President Obama Tuesday expressed appreciation that Congress has begun
scheduling hearings and intends to vote soon on use of U.S. military force in
"I'm going to be working with Congress," Obama said before going into a meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday at the White House. "We have sent up a draft authorization. We're going to be asking for hearings and a prompt vote."
Congress returns from its August recess next week and has signaled it intends to vote as soon as it comes back.
"[We] have high confidence that Syria used in an indiscriminate fashion chemical weapons that killed thousands of people, including over 400 children, and in direct violation of the international norm against using chemical weapons," Obama said. "That poses a serious national security threat to the United States and to the region and, as a consequence, [President Bashar] Assad and Syria needs to be held accountable."
He said the meeting gives the administration the chance to present evidence of chemical weapon use to congressional leaders and various foreign policy committees "as to why we have high confidence that chemical weapons were used and that Assad used them."
The meeting also presents an opportunity for the administration to discuss "why it's so important that he be held to account," Obama added.
If Assad isn't held accountable for his actions against international norms against chemical weapons use, a message is sent that "international norms around issues like nuclear proliferation don't mean much."
He stressed that the military plan developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff is proportional, limited and doesn't involve boots on the ground.
"This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan," Obama said. "This is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message, not only to the Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms that there are consequences."
While the action would provide the ability to degrade Assad's capabilities concerning chemical weapons, Obama said it also would fit into a broader strategy "to make sure that we can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic and economic and political pressure required so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria, but to the region."
Failure to OK force in Syria would be a U.S. integrity tragedy, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, as top administration figures pushed for congressional approval Tuesday.
A congressional vote against Obama's call for limited military strikes to punish the Assad regime for alleged chemical-weapons attacks Aug. 21 "would be catastrophic, because it would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the president of the United States," McCain said after a Oval Office meeting with Obama and national security adviser Susan Rice.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who also participated in the meeting, told reporters Obama agreed any attack on Syria would also seek to "degrade" the Assad regime's aircraft, artillery and rockets like the ones the administration says the regime used to kill more than 1,400 people in the suburban Damascus sarin attack.
Some Republicans are calling for a broad U.S. mission against Syria, while lawmakers in both parties have said they're wary of even limited strikes.
Obama leaves the United States Tuesday night for Sweden and then to Russia for the annual summit of the Group of 20 major industrialized and developing nations.
That G20 forum is widely expected to be dominated by talk of Syria, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this year's G20 president and Assad's chief ally and arms supplier, and Obama using the meeting to press their cases.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey are to press the administration's case for action against Syria before pertinent congressional committees returning to Washington early from the congressional recess to hold hearings.
Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on resolutions authorizing force next week after all lawmakers return.
In a Labor Day conference call with 127 House Democrats, Kerry argued Syria's chemical-weapons use, if unanswered, posed a threat to regional allies, including Israel, Jordan and Turkey, lawmakers who participated in the call told The New York Times.
Kerry said lawmakers faced a "Munich moment," referring to the 1938 Munich Pact that ceded control of part of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany, NBC News reported.
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