Obama on Syrian Strike: 'US Should Take Military Action'

President takes clear stance on Syria, but vows to work with congress before taking action.
19:27 | 08/31/13

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Transcript for Obama on Syrian Strike: 'US Should Take Military Action'
This is an ABC news special report. Crisis in Syria. Hello everyone I'm George Stephanopoulos of ABC news headquarters in New York were coming on the air right now because President Obama is about to speak in the Rose Garden about the crisis. In Syria. It is that it has stepped up activity in Syria and the United States we saw the UN inspectors who are searching for evidence of that chemical weapons strike -- leave. Syria this morning had eleven on the head of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon. Has received an initial briefing on their findings saying they were able to complete a wide range. And activities but it's going to take some time to analyze those findings at the White House it is all hands on deck the vice president says the president. Secretary of state John -- second offense Chuck Hagel all at the White House this morning members of congress we -- this afternoon after the president. Speaks but I'm here -- Martha -- her new York and Martha the White House has said that this is not an announcement. Bloomberg from the president of any imminent military operations or operations that have already begun but if you look at what the president. Said yesterday saying this is a challenge to the world if you look at what secretary Kerry said yesterday calling this a crime against humanity there is no question an attack is -- There is absolutely no question there is no way the United States could walk this back. And not carry out a military strike without losing an enormous amount of credibility and looking very weak. Especially to Syria. And United States. Cereal all braced this have to come at some point the president about to come into the Rose Garden right now emphasizing that he knows Americans are -- Of war saying again yesterday that he is weary of war as well. Not a lot of support in the country right now for massive military operations in Syria the president said -- will not be boots on the ground this is not an open ended. The military commitment most likely Richard -- we only have a few seconds here that this is likely to be a barrage two or three days of cruise missiles. -- three days -- -- the Syrian regime to lose something that matters to them. The key here is to send a message to hurt them. And that probably takes two or three days of strikes Martha the president has ruled out any kind of strike that would lead to. Regime change. In Syria he talks about just this limited strike to prevent and deter -- any more chemical weapons attacks. That's pretty much impossible to do to prevent any chemical weapons attacks. In the future because you can't really go after the chemical weapons themselves but they hope it deters it certainly was a blow to the president and the United States' efforts one. The British parliament on Thursday despite the support of David Cameron the prime minister said they would not support. Military strike not only a blow a surprise blow I think the United States was very surprised. That the British did not support the US action. And the United States so far we'll have to go it alone although the French are talking about joining and Richard -- the French tests at the French president prince -- Holland said. That he would join and perhaps one of the reasons. The United States might be taking little more time is to get French Open place. The French airplanes have to get in place they have cruise missiles they can launch they could be part in this -- But it may take a day or two for them to get to the NATO base in Turkey and Angela. We know the president has been meeting in the oval office of Vice President Biden for the last several minutes about the last half hour or so -- additionally. These statements are supposed to come -- around 115 members of congress on hold waiting for there what are called declassified briefings as well both the senate. And the house will get those briefings by phone today. From the administration officials in person if they choose classified briefings in person. Tomorrow from White House officials and the senate and the house and already from the woman from at least one key. Member of the senate John Cornyn a member of the Senate Leadership Republican Senate Leadership has now said that the president should not take any action before. Getting congressional authorization he says -- Obama should come back to the congress for authorization before and some sources saying the president. Is considering that right now here comes the president alone vice president by. -- -- -- Ten days ago the world watched in horror as men and women and children were massacred in Syria. In the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21 century. Yesterday. The United States presented a powerful case. That the Syrian government was responsible for this attack on its own people. Our intelligence shows the Asad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons. Launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs. Of Damascus. And acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place. And all of this corroborates what the world can plainly -- Hospitals overflowing -- victims. Terrible images of the dead. All told well over 1000. People were murdered. Several hundred of them were children. Young girls and boys gassed to death. By their own government. This attack. Is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It -- making a mockery. Of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. In endangers our friends and our partners -- Syria's borders including Israel Jordan Turkey Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons. Or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would -- our people are. In a world where many dangerous this menace must be confronted. After careful deliberation I have decided that the United States should take military action against. Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open ended intervention. We were not put boots on the ground. Instead our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I'm confident we -- hold the Asad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons. Deter this kind of behavior. And degrade their capacity to carry it out. Our military has positioned assets in the region. The chairman of the joint chiefs is inform me that we are prepared to strike. Whenever we choose. Moreover the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive. It'll be effective tomorrow. Or next week or one month from now. And I'm prepared to give that order. But. Having made my decision as commander in chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interest. I'm also mindful that I am the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might. But in our example as the government of the people by the people and for the people. That's why I've made a second decision. I will seek authorization for the use of force. From the American people's representatives in congress. The last several days we've heard from members of congress who want to their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree. So this morning I spoke -- all four congressional leaders. And they've agreed to schedule a debate and many vote as soon as congress come back in the session. In the coming days my administration stands ready to provide every member with the information they need to understand what happened and Syria. And why it has such profound implications for America's national security. And all of us should be accountable as we move forward and I can only be accomplished. With a vote. I'm confident. In the case our government has made without waiting for UN inspectors. I'm comfortable going forward. Without the approval of a united nations Security Council that so far has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold -- -- -- -- As a consequence many people have advised against taking this decision to congress. And undoubtedly there were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution. With a similar -- even as the prime minister. Supported taking action. Yet while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization. I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate. -- the issues are too big for business as usual. And this morning John Boehner and Harry Reid Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell agreed that this is the right thing to do for our democracy. A country faces few decisions as grave is using military force. Even one that forces limited. I respect the views of those who call for caution. Particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in parts and but if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage. Then we must acknowledge the cost of doing nothing. Here's my question for every member of congress and every member of the global community. What message what we -- if -- dictator can -- hundreds of children to death in plain site and pay -- price. What's the purpose of the international system that we've built. If a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98% of the world's people. And approved overwhelmingly by the congress of the United States. Is not enforced. Make no mistake this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won't enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act. What does this say about our resolve to stand up to others who -- fundamental international rules. To governments through -- used to build nuclear arms. The terrorists who would spread biological weapons. To armies who carry out genocide. We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say the accords we signed. The values that define us. So just as I will take this case to congress I will also deliver this message to the world. While the UN investigation has some time to report on its findings we will insist that an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated. It must be confronted. I don't expect every nation agree with the decision we have made. Privately we've heard many expressions of support from our friends. But I -- -- those who care about the writ of the international community to stand publicly behind our action. And finally let me say this to the American people. I know well that we are weary of war. We've ended one war in Iraq were ending another and Afghanistan. The American people have a good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria -- our military. And that part of the world there are ancient sectarian differences. And the hopes of the Arab Spring have unleashed forces of change that are gonna take many years to resolve. That's why we're not contemplating putting our troops in the middle of someone else's war. Instead -- continue to support the Syrian people -- -- pressure on the Asad regime our commitment to the opposition. Our care for the displaced and our pursuit of a political resolution that achieves a government that respects the dignity of its people. But we are the United States of America. We cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. The ashes of world war we built an international order and enforce the rules that David mean. And we did so because we believe. That the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations. We are perfect but this nation more than any other. There's been willing to meet those responsibilities. -- on all members of congress of both parties. I ask you to take this vote for our national security. I am looking forward. To the debate. In doing so I ask you members of congress to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment. Ultimately this is not about who occupies this office at any given time it's about who we are as a country. I believe that the people's representatives must be invested in what America does a -- And now's the time to show the world that America keeps our commitments. We do what we site. And we lead with the belief that right makes might. -- the other way around. We all know there are no easy options but I wasn't elected