Obama wins Senate panel's backing on Syria strike

Legislation backing the use of force against President Bashar Assad's government cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote. The measure is expected to reach the Senate floor next week, although the timing for a vote is uncertain.
Associated Press
Sep 4, 2013

President Barack Obama's request for speedy congressional backing of a military strike in Syria advanced Wednesday toward a showdown Senate vote, while the commander in chief left open the possibility he would order retaliation for a deadly chemical weapons attack even if Congress withheld its approval.

Legislation backing the use of force against President Bashar Assad's government cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote after it was stiffened at the last minute to include a pledge of support for "decisive changes to the present military balance of power" in Syria's civil war. It also would rule out U.S. combat operations on the ground.

The measure is expected to reach the Senate floor next week, although the timing for a vote is uncertain. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky conservative with strong tea party ties, has threatened a filibuster.

The House also is reviewing Obama's request, but its timetable is even less certain and the measure could face a rockier time there.

The administration blames Assad for a chemical weapons attack that took place on Aug. 21 and says more than 1,400 civilians died, including at least 400 children. Other casualty estimates are lower, and the Syrian government denies responsibility, contending rebels fighting to topple the government were to blame.

The Senate panel's vote marked the first formal response in Congress, four days after Obama unexpectedly put off an anticipated cruise missile strike against Syria last weekend and instead asked lawmakers to unite first behind such a plan.

In Stockholm, Sweden, where Obama was traveling on Wednesday, the White House praised the vote, and said it would continue to seek support for "a military response that is narrowly tailored to enforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and sufficient to protect the national security interests of the United States of America."

Earlier, at a news conference Obama said, "I always preserve the right and responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security." In a challenge to lawmakers back home, he said Congress' credibility was on the line, not his own, despite saying a year ago that the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line."

Secretary of State John Kerry said he believes Obama will address the nation on Syria in the next few days. The president returns home from overseas Friday night.

Obama's request also received its first hearing in the House during the day, and Kerry responded heatedly when Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said that the secretary of state, Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden all had advocated for caution in past conflicts. "Is the power of the executive branch so intoxicating that you have abandoned past caution in favor of pulling the trigger on a military response so quickly?" Duncan asked.

Kerry, who fought in Vietnam in the 1960s and voted to authorize the war against Iraq a decade ago, shot back angrily: "I volunteered to fight for my country, and that wasn't a cautious thing to do when I did it." When Duncan interrupted, the secretary of state said," I'm going to finish, congressman," and cited his support as senator for past U.S. military action in Panama and elsewhere.

The Senate committee's vote capped a hectic few days in which lawmakers first narrowed the scope of Obama's request — limiting it to 90 days and banning combat operations on the ground — and then widened it.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a proponent of aggressive U.S. military action in Syria, joined forces with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware to add a provision calling for "decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria."

At their urging, the measure was also changed to state that the policy of the United States is "to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria." McCain, who has long accused Obama of timidity in Syria, argued that Assad will be willing to participate in diplomatic negotiations only if he believes he is going to lose the civil war he has been fighting for over two years.

The changes were enough to attract bipartisan support, but political fault lines were clear on a military action that polls show a war-weary public opposes.

Seven Democrats and three Republicans supported the measure, while two Democrats and five Republicans opposed. Among Republicans, opposition came from lawmakers with the closest ties to tea party activists, including Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both presidential aspirants.

Among Democrats, Kerry's replacement in the Senate, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., voted "present" after expressing misgivings.

In his comments in Sweden, the president sought to shift the onus for responding to Assad to Congress and the world at large. "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line" with a treaty banning the use of chemical weapons. He added that "Congress set a red line" when it passed legislation a decade ago demanding Syria stop production of weapons of mass destruction.

His comments drew a disbelieving response from one Republican back home.

"He needs to go back and read his quote," Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said, referring to a comment the president made slightly more than a year ago. On Aug. 20, 2012, Obama said, "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. ... "That would change my calculus" about military action, he added at the time.

Elsewhere on Wednesday:

— In Syria, al-Qaida-linked rebels were said to have launched an assault on a government-held Christian mountain village in the densely populated western part of the country, and there was new fighting near Damascus as well.

— In Rome, Pope Francis underscored Vatican opposition to threatened military strikes against Syria, urging Catholics and non-Catholics alike to take part in a day of fasting and prayer for peace on Saturday.

— In France, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament that failure to take action would allow Assad to launch more chemical attacks.

By his country's intelligence, the Syrian has an abundance of material. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., citing a French estimate, said at the Senate meeting that Assad has an estimated 1,000 tons of chemical weapons material and "may be in the chemical weapons world a superpower."

Kerry said Assad had used chemical weapons 11 times but until the most recent attack the president did not have a "compelling" enough case to push for a U.S. military response.

Few if any members of Congress dispute the administration's claim that Assad was responsible for the attack, and lawmakers in both parties appear far more focused on determining how they should respond.

Gaveling the House committee hearing to order, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said that while it would be important to deter the use of chemical weapons by Assad and others, there remained many unanswered questions, including what the U.S. would do if Assad retaliated.

"The administration's Syria policy doesn't build confidence," he said.

In a letter to her rank and file, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said she had received suggestions for legislation in the House "to add language to prevent boots on the ground, to tie the authorization more closely to the use of chemical weapons and to address concerns about an open-ended timetable."

Comments

Contango

Re: "So you,"

Off topic.

Question: Do you support U.S. military intervention in Syria or not?

4shizzle

Your whole post was off topic.

