Samantha Power Makes the Case for a U.S. Strike on Syria

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations is redirecting her attention away from the UN and toward the American public

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Charles Dharapak / AP

US United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power speaks about Syria, Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

After failing to persuade every member of the UN Security Council to back punitive action against Syria‘s regime, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power turned her attention to a different crowd: the American people.

As President Barack Obama gears up to address a reluctant and war-weary nation Tuesday, Power set the primer with a Friday speech to a small crowd at the headquarters of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

Power said while she recognizes the ambivalence of citizens still reeling from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the risk of not acting against the Assad regime is greater than the risk of carrying out the limited strikes Obama has proposed.

With the the President’s plan, Power said, “We are reaffirming what the world has already made plain in laying down its collective judgment on chemical weapons.”

“There is something different about chemical warfare that raises the stakes for the United States and raises the stakes for the world,” she continued.

Power reiterated the sentiments of Secretary of State John Kerry and some members of Congress who have said other regimes will take a non-response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, reportedly killing 1,400 Syrians including hundreds of children, as an invitation to acquire and use such weapons themselves.

“We cannot afford to signal to North Korea and Iran that the international community is unwilling to act to prevent proliferation or willing to tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction,” Power said. “People will draw lessons if the world proves unwilling to enforce the norms against chemical weapons use that we have worked so diligently to construct.”

Much of the 20-minute speech was similar to the address Power gave at the UN on Thursday, where she said Russia—which she called “patron of a [Syrian]  regime that would brazenly stage the world’s largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter century”—was holding the Security Council hostage.

Power revisited her statements on Russia, adding that the country, often with the help of China, has blocked “every relevant action in the Security Council.” She added that the U.S. Would address Syria through the Security Council, the peacekeeping arm of the UN, if Russia would agree that the country’s use of chemical weapons is worthy of an intervention. The country has blocked two resolutions against the use of chemical weapons in Syria so far this year.

“In Assad’s cost-benefit calculus,” Power said, “he must have weighed the risk of using this hideous weapon against the recognition that he could get away with it because Russia would have Syria’s back in the Security Council.”

Power also addressed the question of U.S. diplomatic options, saying the U.S. has “exhausted” all methods besides military force. Power said in the past the U.S. has pursued humanitarian efforts and increased support to the Syrian opposition in an effort to block the use of chemical weapons, but now the time has come for military action.

“What would words in the form of belated diplomatic obligation achieve?” Power asked. “Does anybody really believe that deploying the same approaches we have tried for the last year will suddenly be effective?”

The Obama Administration does not, nor do leaders in 10 countries who joined with the U.S. on Friday in calling for a stronger international response to Syria. But the American people and members of Congress it seems, are still wary.