President Obama said he hasn’t made up his mind on proceeding with military strike against Syria without congressional approval, but suggested the U.S. needs to be involved to some degree.
"I haven’t decided,” Obama said Monday in an interview with NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie, adding that he takes the lawmakers’ vote "very seriously.”
"It’s my belief that for me, the president, to act without consensus in a situation where there’s not a direct, imminent threat to the homeland or our interests around the world, that that’s not the kind of precedent I want to set,” he said.
Obama has been trying to persuade a weary American public and hesitant lawmakers that a military strike against Syria is necessary to enforce the international pact against chemical weapons.
That reluctance even applies to the first lady: "If you ask Michelle, ‘Do we want to be involved in another war?’ The answer is no.”
He said he can’t say with confidence whether or not he will get the votes needed for a limited military authorization.
"Over the last four and a half years, I have shown great restraint when it comes to using military power. I know how tired the American people are of war generally and particularly war in the Middle East and so I don’t take these decisions lightly,” he said. "But if we are going to have any kind of serious enforcement of this international ban on chemical weapons, then ultimately the United States has to be involved. And a credible threat may be what pushes the kind of political settlement that I think we’d all prefer.”
The president also discussed Russia’s unexpected proposal for Syria to hand over its weapons stockpile to international authorities, saying they are investigating its sincerity.
"I think you have to take it with a grain of salt initially. But between the statements that we saw from the Russians– the statement today from the Syrians–this represents a potentially positive development,” said Obama. "I think what we’re seeing is that a credible threat of a military strike from the United States, supported potentially by a number of other countries around the world has given them pause and makes them consider whether or not they would make this move. And if they do, then this could potentially be a significant breakthrough. But we have to be skeptical because this is not how we’ve seen them operate over the last couple a years.”
Obama dismissed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s loaded threat to "expect everything” in retaliation of a possible U.S. strike: "Syria doesn’t have significant capabilities to retaliate against us. Iran does. But Iran– is not going to risk a war with the United States over this.”
The White House has been trying to drum up support at home and abroad for limited action after new evidence point the finger at the Syrian government allegedly used chemical weapons on its own people. The attack on August 21 killed nearly 1,500, including approximately 400 children outside Damascus.
Newly released videos show the apparent aftermath of a chemical attack on civilians. Obama said he was "heartbroken” after seeing this graphic footage and recommended "everyone look at these videos.”
The case for a strike remains a tough sell, according to the latest Reuters poll. Only 16% of Americans think the country should get involved and more than half—approximately 63%–are opposed to any kind of intervention in Syria.
The president will continue his public relations blitz Tuesday night in a formal address to the nation.