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Obama seeks support for attacking Syria while pursuing diplomacy

By Tom Cohen CNN | 9/11/2013, 7:05 a.m.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday night September 10, 2013, that Syria's government violated the "basic rules" of warfare, adding: "The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America (will) do about it." (POOL Photo).

In an instant poll of people who watched the speech Tuesday night, 61% favored Obama's approach compared to 37% who opposed it.

The CNN/ORC International survey showed almost two-thirds of respondents thought the Syria situation would be resolved through diplomatic efforts, while 47% said Obama made a convincing case for military action compared to 50% who said he didn't.

By CNN's best estimate, the sample of poll respondents -- 37% Democrats, 20% Republicans and 43% independents -- was about seven percentage points more Democratic than the general public.

Critics call the situation faced by Obama his own doing for a confused Syria policy that he has never fully explained.

"There's a degree of incoherence that I have never seen the likes of," veteran Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona told CNN on Tuesday.

In the most emotional part of the speech, Obama cited the videos his administration made public that showed victims of the Syrian sarin gas attack.

"The images from this massacre are sickening: men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk," the president said in emphasizing the horror of chemical weapons.

"The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people -- to those children -- is not only a violation of international law, it's also a danger to our security," Obama added.

Directly addressing questions he received from members of Congress and letters from the public, the president insisted that any U.S. military strike would be limited in scope and mission.

No American boots on the ground

"I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action -- no matter how limited -- is not going to be popular," he said, later declaring: "I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad's capabilities."

At the same time, he rejected criticism that such a limited military response would prove meaningless, saying "the United States military doesn't do pin pricks."

"Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver," Obama said. "I don't think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can makes Assad -- or any other dictator -- think twice before using chemical weapons."

He described the U.S. role in the world as "doing more than forging international agreements; it has meant enforcing them."

"The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world's a better place because we have borne them," Obama said before making a direct appeal to both sides of the political spectrum.