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Obama wins Senate panel's backing on Syria strike

By David Espo & Donna Cassata

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 11:45 a.m. HST, Sep 04, 2013

WASHINGTON » In an impassioned appeal for support both at home and abroad, President Barack Obama said today the credibility of the international community and Congress is on the line in the debate over how to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. As Obama made his case overseas, legislators on Capitol Hill debated whether a proposed resolution authorizing military force would shift the momentum after more than two years of Syrian civil war.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed a public meeting and huddled in private for more than three hours after Sen. John McCain, an outspoken advocate of intervention, said he did not support the latest version of the Senate resolution to authorize force. The Arizona Republican said he wants more than cruise missile strikes and other limited action, seeking a stronger response aimed at "reversing the momentum on the battlefield" and hastening the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

On the other side of the debate, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he was not persuaded to support military action, saying the military has been "decimated" by budget cuts and "we're just not in a position to take on any major confrontation."

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said U.S. involvement could well "make the tragedy worse" in Syria, but he predicted that advocates of military intervention would win in the Senate.

"The only chance of stopping what I consider to be bad policy would be in the House," he said.

Obama, asked in Sweden about his own past comments drawing a "red line" against the use of chemical weapons, said it was a line that had first been clearly drawn by countries around the world and by Congress, in ratifying a treaty that bans the use of chemical weapons.

"That wasn't something I just kind of made up," he said. "I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it."

Obama said that if the world fails to act, it will send a message that despots and authoritarian regimes "can continue to act with impunity."

"The moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing," he declared at a news conference in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Asked whether he would take action against Syria if he fails to get approval from Congress, the president said his request to lawmakers was not "an empty exercise." But he said that as commander in chief, "I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security."

With Obama in Europe, the president's top national security aides briefed legislators in a series of public and private hearings, hoping to advance their case for limited strikes against Assad's regime in retaliation for what the administration says was a deadly sarin gas attack by his forces outside Damascus last month.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad's use of chemical weapons is "a line that anyone with a conscience should draw." He said U.S. intelligence can prove Assad has used the weapons at least 11 times, and said North Korea and Iran were watching America closely.

"The world is wondering whether the United States of America is going to consent with silence," Kerry said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's public meeting on the resolution was delayed, but Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the panel's senior Republican, said there was a "reasonable chance" of a consensus developing and senators proceeding to a vote today. The panel began the day with a resolution that would permit Obama to order a "limited and tailored" military mission against Syria, as long as it doesn't exceed 90 days and involves no American troops on the ground for combat operations.

The committee's vote would be the first in a series as the president's request makes its way through Senate and House committees before coming before the two chambers for a final vote.

In an initial survey, the AP found 17 senators supporting or leaning in favor of the resolution approving a U.S. military response in Syria, and 14 against or leaning against it. There were 69 senators who either said they were undecided or whose views were unknown. Of those supporting or leaning in favor of the resolution, 13 were Democrats and four were Republicans. Those against or leaning against the resolution were 2 Democrats, 11 Republicans and one independent.

Sending a message to Congress from afar, Obama insisted there was far more than his own credibility at stake.

"I didn't set a red line, the world set a red line," he said. "The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of world population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent." He added that "Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty."

Obama's comments a little more than a year ago were more specific to actions he would take, not Congress or the international community.

In August 2012, he said at a news conference that "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."

"That would change my calculus. That would change my equation," Obama said, adding that chemical weapons use would entail "enormous consequences."

It's unclear what treaty ratified by Congress implies that the United States or any other country must respond with military force to the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world.

To get a green light from Congress, Obama needs to persuade a Republican-dominated House that has opposed almost the entirety of Obama's agenda since seizing the majority more than three years ago. Several conservative Republicans and some anti-war Democrats already have come out in opposition to Obama's plans, even as Republican and Democratic House leaders gave their support to the president Tuesday.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Cal., said today that while it would be important to deter the use of chemical weapons by Assad and others, there remained many unanswered questions, including what the U.S. would do if Assad retaliated to an American attack.

"The administration's Syria policy doesn't build confidence," Royce said in his prepared remarks.

The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, said he backed Obama's call for military action against Syria but said it should be limited and not involve U.S. ground troops.

