By Bradley Klapper and Nedra Pickler
September 3, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Tuesday he was confident Congress will authorize a military strike in Syria, as lawmakers were holding their first public hearing about how to respond to last month’s alleged sarin gas attack outside Damascus.
Obama met with congressional leaders at the White House as part of his push to win over support for his request for authorization for limited military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. He indicated he is open to changing the language to address lawmakers’ concerns, but urged them to hold 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.
With war-weary Americans skeptical of sparking another long-winded intervention, Obama tried to assure the public involvement in Syria will be a “limited, proportional step.”
“This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan,” Obama said.
After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, polls show most Americans opposed to any new military action overseas. That reluctance is being reflected by senators and representatives, some of whom say Obama still hasn’t presented bulletproof evidence that Assad’s forces were responsible for the Aug. 21 attack. Others say the president hasn’t explained why intervening is in America’s interest.
The meeting in the Cabinet room included House speaker John Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with other members of leadership and the heads of the committees on armed services, foreign relations and intelligence. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also attended before heading over to Congress for testimony later in the day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A classified briefing open to all members of Congress was to take place as well.
Obama won conditional support Monday from two of his fiercest foreign policy critics, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
A congressional vote against Obama’s request “would be catastrophic in its consequences” for US credibility abroad, McCain told reporters outside the White House following an hour-long private meeting with the president who defeated him in the 2008 election.
But despite Obama’s effort to assuage the two senators’ concerns, neither appeared completely convinced afterward. They said they’d be more inclined to back Obama if the US sought to destroy the Assad government’s launching capabilities and committed to providing more support to rebels seeking to oust Assad from power.
“There will never be a political settlement in Syria as long as Assad is winning,” Graham said.
McCain said Tuesday he is prepared to vote for the authorization that Obama seeks, but he also said he wouldn’t back a resolution that fails to change the battlefield equation, where Assad still has the upper hand.