WASHINGTON – After days of setbacks in St. Petersburg and Washington, where US
President Barack Obama has tried to recruit support for a strike against Syria’s
reigning President Bashar Assad, the White House is preparing for one of its
most important weeks in five years.
Congress reconvenes on Monday to
debate and vote on authorizing the use of force.
Washington won key
support from the European Union after the conclusion of the G20 summit on
Friday, hosted this year by Russia, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, vowed last
week to aid Assad militarily if the US attacks his assets.
In a carefully
worded statement, the EU said that evidence clearly showed the Assad regime
carried out a chemical attack against civilians on August 21 on the outskirts of
Damascus, killing more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of
But the statement emphasized the need for a global response
that respected the procedures of international bodies, slighting Obama’s efforts
to circumvent the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds veto
To make his case to a wary public, Obama is to address the US from
the White House on Syria on Tuesday, a day before the Senate is scheduled to
vote on the resolution. The House of Representatives would then take up its own
version of the resolution.
But each day since Obama decided to seek
congressional approval to strike Syria, he has lost a handful of votes. More
than 120 representatives have already declared their opposition to the measure.
The resolution will be defeated if 217 votes are cast against it in the House of
For the first time since Obama took office in January
2009, the White House has called on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
to lobby on its behalf on Capitol Hill.
AIPAC will send more than 250
activists and lobbyists to Congress once its members reconvene on Monday, in an
effort to “flood the zone” with support, officials said.
groups had largely kept a low profile on the Syria issue, while acknowledging
they had made it known that they supported American action, concerned about
instability in Syria and what message inaction might send to Assad’s ally,
But they generally wanted the debate to focus on US national
security rather than how a decision to attack Syria might help Israel, a
reflection of their sensitivity to be seen as rooting for the US to go to
Before Congress left for summer recess at the beginning of August,
the House of Representatives passed a harsh sanctions bill against Iran that
could bring its oil exports down to zero if it doesn’t capitulate on its nuclear
program. That resolution passed 400 to 20.
AIPAC pushed aggressively for
But to win the vote on Syria, the White House finds itself
trying to appease members of Congress who often voice competing
Some members are worried that the planned attack will do more
harm than good, emboldening Assad and embroiling the US and its allies in
another Middle East war with “mission creep” – or the slow expansion of
objectives beyond the original plan.
Others worry that the plan of attack
is not forceful enough.
To allay the concerns of those worried about a
broader mission, the White House has accepted draft language for the resolution
that limits its scope, including a time limit of 60 days, with a possible 30-day
extension, and an explicit provision that prohibits US boots on the
Crisis in Syria - full JPost.com coverage
And to appease those concerned that the operation – as has been
described by Obama’s cabinet – will be mostly symbolic, the White House has
strategically leaked plans for a strike much more extensive than originally
In addition to the more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles that
can be fired from American warships in the Mediterranean, the Pentagon is
preparing to send B-52 and B-2 bombers from US territory to drop bombs with
significant payloads, according to US officials.
Gen. Martin Dempsey,
chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that any equipment that could be
used to deliver, stock or protect chemical arms could be targeted, including air
defenses, airports and longrange missile caches.
“This military strike
will do more damage to Assad’s forces in 48 hours than the Syrian rebels have
done in two years,” one national security official told ABC News.
Petersburg, Obama said he was not “itching” for military action against Syria,
and that he was open to “constructive” ideas from Congress that would delay an
attack such as offering Assad a fixed window to sign the Chemical Weapons
Convention and forfeit his 1,000-ton stockpile of chemical arms.
gearing up for an attack many see as inevitable, Assad has reportedly planned to
strike back against American facilities and interests in the region along with
Iran, according to US officials.
The Wall Street Journal quoted officials
as saying the delay in a US strike against Syria increases the chance for the
Shi’ite gunmen in Iraq and other allies of the Assad regime to coordinate
attacks against US interests.
US military forces in the region are
preparing for retaliation by Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf against
American warships, according to the report.
Hezbollah could target the US
Embassy in Beirut. The State Department evacuated the facility of all
nonessential personnel on Friday and issued a travel warning for all of
Syrian and Iranian officials, as well as Hezbollah, have warned
repeatedly that retaliation for a US strike against the Assad regime would be
directed against Israel. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief, Maj.- Gen. Muhammad
Ali Jafari, said a week ago that a US military attack on Syria would lead to the
“imminent destruction” of Israel and would prove a “second Vietnam” for
Reuters contributed to this report.