"If we do not pass the authorization measure, what message will Assad get," said Engel. "What message will Iran receive, Hezbollah?"

The audience at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing included several people wearing signs opposing U.S. action against Syria and who had colored the palms of their hands red.

Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, made their arguments in public today before the House panel. They and other senior administration officials also provided classified briefings to the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.

As anti-war demonstrators seated behind him silently raised their red-colored hands, Kerry told the Foreign Affairs committee that the world's nations were watching Congress.

"They want to know whether or not America is going to rise to this moment," said Kerry.

Hagel seconded Obama's warnings about the potential scope of danger from failing to uphold international standards, saying "a refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments -- including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."

Obama, who arrived in Stockholm early today, was hoping to maintain the momentum toward congressional approval that he has generated since Saturday, when he announced he would ask lawmakers to authorize what until then had appeared to be imminent military action against Syria.

Pace reported from Stockholm, Sweden. Associated Press writers David Espo, Josh Lederman, Donna Cassata, Alan Fram, Jennifer C. Kerr and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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wahine wrote:
War Monger war mon·ger [ wawr muhng-ger] noun 1. Barrack Obama
on September 4,2013 | 09:16AM
Anonymous wrote:
Obama - lied to the world - Obama is on record stating that use of chemical weapons would be crossing the red line - politicians no longer can lie with the internet.
on September 4,2013 | 11:34AM
NiteMarcher wrote:
Even we used chemical weapons like in Viet Nam (Agent Orange)
on September 4,2013 | 12:39PM
hanalei395 wrote:
The government would like to forget about it, since it backfired and killed some of the U.S. troops handling the chemical weapon.
on September 4,2013 | 12:52PM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Agent Orange is a herbicide, a defoliant sprayed by helicopter or other aircraft in strategic areas as the A Shau valley. I did spend some 9 months with the 101st in combat in the A Shau. And yes, Hamburger Hill and Dong A Tay were in the A Shau. Yes, I have a few agent orange diseases and living with them.
on September 4,2013 | 09:40PM
Wahine, wah- heen-ay,noun 1. Wahine Sorry, could'nt resist. LOL
on September 4,2013 | 11:37AM
Grimbold wrote:
Obama is not a war monger, he is just ignorant of the consequences. His goal is to strengthen the rebels and by that he is giving them a chance to steal Assad's chemical stockpile. And Al-kaida has been trying to get chemical weapons for years. So what prevents them to use it against us? Remember: The rebels include Islamic terrorist.
on September 4,2013 | 05:46PM
Denominator wrote:
If the "world" set the red line, let the "world" enforce it. When did the "world" elect Obama its President?
on September 4,2013 | 09:29AM
goinglobal wrote:
I seem to remember Obama being the one that set the "Red Line" back in 2012... Now he is stuck trying to save face... Remember he never asked for any authorization when he bombed Libya??? Just wants to be able to blame someone else... Notice how quiet Hillary is on this subject...
on September 4,2013 | 10:35AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Hillary is running for Pres. By voting for the Iraq War, she learned her lesson.
on September 4,2013 | 12:39PM
MakaniKai wrote:
When did the "world" elect Obama its President? - Nevah, but in his mind Barry thinks he is in charge! Globally.
on September 4,2013 | 11:52AM
jussayin wrote:
typical obama; when things aren't popular, he blames someone else. in this case regarding the red line, he said it on August 2012. i'm sure a lot of us have/had bosses that take the credits and passes the blame to their workers or others. that's obama. say he's telling the truth, then the UN should be taking the lead, not US. i'm sure obama will go on david letterman to restore his popularity. pretty sad.
on September 4,2013 | 09:30AM
Typical anti-Obama enthusiast. Blaming 1 person for the whole world's problems. Not pretty sad.....very, very sad!
on September 4,2013 | 11:39AM
purigorota wrote:
Of course it's all Bush's fault.
on September 4,2013 | 02:34PM
inverse wrote:
