WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama had an eleventh-hour change of heart on striking at Syria, officials close to him were quoted saying late Saturday.
Speaking soon after Obama had delivered a White House speech saying he would seek approval from Congress to act against the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, senior administration officials said Obama had planned to take military action against Syria without congressional authorization, but told aides Friday night that he changed his mind.
The administration officials, quoted by AP, described a president overriding all his top national security advisers, who believed Obama had the authority to act on his own.
But these officials said the president spent much of the week wrestling with Congress’s role in authorizing force and made the decision Friday night after a lengthy discussion with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough.
The administration officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss Obama’s decision-making by name.
Earlier, delaying what had appeared to be an imminent strike, Obama abruptly announced he would seek congressional approval before launching any military action meant to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack that the US says killed 1,429 Syrians on August 21.
With Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea ready to strike, Obama said he had decided the United States should take military action, but also determined “our country will be better off” if Congress renders its own opinion.
At the same time, he challenged lawmakers to consider “what message will we send to a dictator” if he is allowed to killed hundreds of children with chemical weapons without suffering any retaliation.
Lawmakers will return to session on Sept. 9.
In Israel, where the Syria crisis is seen by many as an indicator of how the US might act against Iran’s nuclear weapons drive, one right-wing minister said that the Iranian regime would be “opening champagne” in the light of Obama’s hesitation, and a commentator said Tehran might consider that there is a “paper tiger” in Washington, DC.