RECAP: President Obama’s Address on Syria

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In a primetime Tuesday evening address, President Barack Obama made his case for getting the United States involved in Syria. Obama argued the United States should respond to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons to protect American soldiers in future conflicts and to send a message to other “tyrants” who might use such weapons.

“As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them,” said Obama. “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 stressed the U.S. military is ready to strike Syria upon his command. However, he said he’s shifting his focus to a diplomatic solution recently offered by Russia, and he asked Congressional leaders to delay a vote on the use of force in Syria “while we pursue this diplomatic path.” Under the Russian plan, Syria would surrender its chemical weapons to international control. If that happens, it could halt further American military action.

Moscow’s plan is not without its critics in the west: Some wonder whether the plan could work on a practical level, others have questioned Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s motives.

Miss the speech? Get caught up with what you missed in just 3 minutes above. What follows is TIME’s recap of Obama’s speech.

PHOTOS: The Chaos and Killing of a Slow-Motion Civil War

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10:08 p.m. | Official White House photographer Pete Souza shared an image of the president delivering his speech:


10:02 p.m. | Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted his initial response to Obama’s speech:


9:56 p.m. | Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) won’t be issuing a statement on Obama’s speech, his spokesman told The Huffington Post’s Sabrina Siddiqui:


9:45 p.m. | The full transcript from President Obama’s remarks:

9:44 p.m. | Read TIME’s Zeke J. Miller’s takeaway from Obama’s speech:

Facing a war-weary nation that opposes American intervention in Syria by as much as a 2-1 margin, Obama’s 15-minute address was notable for its conversational tone with the president devoting much of the time toward allaying the concerns of the public with a chorus of questions and answers.

9:34 p.m. | Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus issued a statement calling the Obama administration’s handling of Syria “haphazard.”

“The administration’s handling of the U.S. response to Syria has been so haphazard it’s disappointed even the president’s most ardent supporters,” said Chairman Priebus. “This rudderless diplomacy has embarrassed America on the world stage. For a president who campaigned on building American credibility abroad, the lack of leadership coming from the Oval Office is astounding.”

9:30 p.m. | Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an opponent of U.S. intervention in Syria, wasn’t moved by Obama’s speech:


9:22 p.m. | A few first reactions to Obama’s speech:





9:17 p.m. | Obama finishes after slightly more than 15 minutes. His pitch in summary: He would prefer a diplomatic solution in Syria, but the U.S. is ready to strike in order to uphold the international norm against the use of chemical weapons — which is in the United States’ national security interest.

9:13 p.m. | “It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed,” says Obama of Russia’s proposal to have Syria give up its stockpile of chemical weapons. “I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote on the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.”

He adds there’s no guarantee the plan will succeed. “I have ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond,” he says.

9:10 p.m. | “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria,” says Obama. He also said a “sustained air campaign” is not part of the plan.

9:05 p.m. | “If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” says Obama, going on to argue that other “tyrants” will also use them, potentially against American troops.

9:03 p.m. | “On Aug. 21, these basic norms were violated,” says President Obama. He’s making the case that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government violated international norms by using chemical weapons against civilians, then shelled the targeted neighborhoods to cover up the evidence.

8:47 p.m. | Official White House Twitter accounts are starting to plug the address:





8:20 p.m. | In case you missed it, the president made the broadcast media rounds yesterday. Here’s his full interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:


8:15 p.m. | The New York Times‘ Doug Mills shared this serene image of the White House this evening…


…But The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery caught a less tranquil setting:


7:57 p.m. | House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), speaking at an Institute for Education event, agree the House of Representatives won’t vote on a Syria resolution until the Senate does so first:


7:58 p.m. | Visitors to the White House’s official website are currently being greeted with this message:

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7:31 p.m. | A White House official told CNN’s Jim Acosta tonight’s speech will have four central themes:

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7:07 p.m. | At least one group that’s confident the U.S. won’t strike Syria: Wall Street investors, per the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, investors were relieved that Syria accepted a proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control for dismantling. The possibility that the crisis between the U.S. and Syria might be solved peacefully was a factor in the stock market’s gain on Monday, too.

7:04 p.m. | The president’s address will actually start at 9:01:30 ET.

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6:50 p.m. | A top Syrian rebel commander lashed out at the Russian proposal, telling TIME’s Jay Newton-Small the idea is no more than a bluff to “win some time.”

Speaking via Skype, the rebel Free Syrian Army leader warned that widespread violence in Syria would make it impossible for United Nations weapons inspectors to certify that Assad had given up all of his weapons, the goal of a Russian-backed proposal now under consideration in Washington and at the United Nations. [General Salim] Idris said his forces would grant UN inspectors access to rebel-controlled areas if necessary, though he said he hopes such inspections don’t occur as he considers them a Russian-backed diversion from strikes against the Assad regime.

6:40 p.m. | TIME’s Zeke J. Miller points out three things Obama must accomplish in Tuesday’s speech: Present the intelligence, make the case for action and explain what’s happening diplomatically.

According to administration officials and outside observers, Obama’s speech Tuesday will have three key goals: educating the American people about what happened last month, making the case for a military strike, and expressing openness to a diplomatic approach.

“It’s not going to be a laundry list,” says former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau. ”He will try to tell a story with this speech about what happened on August 21, why it was a particularly horrible monstrosity, the action we’ve taken up to this point, and, if diplomacy fails, there’s only one country that can take action to punish those responsible and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”