Though Secretary of State John Kerry made an impassioned case Friday for U.S. military intervention in Syria, based on evidence of a chemical weapons attack released to the public, President Barack Obama has yet to announce a course of action.
"It's important to ask the tough questions and get the tough answers before taking action, not just afterwards," Kerry said during a briefing with reporters. "And I believe as President Obama does, that it is also important to discuss this directly with the American people. That is our responsibility."
A report released by the White House Friday said 1,429 Syrians had been killed during the disputed attack Aug. 21, including at least 426 children. Victims, Kerry said, had breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth and unconsciousness.
"Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side-by-side, sprawled on a hospital floor," Kerry said. "All of them from Assad's gas and surrounded by parents and grandparents who had suffered the same fate. This is what Assad did to his own people."
Most Americans oppose military intervention in Syria, according to recent polling, and Congress remains split on the issue. Britain's parliament voted to oppose joining the United States in a military strike, and Germany said it would remain on the sidelines. French President Francois Hollande has said France would support the U.S.
"Make no mistake, in an increasingly complicated world of sectarian religious extremist violence, what we choose to do or not do matters in real ways to our own security," said Kerry. "Some cite the risk of doing things, but we need to ask, what is the risk of doing nothing?"
The White House report stated there was no doubt Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack, although his regime has denied it.
"We have a body of information, including past Syrian practice, that leads us to conclude that regime officials were witting of and directed the attack on Aug. 21," the report said, adding that the U.S. intercepted communications from a senior Syrian official that confirmed the chemical weapons use.
"On the afternoon of August 21, we have intelligence that Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations," the report said. "In the 24-hour period after the attack, we detected indications of artillery and rocket fire at a rate approximately four times higher than the 10 preceding days."
Kerry also praised Obama for efforts to keep Congress informed of the on-going situation, a direct rebuff of his 2004 presidential election opponent, then-incumbent President George W. Bush, who was criticized by Democrats in 2003 for failing to do so in the lead up to the Iraq War.
"I know that that consultation is the right way for a president to approach a decision of when, and how, and if to use military force," he said.
Senior White House officials made clear following Kerry's statement that Obama has made no decision on specific action.