Meet the Press   |  September 01, 2013

Kerry explains decision to seek congressional OK for Syria strike

Secretary of State John Kerry visits Meet the Press to explain the administration's rationale for its abrupt shift in the decision to request authorization from Congress on a strike in Syria.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> let me get right to it. it's been a jarring 48 hours in the run-up to a potential conflict with syria. on friday, the president dispatched you, the secretary of state, to make the case to the country and the world that the assad regime used chemical weapons and you spoke with passion and great strength. this is what you said.

>> it matters because if we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like bashar al assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the united states and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will.

>> that was friday. saturday morning the the president decides in an abrupt change to delay and seek congressional authority. you were making the case for a military strike . why the abrupt change?

>> well, the case remains the same, david. the president of the united states has made his decision. his decision is to take military action in response to this outrageous attack, this affront against the decency and sensibilities of the world. bashar al assad and now joins a list of adolf hitler and saddam hussein who have used these weapons in time of war. this is of great consequence to israel, to jordan, to turkey, to the region, and to all of us who care about enforcing the international norm with respect to chemical weapons .

>> and that i understand.

>> the president has made the decision, he has made the decision that he believes we need to take a military strike . but the military understands that whether that happens this week or next week is not going to make the difference with respect to sending the message. the message remains the same, and it's a message, i might add, that any president of the united states and any congress ought to seek to enforce. use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. and we cannot, cannot stand by and allow that to happen and create an impunity for its use. that would be the end of the chemical weapons norm, and that's why the president has made the decision. why go to congress? because the united states of america is stronger when the congress of the united states representing the people and the president of the united states are acting together. and the president wants that strength represented in this initiative.

>> you're making the case, mr. secretary, which i understand, as you made it on friday. i think i'm still trying to understand the abrupt shift. i know that you and others on the national security team, based on my own reporting, were opposed to the president seeking congressional authority, thinking he didn't need it. the reaction from the syrian state media is that this is the beginning, they say, of an historic american retreat. do you feel undermined? do you think the united states has undermined its leverage in the world, its credibility, having ramped up the specter of military action as being imminent and then saying, well, no, we're going to go to congress first?

>> david, i completely disagree with the fundamental premise that you set out. no, i did not oppose going, nor did anybody else that i know of originally. the issue originally was should the president of the united states take action in order to enforce the credibility and the interests of our country and to deter assad from using these weapons and to degrade his capacity to do so. that was the issue. and that's the issue that we debated. there was no decision not to do that, and the president has the right to do that, and we argued -- argued -- we discussed the options in the context of his right to take that action. the president then made the decision that he thought we would be stronger and the united states would act with greater moral authority and greater strength if we acted in a united way . he didn't think it was worthwhile acting and having the syrians and a whole bunch of other folks looking at the united states , arguing about whether or not it was legitimate, or should he have done it or should he have moved faster. he believes he needs to move. he's made his decision. now it's up to the congress of the united states to join him in affirming the international norm with respect to enforcing the use of chemical weapons .