to avoid our decisions. And neither were the members of the house and the senate. I've told you what I believe. That our security and our values demand that we cannot turn away from the massacre of countless civilians with chemical weapons. -- democracy are stronger when the president and the people's representatives stand together. I'm writing to act in the face of this average. Today I'm asking congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation. Thanks very much the strike if congress fifth. Some headlines there from President Obama in the Rose Garden right now saying in the wake of the worst chemical attack in the 21 century he has decided. To take military action against Syria but also saying he does not believe this action this time sensitive to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has told it could take place at any time. Over the next several weeks which also opened the door for the president to say that he will go to congress and seek authorization for this military action -- Jim -- At the White House something of a surprise here from the president he said he told members of congress the leadership of congress and this decision this morning. Yes -- fact is an historic change in presidential politics and through the -- of the way the presidents before him and chosen to do something like this. Presidents before him from the bush isn't -- especially have decided in the past they had the authority and went ahead and did it. This president saying I have the authority but he's gonna call the bluff. Of the senate and the congress which had been asking for a vote in fact the one of them ranking members of congress the senator from -- from Texas. Says today. That that there should be -- -- tweeted just before the president spoke that there should be a vote and now the president is saying okay we want to vote there's going to be one. I want you want my team I want this to be more powerful this is John Cornyn -- Tweet right here today I'm calling -- President Obama to bring congress back for a vote before any military action on Syria. So the president saying OK want that responsibility with me -- -- share that responsibility. Let's do it this is what I believe -- I want everybody on board. And Martha Raddatz the president also sunsets I think Martin Dempsey the chairman joint chiefs assessing the president had the leeway at this time it would take the what does that. This seems difficult to imagine that. It's not -- to give the series for example opportunity. To continue to protect their sights to -- to move things around -- to -- to put them someplace else had and certainly getting them even more time to prepare for junction general Dempsey has done. Is giving the president cover I can imagine this conversation. General Dempsey if I carry it out next week is -- as is -- as effective. He must -- yes if I carry it out in the months as the president said he was told that it is just as effective. And we have waited a little while already so perhaps we'll be one of the signal from the president Richard Clarke he said that this response will be able to deter. Any further -- attacks but also to -- -- near the Syrian capability. He told us by saying that he had made a decision. Between the two options and he was presented by the military. Military gave them one option one strike planned targets related. To the chemical weapons units. And another one that takes -- military targets the value could be the defense ministry could be the entire force. And what he says -- today hidden in that speech I made a decision it's the bigger package I'm going to make them pay for this. And that means a bigger strike and -- longer lasting. We talked to colonel Stephen -- -- Baghdad a decorated Marine Corps officer veteran of several fighter missions also veteran of the state and Defense Department how does the military. Stay ready over a -- a long period of time for an attack. Like -- -- that like that -- when you heard the president what clues that give you over what kind of an attack it might be. George the White House has been quite clear for all week that this attack would be carried out by tomahawk missiles on navy ships at sea. So these these missiles are contained in in sealed containers on these ships we have five cruiser destroyers rather -- Burke destroyers out Mediterranean. They can be out there for months. The coordinates are programmed into these missiles and it's literally and figuratively going to be pushed by the strike if and when president gets authorization from the congress OK see you again in -- Terry Moran in Beirut. Right now the whole region have been braced for an imminent attack. Terry Moran I wonder if you're getting any kind of reaction -- I know it's going to be difficult but any kind of reaction night there. To -- idea that this there might be some time before attack. Absolutely there is a -- to surprise already I can tell you that Syrian state television. Took this address live so that. The people of Syria at least those with electric power whose televisions can work hard the president's. And throughout the region which is much of which is rallying to the side of president -- President Obama's statement that he wants democracy to go for that the United States is about to have a grand debate. Strikes them is that kind of cooling off period but it could be -- tremendous demonstration. It if the president gets authorization of the power the United States democracy in. This area. The problem out here right now is that. The killing continues in Syria without question atrocities continue on both sides and the people of Syria continue to suffer. Okay Cameron thanks very much once again some big headlines from President Obama he hasn't decided to take military action against Syria -- has also decided. To go to congress and seek authorization for that first -- -- continue to cover this all day long. And abcnews.com. Also much more tomorrow on GMA and this week -- This has been a special report from ABC news.

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

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