In Washington on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed military action after two days of hearings, but not before changing the text of the resolution to stress the goal of strengthening Syrian rebels and weakening Assad.
The full Senate could vote as soon as next week on an authorization that expressly prohibits putting any U.S. troops in Syria and gives the president a 90-day window to complete military action. The House is considering a similar resolution.
Obama will make a major push for global support for a U.S.-led strike against Syria once he arrives in St. Petersburg on Thursday for the Group of 20 economic summit hosted by Putin. The challenge he faces came into stark relief here Wednesday, however, when Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said after meeting with Obama that his small nation could not support a unilateral response.
“At what point do we say we need to confront actions that are violating our common humanity?” Obama said at a news conference in Stockholm. “I would argue that when I see 400 children subjected to gas, over 1,400 innocent civilians dying senselessly . . .
the moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing.”
Obama said responsibility falls on Congress and the world to respond to the Syrian regime’s “horrific” use of chemical weapons.
“I didn’t set a red line,” he told reporters. “The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use, even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty.”
Obama and his administration have said Assad is directly responsible for the alleged sarin gas attack on civilians in the suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. But Putin said Syria poses no threat to the United States. He also said he is skeptical of U.S. intelligence, going so far as to accuse Secretary of State John F. Kerry of lying in his testimony to Congress this week.
“It ought to be convincing,” the Russian leader told the Associated Press in an interview published Wednesday. “It shouldn’t be based on some rumors and information obtained by the special services through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”
Putin also said he finds it unlikely that Assad would risk international repercussions by using long-banned chemical weapons to kill men, women and children.