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Consensus grows to arm Syrian rebels, but only the right ones; Obama still weighing options
Congress is increasingly resisting the administration’s case for limited military strikes against the Syrian government, though sentiment is growing on Capitol Hill that President Obama can — and must — find a way to do more to arm moderate rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
Mr. Obama said he is still pondering his options a week after the opposition accused the Syrian regime of launching a chemical weapons attack on civilians in a suburb of Damascus and backed up the claim with powerful photos of dead children laid shoulder to shoulder in white shrouds.
With the U.S. hitting a dead end in seeking U.N. authorization, Mr. Obama appears ready to act outside the purview of the international body, which might mean not waiting on the results of an investigation by a team of U.N. inspectors looking into the attack.
The administration appears to be laying the groundwork for limited strikes, possibly targeting the regime’s chemical weapons facilities, and a White House official said they will brief key members of Congress on Thursday about where they stand.
But Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who earlier this week was on the Syria-Jordan border to review the situation, said the president has squandered the best window for action and given the Syrian regime time to move assets.
“We’ve warned them we’re going to strike — it’s the stupidest thing in the world if we are going to strike weapons caches or systems, the last thing you want to do is warn them,” said Mr. Hunter, who served tours of duty as a Marine officer in Iraq and Afghanistan before winning his seat in Congress.
Others on Capitol Hill are concerned that the White House is moving too hastily. A growing number of lawmakers say that before any U.S. military action is taken, the president needs to make a full case to Congress and to a public grown weary of war and entanglements in the Middle East.
“Before the United States commits troops on the ground or decides on the use of force in Syria, the president needs to convene Congress and make the case to the American people,” said Rep. John B. Larson, Connecticut Democrat.
Even as the administration is working the phones with foreign leaders, Mr. Larson said, it should be talking more with Congress.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said there are no clear national security interests at stake in Syria and warned against picking sides in the conflict.
Case to the public
Congressional leaders are taking a more nuanced stand, with members of their parties in both camps.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in a letter to Mr. Obama Wednesday evening that U.S. national security is tied to the situation in Syria but Mr. Obama hasn’t done enough to make that case to the public — or to explain U.S. options.
His letter posed 14 questions for the president to answer. Although the administration’s “outreach” to members of Congress to talk over strategy is welcomed, he said, the effort has not been the “substantive consultation” required before U.S. military forces are committed.
“After spending the last 12 years fighting those who seek to harm our fellow citizens, our interests, and our allies, we all have a greater appreciation of what it means for our country to enter into conflict,” Mr. Boehner said. “It will take that public support and congressional will to sustain the administration’s efforts, and our military, as well as their families, deserve to have the confidence that we collectively have their backs — and a thorough strategy in place.”
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About the Author
Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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