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President Barack Obama began the task of selling his proposed military strikes on Syria to a war-weary American public Saturday, stating in his weekly address that he could not ignore "the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century."
Ahead of a major address to the nation on Tuesday, he made the case for "limited and targeted" military action to hold the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for its alleged use of chemical weapons, in violation of international norms.
The push comes after Obama seemingly failed in attempts to convince world leaders at the G20 summit to support military action in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry further sought to rally EU support behind the missile strikes during meetings in Lithuania on Saturday.
In his address on Saturday, Obama said the U.S. has presented a powerful case to the world that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack against its own people.
He reassured Americans that the proposed military action would not be an open-ended intervention.
"This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground," he said. "Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope – designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so."
The United States has accused Assad of using chemical weapons during an Aug. 21 attack that Washington says killed more than 1,400 people, for which Assad has vehemently denied responsibility.
But winning support, both at home and overseas, for punitive strikes has been a hard task for the White House.
Last Saturday, Obama announced that he would seek congressional approval before carrying out any military action in Syria. Congress has been holding both public and closed-door hearings ahead of Sept. 9, when the legislative body reconvenes after a month-long recess. But Obama appears at this stage to be some way off from convincing lawmakers to back his plan.
According to a list compiled by the Washington Post, the large majority of House members who have made up their minds are definitely voting against the strikes.
But a separate survey by the Associated Press found that half of the House and a third of the Senate had yet to make up their minds which way they intended to vote, giving hope to Obama that he could still swing a majority behind the military action.
In addition to skepticism in Congress, Obama faces opposition among the public at large. Surveys suggest that military strikes would be unpopular among Americans, especially given that U.S. troops have been engaged in two lengthy conflicts since the turn of the century. A Gallup poll published Friday found that just 36 percent of the U.S. public backed military intervention in Syria, with 51 percent opposed.
"I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down," Obama acknowledged in his weekly address Saturday.
But the alleged chemical attack was "a direct attack on human dignity" and "a serious threat to our national security," Obama said.
Not taking action, he added, would send a "horrible signal" to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.
The White House has said that the objective of strikes is to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again and to deter others from their use.
As Obama embarked on efforts to turn public opinion at home in his favor, Secretary of State Kerry continued international efforts to forge international support.
Kerry's efforts follow lobbying by Obama at the G-20 summit in St Petersburg this week.
That summit ended with half of the delegate countries signing a statement calling for a "strong international response" to the chemical attack. But G-20 host nation Russia remained vehemently against any military strike on Syria, with president Vladimir Putin saying Russia would "help Syria" in the event of strikes.
Even among nations that signed the statement condemning Assad, there is a split over the right course of action. Of the four European nations that signed the statement – Britain, France, Italy and Spain – only France has said it will take part in the proposed military strike.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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