Obama’s battle to get congressional approval for a military strike on Syria moved a step closer Tuesday, with leaders of both parties in Congress announcing that the United States should respond to Syrian President Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
US President Barack Obama convinced leaders of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to support his request for the authorization of a military strike on Syria. After a meeting with more than a dozen senior lawmakers this week, members of both parties went public, praising Obama’s plan and pledging a ‘yes’ vote on the operation against the Syrian government.
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the House of Representative, told reporters after a White House meeting on Tuesday that he thinks it’s important that Americans to unite behind their president.
“This is something that the United States, as a country, needs to do. I’m going to support the president’s call for action. I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action,” he said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also said that they will both support actions against the Assad government following meetings at the White House.
Obama had been meeting more than a dozen lawmakers in the White House cabinet room to push for limited strikes to dismantle Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future. The president said he is confident he can persuade a skeptical American public that a strike Syria will not emulate the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, and that US military action will be a “limited, proportionate step.”
Boehner said that only the US has the capability to stop Assad.
“We have enemies around the world that need to understand we’re not going to tolerate this type of behavior. We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it’s necessary,” he said.
Boehner’s views were echoed by Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat to attend the White House meeting from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We are talking about weapons of mass destruction. This is war crime. If we didn’t respond in kind it would send a message to every despot, every thug, every dictator, every terrorist group in the world that you can murder your own citizens with impunity and nothing is going to happen,” Engel said.
But after over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the polls show that Americans are opposed to any new overseas military intervention. This reluctance is reflected by senators and representatives who believe Obama still hasn’t produced concrete evidence that it was Assad who used chemical weapons on August 21 or why it is in America’s interest to intervene.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) tweeted that he has been talking to his constituents and armed forces personnel, neither of whom have the stomach for military action in Syria.
“I’ve been hearing a lot from members of our Armed Forces,” Amash tweeted this week. “The message I consistently hear: Please vote no on military action against Syria.”
Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minnesota) also said that he would strongly oppose any military action.
“I am vehemently opposed to a military strike that would clearly be an act of war against Syria, especially under such tragic yet confusing circumstances as to who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons,” he said.
Skepticism is shared by many tea party Republicans and others on the right and left who oppose military intervention for ideological reason and for specific reasons on authorizing the use of force without constraints on timing, costs and the scope of any attack.
Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) also said he would vote against resolution.
“Who is on America’s side over there? If the rebels win, will they be American allies? Assad’s definitely not. I’m not convinced anybody on the Islamic side will be American allies,” he said.
He also warned that it wouldn’t be helpful to amend any resolution that constrains Obama too much to execute military action, something that some lawmakers are calling for.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat for Nevada and Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez have said that they want to craft a resolution narrower than the broad one proposed by the administration on Saturday.
The proposed measure would limit the duration of any military action and expressly state that no US ground forces would be used.
Obama has said he is open to changing the language to address lawmakers concerns but has said he wants a prompt vote.
“So long as we are accomplishing what needs to be accomplished, which is to send a clear message to Assad, to degrade his capabilities to use chemical weapons, not just now but also in the future, as long as the authorization allows us to do that, I’m confident that we’re going to be able to come up with something that hits that mark,” Obama said.
During a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry advocated for re-writing Obama’s authorization to use military force in order to clear up any language that would leave open the possibility for putting US boots on the ground.
“There will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war,” Kerry insisted. At the same time, however, the former senator fell short of insuring Congress that US troops may not be asked to intervene on mainland Syria in the future if, for example, chemical weapons fall into the hands of extremists “and it was clearly in the interest of our allies” to recover weapons of mass destruction.