. Does that make the case for those at home. But. I think those at home would be. Very distressed actually to learn that. The president was considering an open ended commitment and had considered boots on the ground. I don't think there's a constituency. Here at home for either. Of those things. His characterization. The impending. Military operation should -- take place. Was as one that would be limited. End and I think that will be welcome to American. Ears given there general state of war weariness the other thing worth noting is. President Obama's. Repeated references. To this as a challenge to the world. As of them to say. You know we we will probably be doing something about this but it's not -- -- task alone. To cope with this challenge people. In in international concern as well but at the same time. The president also has a responsibility to get some members of congress on board with taking some kind of an action yesterday congress. Was briefed on some of the information that the US government has obtained about the attack in Syria there -- chemical weapons. And then just today house majority leader John Boehner I said that now that is the president's quote responsibility to explain to congress and the American people. The objectives the strategy in legal basis for any potential. Action on this do you read into that that the white areas has -- that congress is not satisfied with the information that they have so far. Well I think -- congress wants to make sure that it's fully involved. That's number one on number two. They want to hold the administration to a high standard of consultation I think. This is in part a reaction to the terribly controversial aftermath. Of the attack against the US a diplomatic and intelligence facilities in Ben Ghazi. And the confused situation that followed. That tragedy so I think you know there's a history here that striving this determination. On congressional. Parts for greater. Participation. In this decision process but on the other hand I don't see strong congressional opposition and to a military operation. Well and I wanted to if you could -- a little bit deeper into that because obviously the president is saying that he in fact we'll continue to consult with the military and with congress about a wide range of options. But responding to that particular statement by the house speaker how likely is the White House to do so. Look I think the White House will -- pretty closely. -- its conventional in any case to share information with the heads of the relevant committees. And the united -- in the administration especially given the relatively unpopular. Nature of a military attack against Syria at this point here at home. Has an interest. In involving congress. In such a decision so that. You know popular discontent. With. A military operation against Syria doesn't focus exclusively. On the White House but. The responsibility. For this response to the chemical. Weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs has shared in a sense. By both the White House send me a legislative branch so -- what is the most compelling case. For the US to intervene in Syria and and I guess more to the point has the administration made that case. Well I think the administer. I think the administration. Made a pretty strong case at least judging from secretary carries presentation. It was. It was powerful. It was extremely detailed. -- had kind of a humanitarian subtext. But framed did the justification for attacking Syria in. In. Terms of international norms that needed to be upheld particularly regarding. The use of of a horrifying weapon. Like. Like these chemical weapons that we used to kill the people. In -- so I think you know the case was pretty. Compelling I think. What will make it acceptable. Just -- rounded -- is the fact is that the president has insisted on its very limited nature. -- -- today in the White House now or ABC's Jim model is standing by in -- I know of that. That news covers had just wrapped up a short time ago. I -- or any other specific details about not only when but potentially if any kind of a strike would take place. I think every day the president is inching a little closer and what you're seeing today. The words we're a little stronger in that he said he's looking at. Options military options that the military is preparing limited options for him to make an -- -- a limited strike against Syria that's a little farther. -- he's gone before. I think what you're seeing when -- this president is. -- not a decision about if it's gonna happen but when there's a real debate going on among the White House and frankly and president Obama's own head about what is best to do is it best he would prefer to go -- not alone. To wait around a little bit sitting gather some more support. But at the same time he has is faced with the fact that he needs to deliver a quick message. And that -- in the longer that he would he delays it's possible actually lose support. So he's looking for the right time at this point. He doesn't want to release his military strategy exactly what he's gonna do an advance anyway. He's not gonna tell the world exactly what he's gonna do until after it's done Jim -- -- to -- one moment I wanna go get back. Now to the president addressing a question and obviously comes consultations with congress is -- of the international can be very important. And my preference. Obviously would've been the international community already -- forceful. But what we have seen. So far at least. It is. State incapacity. Just point for the Security Council to move forward. In the face. A clear violation. Of international norms. Bad. York I recognize. That all of us here in the United States. In great Britain and many parts of the world. There's a certain -- -- Afghanistan there's a certain. Suspicion. Any military action. Post Iraq. And I very much appreciate that on the other hand. It's important for us to recognize. That win. Over a thousand people. -- -- Including hundreds. Innocent children. Through the use of a weapon that. 98. Or 989% of humanity says should not be used even in war. And there is no action -- we're sending a signal that that international -- doesn't mean much. And that is a danger to our national security. And obviously. If and when we make a decision to respond. There -- a whole host of considerations that I have to take into account. In terms. How effective it is. And given the kinds. Options -- we're looking at there would be very limited. And would not involve a long term commitment. A major operation. -- We are confident that weekend -- by congress. All the information and get all the input that they need. And were very mindful of that and we can have. Serious conversations with our allies and our friends around the world about this but ultimately we don't want the world to be paralyzed. And frankly. Part of the challenge the wind -- we're here is that a lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to know. And that's not an unusual. Situation. And that's part of what. Allows over time the erosion of these kinds of international prohibitions -- Somebody says no. When the world says we're not -- use chemical weapons -- -- And and it would be tempting to leave its others to do it. And -- or I think I've got shown consistently. And center consistently my strong preference for multi lateral action whenever possible. -- it is not in the national security interest of the United States. Two. Ignore. Clear violations. These kinds of international norms and the reason is because a whole host of international norms out -- that are very important. Here we have currently. Some place. Dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We have international norms. Have been violated by certain countries and the United Nations has put sanctions in place. But if there's a sense that over time nobody is willing actually force them. -- People don't temperatures. -- so. -- I am very clear that. The world generally -- war -- certainly the United States. It has. I've gone through over a decade of war -- -- people understandably wants to be focused on the business. Rebuilding our economy here and put people back to work. And I assure you nobody. Ends up in more war even make -- but. What I also believe is that. Part of our obligation as. A leader in the war. Is making sure. That. Win. You have a regime that is willing to use. Weapons that are prohibited by international norms on their own people including children. That there are held two of -- used. -- the president talking about the possibility of a collaborative effort if in fact a military strike is made against Syria. Jim I apologize for having to cut you off but I wanted to get that response in their from the president taking that question. And he -- seven point blank he said my preference is that the international community would have very active. Forcefully and given that kind of rhetoric is a sound -- -- that the United States might in fact be willing to go this alone. Yes the -- of the White House has made it clear that president is willing to go alone. He doesn't want to. That's part of the conflict that he's going through right now does he wait a little bit longer try to build some more consensus consensus try to build a bigger coalition. France's in the lineup at this point but that's about it. He might be able against -- some more -- -- this at least on the political side that makes things easier for the United States actually carry -- out the US is really the only. Major force. On this side that could carry out this kind of surgical attack. But it does help him to have international support me wondering whether or not he can wait that long to rebuild that at the same time he has this conflict. He need to get something done as you heard him say. You can't go let this go unpunished he believes. And he believes if you do let it go unpunished that'll affect the national security interest of the United States that those of the basic conflict that this president is going through. The other thing you should take note of I believe is -- everything that the president is doing right now goes to the filter of Iraq. Remember he campaigned against that Iraqi campaign against the way George W. Bush used intelligence to get into -- -- He is making sure that in this that he wants -- to beat the total opposite. What happened going into rock he's making clear that he is war we're here and say now is the country war weary nobody is more war worry -- he war -- than he has. He doesn't want to do this time he's being careful he will he would. Once make sure the intelligence community comes forward in advance. What you just did today saying what what -- -- what the real intelligence is. -- according to the White House about why they believe it was actually the Syrian government who caused this to happen and why in response is necessary. Right now from the United States and I