The Herald of Everett, Washington
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up | Manage  Green editions icon Green editions

Calendar

Splash! Summer guide

HeraldNet Headlines
HeraldNet Newsletter Delivered to your inbox each week.
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013, 12:56 p.m.

Obama gains Boehner's support for Syria strike

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama won critical support from House Speaker John Boehner for a punitive strike against Syria on Tuesday and dispatched senior Cabinet officials to persuade Congress that Bashar Assad's government must be punished for a suspected chemical weapons attack the administration blames for more than 1,000 dead.
The leader of House Republicans, Boehner emerged from a meeting at the White House and said the United States has "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."
Boehner spoke as lawmakers in both parties were at work on the president's requested legislation, rewriting it to restrict the type and duration of military action that would be authorized, possibly including a ban on U.S. combat forces on the ground.
Obama said he was open to revisions in the relatively broad request the White House made over the weekend. He expressed confidence Congress would respond to his call for support in a military action against Assad, whose government the president said used chemical weapons indiscriminately and "killed thousands of people, including over 400 children."
The exact toll put forth by the administration is 1,429 dead. Casualty estimates by other groups from the attack on Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb are far lower, and Assad's government blames the episode on rebels who have been seeking to overthrow his government in a civil war that began over two years ago. A United Nations inspection team is awaiting lab results on tissue and soil samples it collected while in the country before completing a closely watched report.
The president met top lawmakers at the White House before embarking on an overseas trip to Sweden and Russia, leaving the principal lobbying at home for the next few days to Vice President Joe Biden and other members of his administration.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry as well as Gen. John Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were on the witness list for a hastily called Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon. The session shaped up as the first of several Congress is expected to hold in the run-up to a vote as early as next week on Obama's request for congressional backing for a strike against Syria.
At the United Nations, meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that any punitive action against Syria could unleash more turmoil and bloodshed, and he cautioned that such strikes would be legal only in self-defense under the U.N. Charter or if approved by the organization's Security Council. Russia and China have repeatedly used their veto power in the council to block action against Assad.
In the Middle East, Israel and the U.S. conducted a joint missile test over the Mediterranean in a display of military in the region.
Obama set the fast-paced events in motion on Saturday, when he unexpectedly stepped back from ordering a military strike under his own authority and announced he would seek congressional approval.
Recent presidents have all claimed the authority to undertake limited military action without congressional backing. Some have followed up with such action.
Obama said he, too, believes he has that authority, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said during the day that even Congress' refusal to authorize the president wouldn't negate the power of the commander in chief.
Still, the president also has stated that the United States will be stronger if lawmakers grant their support. But neither Obama nor his aides has been willing to state what options would be left to him should Congress reject his call.
His decision to seek congressional approval presents lawmakers with a challenge, as well.
As Obama has often noted, the country is weary of war after more than a decade of combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, and there is residual skepticism a decade after Bush administration claims went unproven that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
At the same time, even some of Obama's sternest critics in Congress expressed strong concerns about the repercussions of a failure to act.
House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, R-Va., said after Tuesday's White House meeting that a failure to respond to the use of chemical weapons "only increases the likelihood of future WMD (weapons of mass destruction) use by the regime, transfer to Hezbollah, or acquisition by al-Qaida."
Apart from the meeting with Obama, the White House provided closed-door briefings for members of Congress.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said after attending one session that administration officials told lawmakers that the targets the military had identified last week were still present, despite the highly public discussion of a possible attack. "Seems strange to see some targets still available several weeks later," Flake said, adding that he was "still listening" to the administration's lobbying.
Others were firmly opposed. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, said on Fox News, "It may sound real easy when people like Secretary Kerry say that 'it is going to be quick and we're going to go in, we're going to send a few cruise missiles, wash our hands and go home.' It doesn't work that way. This could be a war in the Middle East, it's serious."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has close ties to tea party groups, said he probably would vote against authorizing Obama to use force. But he said it also wouldn't be helpful to amend the resolution in a way that constrains the president too much to execute military action, if authorized.
Democrats, too, were divided, although it appeared the administration's biggest concern was winning support among deeply conservative Republicans who have battled with the president on issue after issue since winning control of the House three years ago.
The United States maintains a significant military force in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. Navy released one of the warships that had been in the region, leaving four destroyers armed with cruise missiles, the USS Stout, USS Gravely, USS Ramage and USS Barry. Also in the area was an amphibious warship, the USS San Antonio, with about 300 Marines aboard.
In addition, there are two aircraft carriers in the region -- the USS Nimitz strike group, which is in the southern Red Sea, and the USS Harry S Truman, which is in the Arabian Sea.
While announcing his support for military action and urging fellow Republicans to come to the same conclusion, Boehner firmly put the burden of rounding up votes on the administration
Shortly after Boehner left the White House after the meeting, his spokesman Michael Steel said, "Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the speaker expects the White House to provide answers to members' questions and take the lead on any whipping effort."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was noncommittal about Obama's request. "While we are learning more about his plans, Congress and our constituents would all benefit from knowing more about what it is he thinks needs to be done--and can be accomplished--in Syria and the region," McConnell said in a statement.
Obama's trip this week includes stops in Stockholm and then St. Petersburg, Russia, where he will be attending the Group of 20 economic summit.

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus
digital subscription promo

Subscribe now

Unlimited digital access starting at 99 cents, or included with any print subscription.

HeraldNet highlights

'Guardians' gets it right
'Guardians' gets it right: Chris Pratt plays it perfectly as an oddball space hero
Buy fresh, cook tonight
Buy fresh, cook tonight: 3 recipes from food-focused Port Susan Farmers Market
Another long shot
Another long shot: Smith hopes to follow in Kearse's footsteps with Seahawks
For love of the game
For love of the game: ‘There’s no such thing as enough baseball’ for...