President Barack Obama gained critical bipartisan support on Tuesday for limited
military action against Syria, as the House Republican and Democratic leaders
agreed the US needed to demonstrate to the world that it sticks by its
Obama hosted House of Representatives leaders John Boehner
(R-Ohio) and Nancy Pelosi (D-California) at the White House, calling for a
“prompt vote... as soon as all of Congress comes back early next
Boehner confirmed that a vote would be held next week, once the
House reconvenes in Washington.
But even with the support of the House
leaders, as of Tuesday Obama administration officials remained unclear on how
much support exists among rank-and-file congressmen for the resolution, with no
one whipping votes and with Republicans and Democrats crossing party lines to
form alliances of hawks and humanitarians, doves and libertarians.
recognize that there are certain weapons that, when used, can not only end up
resulting in grotesque deaths, but also can end up being transmitted to
non-state actors; can pose a risk to allies and friends of ours like Israel,
like Jordan, like Turkey,” Obama said before the meeting. “And unless we hold
them [to] account, it also sends a message that international norms around
issues like nuclear proliferation don’t mean much.”
Obama said he was
confident that the resolution would pass and that he was comfortable with
Congress changing its language to limit the scope and duration of the
“The use of these weapons has to be responded to, and only the
United States has the capability and capacity to stop [Syrian President Bashar]
Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not
going be tolerated,” Boehner, the speaker of the House, said after the
“I am going to support the president’s call for action,” he
said, calling on his Republican colleagues to do the same.
something that the United States, as a country, needs to do.”
Democratic speaker Nancy Pelosi will also support the president, though she
notes that Obama does not need congressional approval – even if the House votes
against the resolution once it reaches the floor next week.
compelling reasons. The intelligence is clear that Assad perpetrated this
attack of using weapons of mass destruction,” Pelosi said. “Deterring
their use is a pillar of our national security.”
She said that “humanity
drew a line decades ago” on WMD use, and that such attacks “cannot be ignored,
or else we cannot say, ‘Never again.’” Obama’s national security team made its
case publicly on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, arguing in front of sympathetic
senators why an attack on Assad’s regime in Syria is both a moral and strategic
Sen. Robert Menendez (DNew Jersey), chairman of the Foreign
Relations Committee, opened the hearing with an endorsement of the resolution,
calling it “not a declaration of war but a declaration of our values to the
The hearing was the first of its kind, considering the merits of
authorizing the use of force, in more than a decade.
“There are risks to
action, but the consequences of inaction are greater and graver still: Further
humanitarian disaster in Syria; regional instability; the loss of American
credibility around the world; an emboldened Iran and North Korea; and the
disintegration of international law,” Menendez said.
Ranking Member of
the committee Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) said he is inclined to support the
resolution, but hopes the White House will reinforce military support to
moderate opposition forces.
“I know that people in the region are
watching,” he said, charging that America’s credibility is on the
Secretary of State John Kerry – who chaired the committee during
his time in the Senate – acknowledged the weight of the vote now imposed on his
“This debate is about the world’s redline. It’s about
humanity’s redline,” Kerry said. “And it’s about Congress’s own
“Only two tyrants dared to cross the world’s brightest line,”
Kerry added. “Now Bashar Assad has become the third.”
Kerry cited the
Nuremberg trials and Hitler’s atrocities, saying that “never means never” when
the US says “never again.” He said the US cannot send a message that its
government has turned inward since Iraq.
“Iran is hoping you look the
other way. Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip,” he said.
“Hezbollah is hoping isolationism will prevail.”
A protester answered
Kerry’s charge, saying that “nobody wants this war,” mentioning the stances of
UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis.
“When someone kills
hundreds of children with a weapon the world has banned, we are all
responsible,” Kerry said.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that
the borders of Israel, Jordan and Turkey are “directly” threatened by an
increasingly desperate Assad.
“We’ve made clear we’re not seeking to
resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with military force,” Hagel said,
vowing an operation “limited in duration and scope.”
