As we convene for this debate, the world is watching not just to see what we decide. It is watching to see how we make this decision – whether in this dangerous world we can still make our government speak with one voice. They want to know if America will rise to this moment and make a difference.
I repeat here again today: only the most willful desire to avoid reality can assert that this did not occur as described or that the regime did not do it. It did happen – and the Assad regime did do it.
I remember Iraq. Secretary Hagel remembers Iraq. We were here for that vote. And so we are especially sensitive to never again asking any Member of Congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence. That is why our intelligence community has scrubbed and re-scrubbed the evidence. We have declassified unprecedented amounts of information.
We can tell you beyond any reasonable doubt that our evidence proves the Assad regime prepared this attack, warning its forces to use gas masks. We have physical evidence of where the rockets came from and when. Not one rocket landed in regime-held territory. All of them landed in opposition-controlled or contested territory. We have a map showing every geographical point of impact – and that is concrete.
Some have tried to suggest the debate we are having today is about President Obama’s red line. They’re wrong. This debate is about the world’s red line – about humanity’s red line – a line that anyone with a conscience should draw.
And as we debate, the world watches. As you decide, the world wonders – not whether Assad’s regime executed the worst chemical-weapons attack of the 21st century – that fact is beyond question. The world wonders whether the United States of America will consent, through silence, to standing aside while this kind of brutality is allowed to happen without consequence.
Syria is important because quite simply, the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting. If we don’t take a stand here today, we are more likely to face far greater risks to our security and a far greater likelihood of conflict in the future.
Why? Because as confidently as we know what happened in Damascus on August 21, we know that Assad will read our silence as a signal that he can use his weapons with impunity.
And in creating impunity, we will be creating opportunity – the opportunity for other dictators and terrorists to pursue their own weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to a slaughter. Neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence.
We have spoken up against unspeakable horror. Now we must stand up and act. We must protect our security, protect our values, and lead the world with conviction that is clear.