When the U.S. Acts as the U.N.

.photo.right{display:none;}President Obama said "the world set a red line" on Syria, but we may be left with the task of enforcing it.

President Barack Obama at his joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, at the Rosenbad Building in Stockholm, Sweden.  (National Journal)

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In a joint press conference with the Swedish prime minister Wednesday morning, President Obama was clear in his assertions on an attack on Syria: He thinks it needs to be done regardless of the U.N. Security Council; he thinks Congress will approve it; and he thinks the U.S. bears the responsibility for enforcing the international norms on chemical weapons.

"My credibility isn't on the line; the whole international community's credibility is on the line," Obama said. "America and Congress's credibility is on the line because we gave lip service to the nation that these international norms are important."

Obama stressed that the oft-quoted "red line" isn't something he came up with on a whim. "First of all, I didn't set a red line--the world set a red line," he said.

The world set a red line when governments representing 90 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries aren't at war.


When I said in a press conference that my calculus about what's happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn't something I just kind of made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it.

The president wouldn't directly answer the question of whether he would green-light a military strike without congressional approval, but he said it would be important for the world to see the president and Congress united in action. "I would not have taken this before Congress just as a symbolic gesture," Obama said. "I think that it is very important for the Congress to say that we mean what we say. I think we will be stronger as a country in our response if the president and Congress does it together."

But, along with his belief that Congress would pass the measure, Obama repeated that he didn't think he needed its approval.

"I do not believe that I was required to take this to Congress. But I did not take this to Congress just because it's an empty exercise," he said, adding later that if he were a senator at this time, he would have probably asked upon the president to do the same. His decision to ask Congress, he said, was solidified when Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told him the timing of the strike would not change its effectiveness.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he was aware of what kind of message a lack of response would send to the international community. But he didn't back Obama's view on the U.N. Security Council, which he said was struggling to pass what he called even the most modest of resolutions.

"This small country will always say, let's put our hopes in the United Nations," he said. "Let us push some more."

In Washington, the conversation continues. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a closed hearing Wednesday with Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry, joined by Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, will speak before the House at noon.