There is NO such thing as a "clean" war. You bomb a country and by default you are declaring war against that country. And for the US to attack Syria, would be seen by almost ALL Muslim sympathizers throughout the world that the US are attacking fellow Muslims and is an agent of Israel. The consequence will NOT be seen immediately after as no country would directly take battle against the US military. However the "revenge" will manifest itself in a terrorist type of attack , such as Maj Hassan in the Ft Hood attack (which was not 'workplace violence') or worse yet another highly organized and devastating 9/11 type of attack, however it will not be via hijacking of planes, rather obtaining nuclear material from Iran, Pakistan or N Korea and creating a small nuclear device that will be smuggled to the US and detonated in a highly populated event like in the Tom Clancy movie Sum of All Fears. Irony that the Demo and Obama called Bush 2 a war monger that started an bogus war in Iraq and now Obama has become another war monger like Bush2 just to SAVE FACE. US Bombing Syria at this point will NOT bring back the dead killed by chemical weapons nor save future lives in the bloody Syrian civil war with Assad's enemies include "freedom fighters" that are aligned with Al Qaeda factions.
on September 4,2013 | 09:32AM
Keith_Rollman wrote:
No, President Obama set the "red line." We have the tape.
on September 4,2013 | 09:47AM
cojef wrote:
It's th blame game for which he is famous for. In the beginning it was Bush, now when he got caught with his pants down, its the world's fault. He has no backbone, never was in charge of anything requiring great wisdom. His road to fame was that he was a radical liberal political organizer.
on September 4,2013 | 10:14AM
Like the pot calling the kettle black. Sheesh!
on September 4,2013 | 11:41AM
goinglobal wrote:
You are correct he did set the red line and now Assad called his bluff. Remember he did not ask Congress permission for Libya and we all know how well that worked out... Now he wants somene else to blame so he is asking congress to authorze what a poor excuse for a leader. Never accepts any responsibility..
on September 4,2013 | 10:33AM
First, you people blame him for doing "his own thing" then you complain that "he has to blame someone else". It never ceases to amaze me how 2 faced people can be, and whats more, only thing these people do is bic*h about a job that is not only impossible to do to appease every individual, but reel off a conglomeration of problems that no 1 person in the world is capable of fixing. Amazingly idiodic.
on September 4,2013 | 11:44AM
MakaniKai wrote:
Is that you Barry?
on September 4,2013 | 12:01PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
It's the "military industrial complex" that wants this intervention to take place, because war is money, and more money means to continue to make more war. Obama's right in throwing this out to the Congress and the people.
on September 4,2013 | 12:47PM
Grimbold wrote:
Red line or not: A responsible leader will renounce the stupid things he said yesterday, when it is better.
on September 4,2013 | 05:47PM
kuroiwaj wrote:
OMG, our President now passes the buck and will not take responsibility for drawing his red line. Can you believe a Punahou, Hawaii raised individual not taking such a critical position to lead in the U.S. and the World. I just can't believe what our President said.
on September 4,2013 | 10:24AM
NiteMarcher wrote:
What does a red line have to do with all of this. The bottom line is: does the US go on and into, or stop smell the roses and let someone else pick up the ball.
on September 4,2013 | 12:50PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
This imaginary "red line' has helped to form "tunnel vision" with quite a few of you on here. Yah all need to get pass the "red line" rhetoric, take off them rose colored glasses and really look at what this is all about.
on September 4,2013 | 01:00PM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Hi NiteMarcher, it's about learned leadership values in elementary and high school to accept responsibility and to know words have meaning. President Obama has not acquired leadership values or an understanding that words have meaning from his early years. The SA lead title was on Pres. Obama saying the "Red Line" was not his, but was created by the U.S. Congress and the World. Therefore, he has no responsibility and blame for making the statement about drawing the "Red Line." In the current Syrian situation, I as a Vietnam combat veteran, we don't go in and start a War with a few cruise missiles. I believe, if we are going to invade a sovereign country, we must go all in and remove both aggressors in this civil war, or not go in at all. Drawing "Red Lines" is plain stupid. I tell you sir, I don't have a "tunnel vision," because I see dead young American soldiers by going in half-cocked.
on September 4,2013 | 04:22PM
kolohepalu wrote:
on September 4,2013 | 07:55PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I can't believe we are talking about firing cruise missiles into another country and killing people and entangling our nation and all the Pres can talk about is how it's not his "red line", it is the world's red line. Baloney, have the courage to at least stand up and accept that you made the statement, it was a foolish thing to do and you have to take responsibility for it.
