In an interview blitz on five Sunday television news shows, Kerry said the fresh forensic evidence strengthened an already compelling case for taking military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and he predicted that Congress would vote to give President Obama that authority.
“I can’t contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that we would have, in fact, granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people,” Kerry said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Those are the stakes.”
But many lawmakers, including some who had previously pushed for a harder line against Assad, said the White House would have a tough time drumming up support for intervention in Syria’s seemingly intractable civil war.
“My constituents are war-
weary. They don’t want to see us get involved in this,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “The president has an obligation to make his case to the Congress, but he also has an obligation to make this case to the American people. . . . It’s going to be a very, very tough debate.”
It is a debate that most in Congress did not expect. Administration officials had given every sign that Obama would order an attack on Syria over the Labor Day weekend. The Navy had moved destroyers armed with cruise missiles close to the Syrian coast, and Pentagon officials said they were ready to strike.
On Saturday, however, Obama stunned much of the world by announcing that he had decided to hold off for the moment and that he would first seek formal backing from Congress. On Sunday, he dispatched a stream of national security officials to Capitol Hill for classified briefings to lawmakers who interrupted their summer recess to rush back to Washington.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters that Obama’s proposed resolution seeking authorization to use military force would not pass Congress as written because it was too broad. “It will be amended, ” Leahy said.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) said he sensed that colleagues in both parties appreciated the seriousness of the decision but that many were genuinely undecided. “I’m glad I read the documents; it was worth the trip,” he said. “I haven’t really made up my mind. I’m not trying to be a wise guy — I just haven’t.”
Obama warned Assad a year ago not to use chemical weapons against his own people, saying such a move would cross a “red line” that could force the United States to intervene militarily. On Aug. 21, a torrent of grisly videos surfaced on the Internet, depicting mass casualties from a nighttime attack outside Damascus that rebel groups said involved poison gas.