I could keep promising you that a U.S. military intervention in Syria would be limited in scope and duration. I could promise you that we'll never, ever put U.S. troops on the ground.
But here's another truth: Anyone who makes such promises is a fool or a liar. I know that, and I'm sorry I've ever suggested otherwise. Chalk it up to watching those videos: Rage displaced reason for a few weeks.
We all know war is one of those things you can't control. Yes, we might start with a small number of carefully targeted cruise missile strikes. But there are a thousand what-ifs, and a thousand unknowns.
What if our strikes fail to deter Assad, and he uses chemical weapons again, on an even larger scale? Or what if he just uses heavy explosives to kill thousands more civilians? What if he attacks Israel? What if Iran unleashes Hezbollah against U.S. or Israeli interests? What if U.S. airstrikes targeting chemical weapons facilities inadvertently scatter poison gas, killing more civilians? What if one or more of our missiles goes astray and kills the wrong people? What if Assad falls, and the bloody civil war just gets bloodier and more chaotic? What if rebels linked to al Qaeda are able to seize power?
What then? If things got worse because of U.S. military intervention, would we shrug and walk away?
I don't think we could. I think we might easily find ourselves drawn in, forced to put troops on the ground to protect civilian enclaves, restore security, or destroy extremist rebel groups.
As Colin Powell said 20 years ago, "We should always be skeptical when so-called experts suggest that all a particular crisis calls for is a little surgical bombing or a limited attack. When the 'surgery' is over and the desired result is not obtained, a new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation -- more bombs, more men and women, more force. History has not been kind to this approach to war-making."
And I think we've all learned a painful lesson in the last decade: When we overreach, things often end badly. Think of Iraq: We intervened -- without U.N. Security Council authorization -- to oust a brutal dictator who had also once used chemical weapons against his own people. A decade later, all we have to show for it is a record-setting budget deficit, 4,500 dead American service members, somewhere between 100,000 and 600,000 dead Iraqis, and an international community that no longer believes America can be relied on to tell the truth.
I know most of you share my view that the Iraq war was a tragic mistake. I don't want to be the man who repeats that mistake again.
Yes, we have the strongest military in the world, but not every challenge has a military solution. You've reminded me that there are other, better paths to peace in Syria.
Those are the paths we are going to pursue, with redoubled energy. We'll leave no stone unturned. We'll do everything possible to work with Russia and others on a viable mechanism for getting chemical weapons out of Assad's hands and pushing the parties toward a negotiated settlement. We'll continue to isolate Assad and provide support for Syria's moderate opposition groups. We'll continue our efforts to build consensus for a coordinated international response to the conflict in Syria.
It may not work. I can't make you any promises there either. But for now, we have to continue to try.
Meanwhile, we'll closely monitor events on the ground, increasing our situational awareness, and we'll continue to make contingency plans, including plans involving the use of military force.
There may yet come a time when military force becomes a viable and necessary approach. But this is not that time.
My fellow Americans, the weeks and months ahead will bring more painful images from Syria to our TV screens, and it will be difficult to remain unaffected. But there is pain and suffering in so many other places around the globe, as well, including right here at home.
In these last few weeks, you have reminded me that we can't let our emotions drive our policies. I will remember that lesson in the days ahead.
Thank you for your support, and thank you for your wisdom.
Fantasy Speech #2: The Case for Full-Scale Military Intervention in Syria
My fellow Americans, I can't watch those videos of dying Syrian children without feeling sick with grief and rage. Enough is enough.
Assad's brutality sparked a civil war that has now left more than 100,000 Syrians dead. The use of chemical weapons demonstrates, fully and finally, that his regime is devoid of the most basic impulses of humanity.
For more than two years now, we've tried every diplomatic trick in the book to isolate Assad and stop the killing. We imposed sanctions, we negotiated, we went back to the U.N. Security Council again and again. Again and again, the council proved incapable of action.
And nothing got better. More innocents died, and the ongoing civil war has also enabled al Qaeda-linked factions to proliferate in the chaos. Ordinary Syrians, abandoned by the international community, are turning to extremist factions out of sheer desperation.
Enough is enough.
God knows no one wants war. And no one wants to use force without clear Security Council authorization. But the U.N. was founded to protect human beings, not to provide excuses for inaction or shield the interests of obstructionist states.
The paralysis and dysfunction of international institutions cannot justify continued inaction as the slaughter in Syria continues. It cannot justify continued inaction as the forces of extremism grow stronger by the day.
There's a time for diplomacy, and there's a time for force. Today, I have decided that the United States must use military force to oust the Assad regime, end the Syrian conflict, and restore security in that war-torn country.
For a time, I considered using limited military strikes designed only to deter Assad from using chemical weapons again. But I've been listening to you, and I've had long and intense discussions with members of Congress and my top military and civilian advisers. In the end, I came to the conclusion that such limited strikes would be a pointless half-measure.
There's no sense in preventing Assad from using chemical weapons but allowing him to continue to kill thousands more civilians using conventional weapons. Yes, using chemical weapons violates international law -- but the deliberate targeting of civilians always violates international law, regardless of the means used. War crimes are war crimes, and the parents of dead children don't care whether their children were killed by poison gas, bombs, guns or machetes.
I've also come to the conclusion that "limited" military strikes are unlikely to accomplish anything worthwhile -- in fact, they might just accelerate the fighting, wounding the Assad regime just enough to embolden rebel forces without enabling them to reach a decisive victory. In the end, even more civilians could suffer -- or al Qaeda-linked rebels might gain the upper hand.
I don't think you can "go halfsies" on war. Remember Colin Powell's words, 20 years ago: "We should always be skeptical when so-called experts suggest that all a particular crisis calls for is a little surgical bombing or a limited attack. When the ‘surgery' is over and the desired result is not obtained, a new set of experts then comes forward with talk of just a little escalation -- more bombs, more men and women, more force. History has not been kind to this approach to war-making."