on September 4,2013 | 10:25AM
NiteMarcher wrote:
This ain't "Wheel of Fortune" that we're playing. This could come down to death, do or die...not only on Syria's end, but with the US also. Russia has a base down there, so does one think Russia and China's gonna sit back and let US do as they please.
on September 4,2013 | 12:53PM
AhiPoke wrote:
Funny, I could have sworn that the "world" didn't make the speech setting the red line. It looked like obama to me. I'm not in favor to bombing Syria but I have a big problem having a president that continually lies.
on September 4,2013 | 10:47AM
KailuaKowboy wrote:
Senator Schatz wants to get involved. Read his quote: "The President and his national security team have provided strong evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for the recent horrific chemical weapons attack against innocent Syrian civilians," Schatz said in a statement. "We must send a clear message that the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and will not be tolerated by the United States or the international community." I know who I am not voting for.
on September 4,2013 | 10:48AM
lee1957 wrote:
Basically the same national security team that provided strong evidence of an offensive videotape.
on September 4,2013 | 11:49AM
NiteMarcher wrote:
All what's going on in the Middle East was planned many, many years ago...long before little Bush and Barry. Go further back to Papa Bush...
on September 4,2013 | 12:55PM
MakaniKai wrote:
You can go back even further to Carter and Reagan and the birth of Hezbollah in the early 1980's.
on September 4,2013 | 01:31PM
AhiPoke wrote:
Are you kidding? This has been going on for more than two thousand years.
on September 4,2013 | 01:55PM
2Lolo wrote:
Ishmael & Issac
on September 4,2013 | 02:45PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Schatz is still tingling on his leg from the ride on Air Force One.
on September 4,2013 | 03:05PM
Maipono wrote:
The president has lied in the past, so what's th big deal? Remember "Change You Can believe in"? I believe the president, that he and his supporters will change America alright, to the laughing stock of the world.
on September 4,2013 | 11:50AM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Obama playing it smart. Threw the hot potato into the congress who really has no choice but o give him the green light. Next other nations will come along. The French are on board and the Brits will reconsider and come along as well (we have that special relationship after all). This is going to be more like the airstrikes in Serbia versus a ground war in Iraq, you basically strike to degrade the other guy's capability and send a message. I can see the President's point, you don't want to sit around and watch some dude use a WMD against civilians and do nothing about it. The international community sat on the sideline while Hutus went all genocide against the Tulsis in Rwanda and then just sort of felt bad about not intervening afterwards. Tough situation, the last thing we need is another war, but at the same time doing nothing means that the Assad has nothing to worry about if he decides to gas more civilians, and if its OK for him to do it crazies like Iran and North Korea might think the same thing, that's when things get really out of hand and once again if we do nothing all we can do is just sort of feel bad about our situation.
on September 4,2013 | 12:06PM
Robynne wrote:
get ready for a higher price of your vehicle fuel
on September 4,2013 | 03:13PM
jussayin wrote:
Did you know: Among the diverse forces comprising the Syrian opposition to Assad’s rule, the best-resourced and most experienced fighters are mainly jihadists — many with ties to Al Qaeda. Source is Forbes.com. So US is in a way helping Al Qaeda.
on September 4,2013 | 06:35PM
kolohepalu wrote:
As usual, the tea baggers come out in force- Obama uses force, he's war mongering. If he doesn't, he's weak willed. So-called patriots, they put their opposition to Obama first, everything else second- pathetic and tiresome.
on September 4,2013 | 07:52PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
What can you say? The guy turned out to be Bush Lite.
on September 4,2013 | 08:51PM
lynnh wrote:
Your pathetic for still supporting this loser!
on September 4,2013 | 10:53PM
lynnh wrote:
"President Barack Obama said today the credibility of the international community and Congress is on the line." This lying @$$ has got to go. Pass the buck. "He" is the one with credibility problems with his "red line" threat. It is he and only he responsible for making uneducated, stupid statements. I am so sick of this loser of a president I want to hurl every time I here him speak or hear his name.
on September 4,2013 | 10:52PM
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