Nightly News   |  August 23, 2013

Obama considers military strike against Syria

A doctor inside Syria spoke exclusively to Ann Curry about treating the victims, who he said show symptoms of having been attacked by chemical weapons. Meanwhile, President Obama is considering a narrow range of military options. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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>>> there's word tonight the pentagon is drawing up military options to respond to this week's atrocities in syria , as the white house is under increasing pressure to act. the horrible images of lifeless civilians killed by what the rebels say were chemical weapons . as the u.s. officials are trying to confirm the nature of the attack nbc news has spoken to one of the doctors on the ground treating the victims. he says the world is ignoring them. let's get to chuck todd . iraq, afghanistan, is america about to get involved in syria ?

>> reporter: looks like in some form. the president seems to be on the verge of ordering some sort of military response in syria . the question is, what does that military option look like? right now the president's closest advisers are divided on the options that are in front of them. it is these heart-wrenching images out of syria , victims of brutal chemical weapon attack that accelerated the debate in washington.

>> we are gathering information on this event. what we have seen indicates this is clearly a big event of grave concern .

>> reporter: just how grave becoming more clear tonight. ann curry spoke with a doctor inside of syria treating some of the victims. fearing for his own life he would not go on camera.

>> died violently while sleeping and died hungry.

>> doctor, after this experience, what is your message to the outside world .

>> chemical weapons is a shame on the face of humanity.

>> chemical weapons is a shame on the face of humanit?

>> chemical weapons is a shame on the face of humanity. i can't imagine that the international community cannot do anything except meeting and promising. is in the truth? is this real?

>> reporter: the president is considering a very narrow range of military options. boots on the ground or a no-fly zone, both are out of the question. what is on the table -- limited air strikes , most likely cruise missiles launched from navy destroyers targeting military command posts and while the u.s. is still gathering evidence, emotions are high.

>> quite powerful and clearly something that has been -- faked.

>> the president said repeatedly the use of chemical weapons by bashar al-assad would cross the red line . and it is the public pledge coupled with the horrific pictures that prompted senior officials to consider specific military responses even as the president preaches caution.

>> sometimes what we have seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping in to stuff that does not turn out well.

>> reporter: but demand to do something is growing.

>> when does the united states , with very little cost, stand up for these people?

>> reporter: one pentagon official told nbc's jim miklaszewski , if the president wants to send a message, we are good at sending messages. if he wants regime change, we are not able to do that easily. key presidential aides are split of how to respond. as the internal debate developed over month, susan rice and dennis mcdonough have urged aggressive action. dempsey expressed reluctant. secretary of state john kerry initially aggressive and softened until the latest pictures emerged and today is advocating an aggressive response. but nothing happens until there are two things that are determined. number one, the u.s. gets actual proof that assad used chemical weapons . they are trying to do that. second, they need to have a legal justification. lester, for instance, in libya, there was a u.n. resolution to enforce. here in syria , right now, there is nothing like that on the table.

>> all right. chuck todd leading us off tonight. thanks.