“We also must
examine the risks and consequences of action, as well as the risks and
consequences of inaction,” he said, noting that the word of the United States is
“vital currency” in world affairs.
“Chemical weapons make no distinction
between combatants and innocent civilians,” Hagel said.
Meanwhile, in New
York, Ban said he “had taken note” of Obama’s decision to strike
“I appreciate his efforts to have his future course of action
based on the broad opinions of the American people, particularly Congress,” Ban
said. “I hope this process will have good results.”
Ban did not outright
condemn or endorse Obama’s support for a US strike, but said merely, “This
latest escalation should be a wake-up call to the international
“We should avoid further militarization of the country [Syria]
and revitalize a search for a political settlement,” he added. “We must consider
the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further
“Bearing in mind the primary responsibility of the Security
Council, I call for its members to unite and develop an appropriate response
should the allegations of use prove to be true,” Ban said. “I call on the
Security Council to move beyond the current statement and show leadership. This
is a larger issue than the conflict in Syria. This is about our collective
responsibility to humankind.”
Ban confirmed that he will use the
opportunity of the G- 20 summit next Thursday and Friday in St. Petersburg,
Russia, to “engage with world leaders on this tragedy including humanitarian
assistance for the more than 2 million refugees and 4.2 million Syrians who have
been displaced internally.”
As for the UN mission sent to Syria to
investigate the alleged chemical weapons attack, Ban said it had been working
“around the clock to prepare materials” and that “all biomedical and
environmental samples will have arrived at designated laboratories by
The secretary-general has repeatedly refused to provide a
timeline for how quickly the samples will be analyzed and a report will be
written on the findings, but reiterated that the process was being
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stressed that Israel was not
involved in Obama’s decision to launch a limited attack on the Assad
“We are not involved and not interfering in what is happening in
Syria,” Ya’alon stressed at a Rosh Hashana toast at the headquarters of the
Judea and Samaria Division near Ramallah, against the background of Palestinian
“We repeat and emphasize that.”
He said that the US
preparation for a military strike on Syria stemmed from Assad’s crossing of an
Ya’alon said that up until the end of last week,
there were those in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah who thought that if they
threatened Israel and other countries in the region – such as Jordan and Turkey
– “we would run to the Americans and ask them not to attack.”
forces understood that Jerusalem was not overly concerned by their threats, and
that Israel’s assessment was that those who might challenge it understood the
price they would pay, this was taken off the agenda.
can be relaxed and celebrate Rosh Hashana and the upcoming holidays, in peace
and tranquility. They also do not need to run to stock up on gas masks,”
The defense minister ducked reporter’s questions on Obama’s
decision to seek authorization from Congress for military action. The move was
“an internal American one and we are not interfering with it,” Ya’alon said. He
said that he, the prime minister and the IDF chief of staff were in
communication with their American counterparts.
“We have open channels
with our allies who share the same strategic interests in the region,” he
On Iran, Ya’alon said, “our assessment with regard to the Iranian
threat is that the US president is obligated to prevent Iran for acquiring
nuclear weapons, and this challenge is still before him and before
He briefly expressed skepticism over the renewed Israeli-
Palestinian negotiations, noting that next week marks 20 years since the signing
of the Oslo Accord.
“It seems to me that negotiations with the
Palestinians will occupy us for many years, and along the way there will be much
speculation,” Ya’alon said.
Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu alluded to Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s seminal essay
penned 90 years ago arguing that Zionism would only flourish if an un-breachable
Iron Wall was erected around it.
“Our lives are dependent on that Iron
Wall. We are building that Iron Wall and Iron Dome,” Netanyahu said in a
reference to the developments in Syria.
The prime minister was speaking
during a visit to a hitech park in Beersheba that will serve as the country’s
national cyber center.
“And we have an iron will,” he added. “Those are
the things that give us the strength to defend ourselves and to say to those who
want to harm us – it is not worth it. Those are the defensive fundamentals of
the State of Israel.”