- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Meeting with top lawmakers at the White House, President Obama on Tuesday morning defended his plan for a “proportional” response against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and pledged to continue working with Congress to achieve at least some level of consensus on military action.

“The key point I want to emphasize to the American people — the military plan that has been developed by our Joint Chiefs … does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan. This is a limited, proportional step,” the president said, flanked by House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members in the Cabinet Room.

Congress is set to vote next week on authorizing military action against the Syrian regime in what would be a direct response to what U.S. analysts have concluded was Mr. Assad’s use of sarin gas against his own people outside Damascus last month. The use of chemical weapons in the ongoing Syrian civil war, Mr. Obama has said, must carry consequences from the international community.

But there remains much doubt as to whether Congress will approve such military action, with some members worried the U.S. will once again find itself bogged down in a Middle Eastern conflict without an endgame or clear objective for victory.

Before leaving town to attend the G-20 summit in Russia, Mr. Obama has ramped efforts to get lawmakers on board.

“I think it is appropriate that we act deliberately, but I think everybody recognizes the urgency here,” Mr. Obama said. “I would not be going to Congress if I was not serious about consultations” with lawmakers ahead of any military strikes.

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Mr. Obama said he was willing to allow Congress to narrow the scope of his proposed military strikes, “so long as we are accomplishing what needs to be accomplished.”

He said the U.S. must “send a clear message to Assad, degrading his capabilities to use chemical weapons, not just now, but in the future.”

“As long as the authorization allows us to do that, I’m confident that we’re going to come up with something that hits that mark,” Mr. Obama said.

Skeptics on the Hill

Some lawmakers in both parties have criticized the president’s request to authorize military action as too broad and open-ended.

In defending his plan, the president said lack of action by the U.S. will send a negative message around the world. Other nations, he added, must know the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.

“We recognize there are certain weapons that when used can not only end up resulting in grotesque deaths but also … can pose a risk to allies and friends of ours, like Israel, like Jordan, like Turkey,” he said.

Committees in both the House and Senate will hold hearings Tuesday and Wednesday to gather more information before next week’s scheduled authorization vote.

As he continues making his case to members of Congress, Mr. Obama also is trying to muster international backing to avoid a situation where the U.S. goes it alone in Syria.

On Monday night, Mr. Obama spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the two leaders agreeing “that the use of chemical weapons is a serious violation of international norms and cannot be tolerated,” according to a White House readout of the call.

Forming a coalition, however, has proved difficult. Last week, the British Parliament voted against military intervention in Syria, taking a key U.S. ally out of the equation.

Following his meeting with lawmakers, Mr. Obama will depart Washington Tuesday night en route to Stockholm, Sweden. After a series of meetings and events in Sweden, the president will fly to Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday morning for the annual G-20 summit of leading industrial and developing nations.

The deteriorating situation in Syria — and potential military action by the U.S. — are expected to be on the agenda at the G-20 meeting.

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