With House and Senate votes looming, the Obama administration on Monday began to make its closing arguments in favor of military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
In a speech at the New America Foundation, National Security Adviser Susan Rice made the case that not only must Mr. Assad be held accountable for using chemical weapons against his own people, but that ignoring such a "brazen attack" will directly impact the security of Americans.
"Failing to respond to the use of chemical weapons risks opening the door to other weapons of mass destruction and emboldening the madmen who would use them," said Ms. Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "We cannot allow terrorists bent on destruction, or a nuclear North Korea, or an aspiring nuclear Iran, to believe for one minute that we are shying away from our determination to back up our longstanding warnings. ... Failing to respond to this brazen attack could indicate the United States is not prepared to use the full range of tools necessary to keep our nation secure."
Ms. Rice's comments were just one part of the administration's last-ditch effort to build support for military action in Syria. Later on Monday, six major news outlets will broadcast interviews with President Obama, each focused on Syria.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama will address the nation from the White House.
Behind the scenes, administration officials continue to lobby lawmakers to support House and Senate resolutions formally authorizing "limited" action against the Assad government.
In her nearly 40-minute speech, Ms. Rice referred back to her experiences at the U.N. in explaining why the international body is unable and unwilling to deal with the Syrian crisis, leaving the U.S. in a position to take the lead or allow Assad to go unpunished.
"Let's be realistic: It's just not going to happen now. Believe me, I know. I was there for all of those U.N. debates and negotiations on Syria. I lived it, and it was shameful," she said. "Three times the Security Council took up resolutions to condemn lesser violence by the Syrian regime. Three times we negotiated for weeks over the most watered-down language imaginable, and three times Russia and China double-vetoed almost meaningless resolutions."
With U.N. action off the table, the U.S. continues to try and build its own coalition, which thus far includes France and a number of other nations.
But while the administration struggles to find willing partners around the world, it's also running into growing opposition on Capitol Hill.
Several senators on Monday said they'll oppose a military force resolution, with some — such as Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — urging the administration to pursue a diplomatic solution.
Other senators, such as Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, have voiced concerns that U.S. involvement in Syria could escalate, eventually resulting in ground forces and, ultimately, American casualties.
Ms. Rice tried to address those and other concerns, rejecting the notion that the U.S. again is putting itself in the center of a Middle East conflict.
"The United States will not take sides in sectarian struggles. We cannot and will not impose our will on the democratic development of other nations," she said. "But as President Obama has made clear, we can and we will stand up for certain principles in this pivotal region."
One of those key principles, she added, is that no government ever should be permitted to use chemical weapons and get away with it.
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