Contango

Re: "Your,"

The FACT that you're not writing in support speaks volumes.

The Big Dog's back

Eisenhower was the first president to go head first into the Vietnam conflicts.

Contango

Re: "Eisenhower"

See: "Gulf of Tonkin Resolution" putz.

4shizzle

Contango , aka "...student of History..." , you better check that.

Mystery_Cheese

This will not end well for anyone. The Republicans and Democrats BOTH are going to bring about WW3, and for what? A civil war we have no stake in. I'm quite sure Al Qaeda is very excited to have the U.S. helping them out soon. People keep arguing over which president made this country horrible, yet they don't realize that it's their fault for allowing their 'leaders' to mislead them, and their fault for remaining ignorant and electing these horrible leaders time and time again.

gramafun

How can any of us justify action in Syria? Is the President doing this to again aide the whining of Isreal? I hope not, because I am really sick and tired of seeing us run to their defense every time someone lights a firecracker near the edges of their borders. I hope that isn't why.

As for the WMD, if it is true that Assad used chemical weapons, let he and the others fighting this civil war battle it out on THEIR terms. What have we to do with a civil unrest in their country???? We have no political gains or loses to fight...absolutely none. To stick our noses into a civil matter is ridiculous. Even the British were smart enough to sit this dance out. We should follow suit. If Obama cannot see it, then someone needs to sit on him for the remainder of his time as President. Tell him NO. He should not be allowed to send anything in the way of troops or even missles in there without full authorization of the congress or against the people's will.

As for Bengazi....give it up. I am truly sick and tired of the Republicans whining about it. Are they that afraid of Hillary running for president that they are looking for ways to discredit her this way????? For crying out loud, give it up as a lost cause and be done with it. It's over. If you cannot even stick to the facts during a debate on Syria and keep fishing as they did today on other matters, no wonder nothing gets done in Washington. It was truly pathetic to watch.

As for Syria. Let them alone to fight their own wars. Stop trying to fight it for them. Tell John McCain to force democracy down someone else's throat another day. How arrogant. And let sleeping dogs lie. Stay away.

Darwin's choice

Gramafun...are you that foolish? You're sick and tired of someone mentioning Benghazzi? Don't you find it at all interesting that after only two weeks, Obama has enough evidence to attack Syria, yet after more than a year, there's still none about Benghazzi? I'm sure that Mr. Stevens family would think highly of your reply. Moron

Hillbillary??? Really???

SamAdams

Benghazi might just be relevant to Syria, gramafun. If the latest stories are true (coming from an attorney representing some of the Benghazi "whistleblowers"), the attack in Benghazi was conducted to get some of the weapons the US was running through there. Among those weapons alleged to have been taken in the attack are several hundred missiles capable of taking down a plane. And who reportedly HAS those missiles? The Syrian "opposition."

The only thing NOT in question in Syria is somebody used Sarin nerve gas. The evidence strongly suggests the gas was, indeed, used. But the only evidence of UNUSED gas has come from a rebel caught on the Turkish border. I agree a civil war isn't our problem or our job to "fix." But (to bring yet ANOTHER Obama fiasco into the mix), like "Fast and Furious," it IS our problem if it turns out we're clandestinely arming EITHER side!

be for real

The american people have already said no,which does not matter with the clowns in the white house.I hope all those who voted for this are on record so when the time comes they will be put out of the government.

red white and blue

Mark my words there is a good posabilty if we go to syria there will be ww111 and it will be here

4shizzle

Yep , there's a great possahillbilly.

red white and blue

At some point other countrys will get tired of the bulley on the block.Russia and china have both gave us a warning

Darwin's choice

And,Putin said he believes Obama cheats at golf......lol !

Contango

Sec'y of State Kerry:

“With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assess, the answer is profoundly yes,”

What has the U.S. military become?

Mercenaries for the (bleeping) Arabs?

Ask that rich ass clown Kerry how much he stands to earn on the deal.

The Big Dog's back

At least Kerry fought in a war and was wounded several times. More than I can say for your sorry arse.

Contango

Re: "Kerry fought in a war"

He also protested to end it after his return putz.

KnuckleDragger

I wonder if the likes of coasternut, deerturd, and lap dog, would be so supportive of Obama attacking Syria, if they instituted the draft and they were given notice that they or their family members were being sent? Those three would pee their pants if they ever had to see combat. All a bunch of big mouth pansies. It's easy to support attacking Syria when you have no skin in the game.

Darwin's choice

Don't forget the other azzhat, 4shizzle.

KnuckleDragger

4shitzle is just lap dog under a different pseudonym.

4shizzle

Awwwww, ain't that sweet..... Knucklehead and Darwin's anus are thinking about me.

deertracker

I don't support military action in Syria GI Joe so your babble is moot!

The Big Dog's back

I agree with you deertracker.

Darwin's choice

Azzlikker

4shizzle

Your mother.

Contango

Re: "I agree "

You don't support YOUR Pres.? Why is he WRONG?

Contango

Re: "I don't support military action in Syria"

You don't support YOUR President? Where is he WRONG?

deertracker

What part of the comment is hard for you to understand? I don't support military action in Syria. Is that more clear for you? Democrats think for themselves unlike you and the cons! It is not about him being right or wrong for me. I believe we should tend to our own country. America's so called credibility is no reason to kill people or bomb people. America is not all that credible in America. TAKE CARE OF HOME!

Contango

Re: " I don't support military action in Syria."

I asked: Why don't you support YOUR Pres.?

You keep repeating the same crap.

It's YOUR President's "credibility" Cupcake.

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