It’s been 12 years to the day since September 11, 2001, when four coordinated al-Qaeda attacks left close to 3,000 dead, marking the worst assault by terrorists on American soil in our nation’s history. The haunting memories are now juxtaposed against the latest questions involving the debate over Syria’s use of chemical weapons – one that President Barack Obama said last night on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary were a “violation of international law,” and “a danger to our security.”
As Americans mark the twelfth anniversary of 9/11, “the nation again is wrestling with painful questions about al-Qaida, weapons of mass destruction and the risks of American inaction,” says The Associated Press on Sept. 11.
Speaking to the American people last night regarding the Syrian conflict, President Obama said he has tried to move the U.S. away from “perpetual wartime footing,” a state of affairs we are still in, over a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“America is not the world's policeman,” Obama said. “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.”
Some worry that even a “limited Syrian strike” would embroil the nation in another open-ended campaign, one that the U.S. is just now concluding in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others see the need for the U.S. to act decisively, to send a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his regime and the Middle East as a whole, that the use of chemical weapons, a step over Obama’s so called “red line,” will not be tolerated.
In the two-year civil war raging in Syria, President Obama said he had “resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits – a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war,” Obama said.
Obama continued to push for a military strike, saying “We know the Assad regime was responsible,” and laying out evidence gathered thus far by the U.S.
“If we fail to act, 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,” Obama said.
The concerns over al-Qaeda
More than a decade after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is dead and Obama says al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat. Nevertheless, terrorist organizations in the Middle East continue to be of paramount concern to our nation’s security, and tensions are growing over al-Qaida's strength in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and even Syria.
In an interview Sunday, Assad said of a potential U.S. strike on his country, “This is the war that is going to support al-Qaida and the same people that kill Americans in the 11th of September.”
Obama, answering the rhetorical question last night of ‘Won’t military action in Syria put us on a slippery slope to another war?’ answered and said, “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”
Responding to a previous charge that a military strike would be only a “pinprick” move, Obama said, “Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.”
Obama said “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.”
The president did indicate that diplomacy may still win out over any military assault, calling constructive talks with Russian President Putin and the Assad's admission that his regime does possess chemical weapons “encouraging signs.”
Obama said he has “asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.”
Obama concluded by saying, “Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.”
As we look back on the attacks of 9/11, we can only hope that such weapons would never be used on American soil.