WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama won the backing of key figures in the US Congress, including Republicans, in his call for limited US strikes on Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Leaders of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they reached an agreement on a draft authorisation for the use of military force in Syria, paving the way for a vote by the committee today.
However, the draft is much narrower than the request made by Obama and includes a provision barring the use of US troops on the ground.
Speaking after the United Nations said two million Syrians had fled a conflict that posed the greatest threat to world peace since the Vietnam war, Obama said yesterday the United States also has a broader plan to help rebels defeat Assad’s forces.
“What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional. It will degrade Assad’s capabilities,” Obama said. “At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition.”
Having startled friends and foes alike by delaying a punitive attack on Assad until Congress reconvenes and agrees, Obama met congressional leaders at the White House to urge a prompt decision and assure them it did not mean another long war like Iraq or Afghanistan.
John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor both pledged their support for military action after the meeting.
Votes are expected to be held in the Senate and House next week, with the Republican-led House presenting the tougher challenge for Obama.
The House leadership has indicated the votes will be “conscience votes”, meaning they will not seek to influence members’ votes on party lines. All the same, it would have been a blow to Obama if he had not secured the backing of the top two Republicans.
“I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action,” Boehner told reporters.
The president said strikes aimed at punishing the use of chemical weapons would hurt Assad’s forces while other US action would bolster his opponents — though the White House has insisted it is not seeking “regime change”. (Reuters)