Sharing little if any new information, President Barack Obama told the American public Tuesday night he's not backing down from a potential military strike in Syria, but said he'd like to wait to see if a diplomatic solution can be achieved.
Building on the news from earlier in the day, Obama said he was encouraged by the possibility that Russia, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad – who reportedly authorized a chemical weapons attack in August that killed more than 1,400 Syrians, including more than 400 children – could negotiate control of the country's remaining chemical weapons stockpile.
"It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, but this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force," Obama said in a solemn address to the nation. "I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path."
A reticent Obama reiterated his cause for American military intervention, which he acknowledged was deeply unpopular.
"On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war," he said. "When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied."
Obama also raised the specter of an emboldened Iran as a potential nuclear power for another reason for action.
"A failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad's ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path," he said.
The president also called on Americans to take pride in their country's role as a world military and moral leader to make his case.
"For nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security; this has meant doing more than forging international agreements, it has meant enforcing them," he said. "The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world's a better place because we have borne them."
Obama asked Republicans who take pride in a strong military to support him because the "cause is so plainly just" and Democrats who value freedom and dignity for people to recognize that "sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough."
He also encouraged the public to remember he was elected to end wars, not start them, and implored Americans to trust his judgment.
"Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong, but when with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act," Obama said. "That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth."