Kerry: ‘Deeply Committed to Getting' to 'Negotiating Table’ With 'Thug and Murderer'

By Terence P. Jeffrey | August 31, 2013 | 10:26am EDT

Secretary John Kerry speaking at the State Department on Aug. 31, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

( - Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech at the State Department yesterday that President Barack Obama is “deeply committed to getting to the negotiating table” with a Syrian regime that the administration is convinced committed a “crime against humanity” and is led by a "thug and murderer" because “there is no ultimate military solution” to the problems in Syria.

However, Kerry also said that whatever action President Obama took would “be limited,” would not involve “boots on the ground”—but that “history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Kerry did not say that President Obama intended to seek authorization from Congress—as required by the U.S. Constitution—before initiating military action against Syria.

In sum, Kerry indicated Obama is contemplating unilateral military action against Syria that will not involve putting U.S. troops in the country, that will be short in duration, that will be calculated to keep the Assad regime in power—despite declaring that it has committed a “crime against humanity”—and that Obama’s “primary objective is to have a diplomatic process” with this government that has committed war crime.

After summarizing the evidence that Kerry said has allowed the U.S. intelligence community to assess with “high confidence” that the Asad regime launched a murderous chemical weapons attack that killed 1,429 civilians—including 426 children—in the suburbs of Damascus, Kerry indicated that Obama intended to do something about it.

“Some cite the risk of doing things, but we need to ask, what is the risk of doing nothing?” said Kerry

“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,” said Kerry.

“Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war,” said Kerry. “Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency. These things we do know.

“We also know that we have a President who does what he says that he will do,” said Kerry. “And he has said very clearly that whatever decision he makes in Syria, it will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Libya. It will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open-ended. And it will not assume responsibility for a civil war that is already well underway.

“The President has been clear,” said Kerry. “Any action that he might decide to take will be a limited and tailored response to ensure that a despot’s brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons is held accountable. And ultimately, ultimately, we are committed – we remain committed, we believe it’s the primary objective – is to have a diplomatic process that can resolve this through negotiation, because we know there is no ultimate military solution. It has to be political. It has to happen at the negotiating table, and we are deeply committed to getting there.”

Under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, it is the Congress not the president that has power to decide whether to initiate the use of military force except when it is necessary for the president, as James Madison put it, to “repel sudden attacks” on the United States.

George Washington, who commanded the American army during the revolution, and who presided over the Constitutional Convention, clearly explained the constitutional power when he served as the nation’s first commander in chief.

"The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress;" President Washington wrote in 1793, "therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure."

In his speech Friday, Kerry said that Obama will continue to “consult” Congress on his plans for Syria. But Kerry did not say that Obama will seek the congressional authorization that the Constitution requires for any military action in Syria.

“I will tell you that as someone who has spent nearly three decades in the United States Congress, 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,” said Kerry.

On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner asked Obama to explain how his plan to use military force in Syria comported with the Congress’ “exclusive authority” over such a decision as stated in Article 1 of the Constitution. However, Congress is now in its August recess, and Boehner has not indicated he will Congress back into session to consider the issue.

“In addition,” Boehner wrote to Obama, "it is essential you address on what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of congressional authorization under Article 1 of the Constitution.”

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