think. We with the guidance. We've been given is that it could happen. Once that intelligence report and was made public today that the window is beginning to open for some kind of action by the United States -- -- should look for that could happen as early as this weekend. And given that sentiment that you were talking about -- the -- of the -- that the president himself this war weary of the public is war we're and that congress he is -- -- working. War wearied. Is the White House indicating that it is putting equal amount of consideration in making his decisions based on not only international support but by domestic support here at home. And maybe even more specifically by support from congress. Given that statement they just came out from the house speaker. And make in fact the case that that the White House would have to lay out the specifics on the appropriateness. We're taking any kind of military action. Well couple things on that. First while the president believes. That this is a -- this is a national security issue. That the that the Syrians having. A chemical weapons and in demonstrated that there willing to use them. -- a signal to other terrorists and other rogue nations that they too can use them -- -- the United States steps up and does something so first. He's gonna make a decision -- White House says I'm whether or not he has to do something in the national interest. Then. He yes he's taking domestic. Domestic politics into consideration. What the people want him to do why he was elected he was elected as an opponent of war as an opponent of -- -- So he knows that his his core constituency. Many of his core constituency for the people you may hear chanting out here behind me now against war those -- the people who voted for this president. So yes he's taking that into consideration. He he's been careful. In the -- -- White House has been saying over and over again they're consulting with congress they're telling congress what is going on -- sharing with them intelligence. But they don't have the obligation they believe the legal obligation to have a vote happened in. In congress unless they're gonna declare war there's no declaration of war in the future here right now what's gonna happen is a military strike. Presidency after president have used. Their own powers without consulting congress without getting a vote from congress in doing that you can list Kosovo. You can -- Grenada you can Melissa long -- long list. -- places where the United States is gone and done some kind of quick action. Without the support of congress. It's all right Jim -- outside of the White House Jim thank you for that. Steve I want to bring you back into this and because the administration calling for a limited strikes eliminating -- -- how is it easy is it though. For that kind of an operation to be misinterpreted by Iran or others in the region and and for the possibly -- that conflict to spread. I think you know the administration is going to be looking for -- sweet spot. In terms of targeting. You know on the one hand if the strikes are too limited. Since then the administration will wind up looking at a gloating Assad who has ridden out the strikes. And is ready to fight another day. Not good for US credibility. And not a strong deterrent on the other hand. If the target set is too broad -- -- to sweep it. Then. There are other risks that emerge and one of them is that -- wrong. Will see this as an attempt at regime change. Now they -- there's already a bit of proxy war between the United States and Iran taking place in Syria. But it's been relatively low key. If the United States is perceived by Tehran is making a kind of decisive play to unseat the Assad regime. And strike at the very heart. Of Tehran's strategic priorities. Then the conflict between the US -- Ron could heat up. Probably in the realm of terrorism it's really hard to say I -- -- running as would have a lot of options. To escalate. But that's a risk that the administration would face in. In going. You cannot all the way but. More deeply and more robustly. At at the regimes capabilities. But -- -- -- to the point that that you and I were discussing earlier on and that there is a message Mohammed behind the type of attack. Whether it be the specific targets that are that are it looked at the frequency of those attacks that in fact there could be either over reaching or underperforming. Kind of results from that. That's that's real risk and I think one of the reasons. That the administration. It's been very deliberate and taking its time. In. Actually implementing a response is that they want to try. Their best to find this sweet spot. The they're kind of a strike the intensity of which will really. Get the Syrian regime to back off from using CW chemical weapons and show that the united -- won't tolerate that use. But not go so far. As to. Create the impression that the US is preparing to remove the asset regime. Take ownership for what -- results and go toe to toe with Iran or the regime's. Other friends who have very strong. Score interest in the regime's survival. All right Steve Simon Steve thank you so much for your time certainly a very complicated issue and growing even more so by the hour a full -- up. On the Obama administration's push to intervene in Syria. He is on abcnews.com. For now I'm Dan -- New York with this ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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