America's ambassador to the United Nations stepped out front today to make the case for a U.S. strike against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Samantha Power's target audience was not the United Nations, but the U.S. Congress, whose official backing President Obama is seeking before launching a punitive hit against Syria for using sarin gas against opposition rebels and civilians.
Power, speaking before a roomful of reporters at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said the risk of not acting in Syria outweighs the arguments against acting, even for a U.S. that she concedes has grown wary and weary of war.
"We all have a choice to make. Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, whether we have supported past military interventions or opposed them, whether we have argued for or against such actions in Syria prior to this point, we should agree there are lines in this world that cannot be crossed," Power said.
Her remarks came at the end of a week during which Secretary of State John Kerry has been championing the call for a Syria strike because of a regime attack on a Damascus suburb. The U.S. says Assad's forces attacked Ghouta with rockets laden with sarin gas, killing more than 1,400 people, including at least 426 children.
Power on Friday referenced the findings almost in passing, placing them in the larger strategic picture as she simultaneously offered the moral case for attacking Syria and slamming Russia for enabling the Assad regime to keep on a bloody course.
But a good part of her speech was also an acknowledgment that many Americans have grown tired of war and suspicious that Obama's promised "limited" action in Syria would expand.
"On the one hand we Americans share a desire for peace after two wars that have taken 6,700 American lives and cost a trillion dollars [and want instead] to invest taxpayer money into American schools and infrastructure," she said. "Yet on the other hand, people have heard [President Obama's] commitment that this will not be Iraq, this will not be Afghanistan, and this will not be Libya." People have "abhorrence" for the brutal violence of Assad's forces, she said, even as they're concerned that the extremist who oppose Assad "have themselves carried out atrocities."
The United Nations is proving unable to act in a meaningful way, she said, principally because Russia, and with some backing from China, has blocked every effort to do so.
"Since 2011, Russia and China have blocked three separate [UN] Security Council resolutions condemning Syrian violence or promoting a political solution to the conflict," she said. "This year alone Russia blocked three statements expressing humanitarian concerns and calling for humanitarian access to cities in Syria. And in the past two months Russia blocked two resolutions condemning the generic use of chemical weapons and two press statements condemning their use."
More than 1,400 deaths near Damascus from gas, she said, "and the Security Council could not even agree to put out a press statement expressing disapproval."
For its part, Russia disputes the U.S. claims about the Aug. 21 gas attacks. President Vladimir Putin last week called Kerry "a liar" for his statements on the Ghouta deaths.