President Obama spoke few hour ago to the Nation. In a 16 minutes speech (here) he made his case for the need to conduct airstrikes against Syria following the chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21 which the Obama administration blames on Assad’s government.
In a blog published last Monday by The Broker and titled Syria and the limits of evidence, I describe how the word evidence was used several times in the debate held at the U.K Parliament on whether British troops should be involved in the airstrikes or not. The government lost the vote and no British troops can be sent (for the time being). In that blog I argue that there is not such as thing as conclusive evidence in a war that has been going on for over two years. I also make the point that for any type of evidence to turn into a decision and action it has first to translate into a personal judgment. In doing so it is filtered by personal interests, values, norms, beliefs. For example, the evidence may be there but one may be opposed to the use or weapons in all cases and therefore vote against airstrikes as a matter of principle.
President Obama spoke about evidence in the same way Prime Minister David Cameron did in his speech to the U.K. Parliament. He said that on August 21st: ‘The Assad government gassed to death over a thousand people.’ The evidence is overwhelming: ‘No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cellphone pictures and social media accounts of the attack. …. Moreover we know the Assad regime was responsible …. facts cannot be denied.’ (here).
President Obama stressed also that a failure to act now against Syria will pose dangers in the future to the US as well as other countries. Thus, launching airstrikes is not only the right thing to do given the evidence we have, it is also necessary because of the risks that the failure to act will pose to our future. ‘A world with chemical weapons is not a world we should accept,’ said President Obama.
Facts are there. The evidence (though not conclusive evidence) is there. Yet, that cannot and does not automatically translate into action and a policy decision, i.e. conduct airstrikes against the Assad’s regime or not. President Obama in the end has decided that targeted airstrikes are necessary and said that ‘that is my judgement as commander in chief.’ So for him, as well as for anybody interested and involved in this matter, it all comes down to that: judgement.
While President Obama possesses the authority to order military strikes and has decided that they are necessary, he wants now to bring the debate (and his own judgment?) to the U.S. Congress. Is this to reduce political risk? Take time while diplomats try to find a different solution now that some doors seem to be opening? Gather more evidence? Reinforce the need for a democratic decision making process? A personal belief that force will not solve the problems? Only President Obama knows. It is after all, a matter of individual judgment.