President Obama won the support on Tuesday of Republican and Democratic leaders in the House for an attack on Syria, giving him a foundation to win broader approval for military action from a Congress that still harbors deep reservations.
“We have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition, allow Syria ultimately to free itself from the kinds of terrible civil war, death and activity that we’ve been seeing on the ground,” said Mr. Obama, as he met congressional leaders at the White House.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) supported the President’s intention and after a meeting with Obama and congressional leaders said:
“This is something that the United States as a country needs to do—I’m going to support the president’s call for action.”
He added, “I believe my colleagues should support this call for action. We have enemies around the world that need to understand that 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.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) offered his support for action against Syria in a statement released after the meeting, saying, “America’s credibility is on the line.”
“A failure to act when acting is in America’s interest and when a red line has been so clearly crossed will only weaken our ability to use diplomacy, economic pressure and other nonlethal tools to remove Assad and deter Iran and other aggressors,” Mr. Cantor said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also voiced support for military action in Syria. “President Obama did not draw the red line,” she said. “Humanity drew it decades ago.”
She said that she did not think that congressional authorization was necessary but said that it was a “good thing.”
Mr. Obama signalled he was open to allowing Democratic senators to rewrite the resolution authorising force to explicitly ban the use of US ground troops and include a possible end-date for military action. “This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan,” he said.
The President also stressed failing to punish Syria would embolden Iran and endanger Israel, warning chemical weapons could fall into terrorists’ hands and “pose a risk to allies and friends of ours, like Israel, like Jordan, like Turkey”.
Mr. Obama is now headed to Sweden and Russia, where he will try to shore up an international coalition to punish Syria for a chemical weapons attack and will probably encounter some of the same debates that are cleaving the Capitol, says the NY Times.
However, on Wednesday Russia’s President Vladimir Putin insisted that any military strike should only be conducted if backed by a UN resolution.
“According to international law, only the United Nations Security Council can sanction the use of armed force against a sovereign state,” Mr. Putin said. “Any other grounds or methods which would justify the used of force against an independent and sovereign state are unacceptable and cannot be qualified as anything but aggression.”
Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, warned military action may only unleash more turmoil.
“We must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate the political resolution of the conflict,” Mr. Ban said. “I call for the Security Council to unite should the allegations prove true.”
Mr. Obama said on Tuesday he was confident Congress would support the plan for military action as his administration launched a day of intense lobbying of members of both houses.