Quantcast
Latest Stories

Obama plunges into high-stakes week on Syria


President Barack Obama gestures while speaking during a “Civil Society Roundtable” with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists, Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia. AP

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama faces a high-stakes week of trying to convince a skeptical Congress and a war-weary American public to back a military strike against Syria.

His administration came under pressure Saturday from European officials to delay possible action until U.N. inspectors report their findings about an Aug. 21 chemical attack that Obama blames on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Yet European Union foreign ministers meeting in Lithuania with Secretary of State John Kerry did endorse a “clear and strong response” to an attack they said strongly points to Assad’s government. Kerry welcomed the “strong statement about the need for accountability,” although the EU did not specify what an appropriate response would be.

The days ahead represent one of the most intense periods of outreach for a president not known for investing heavily in consultations with Congress.

Just back from a European trip where he lobbied for support, Obama is working to salvage a policy whose fate he’s placed in lawmakers’ hands.

His administration’s lobbying campaign culminates Tuesday, the evening before a critical vote is expected in the Senate. Obama will address the nation from the White House to make his case for military action.

“Over 1,400 people were gassed. Over 400 of them were children,” Obama said Friday at the close of a global summit in Russia.

“This is not something we’ve fabricated. This is not something that we are using as an excuse for military action,” he said. “I was elected to end wars, and not start them.”

A passionate debate in Congress, which returns to work Monday after its summer break, already is under way.

On Wednesday, the first showdown Senate vote is likely over a resolution authorizing the “limited and specified use” of U.S. armed forces against Syria for no more than 90 days and barring American ground troops from combat. A final vote in the 100-member chamber is expected at week’s end.

A vote in the House of Representatives is likely the week of Sept. 16.

A representative from the Syrian National Coalition, spokesman Khalid Saleh, was coming to Washington to meet with government officials and lawmakers.

Obama enters the fray having made some progress in his quest to win foreign support for a strike punishing Assad for a chemical attack the U.S. blames on his forces.

Yet Obama has been unable to secure the U.N. backing that many nations say is needed to legitimize any strike.

The president returned from Europe with a joint statement from nations backing “a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience.”

His administration said the statement, signed by France, Saudi Arabia, Japan and others at the close of the Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, was a clear endorsement for the limited military action the U.S. has been publicly contemplating for weeks.

Absent from the list was Russian President Vladimir Putin, a stalwart Assad ally and staunch opponent of a U.S. strike.

Obama and many U.S. allies blame Assad for a chemical weapons attack Aug. 21 outside Damascus in areas contested or controlled by rebels fighting Assad’s government. The Syrian government denies responsibility, contending rebels were to blame.

The U.S. citing intelligence reports, says sarin gas was used, and that 1,429 people died, including 426 children. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists, says it has so far only been able to confirm 502 dead.

European ministers said in their statement Saturday that the available intelligence “seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks.”

But European Union nations want the U.N. investigation to play out and hoped a preliminary report could be released as soon as possible.

The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported that the U.N. inspectors could submit initial findings from their tests of samples collected in Syria by the end of the coming week.

Obama acknowledged that the U.S. public mostly opposes a strike and that he may not persuade a majority of Americans. But without a martial response, he said, a fundamental global prohibition against chemical weapons use could unravel, emboldening other leaders with such weapons at their disposal and making the world more dangerous for years to come.

“We are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we’ve seen out of Syria,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday.

Recent surveys show intense American skepticism about military intervention in Syria, even among those who believe Syria’s government used chemical weapons on its people. A Pew Research Center poll completed last week found 29 percent in favor of a U.S. strike, with 48 percent opposed and 23 percent unsure.

The administration’s lobbying effort including hosting lawmakers at the White House on Friday for classified briefings on evidence about the attack and on Obama’s proposal for a military response.

His new U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, gave a speech at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to the White House. Her predecessor at the United Nations, national security adviser Susan Rice, planned to discuss similar themes Monday in an address at the New America Foundation.

Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, was preparing to appear on the five major Sunday political talk shows.

McDonough, Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and Obama were calling lawmakers to urge them to vote yes. On Sunday night, Biden was to host a dinner for a group of Senate Republicans.

Another bipartisan, classified briefing for Congress was scheduled for Monday, and McDonough planned to meet privately Tuesday with the House Democratic Caucus, whose support could be crucial as Obama faces opposition from House Republicans.

House Speaker John Boehner and the Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate have backed Obama’s call for a Syria strike, but it’s unclear how many in either party will join them.


Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria , Syrian conflict , Syrian President Bashar Assad




Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. 12 senators on Napoles ‘pork’ list, says Lacson
  2. Save the queen? Aide takes fall for Enrile, Gigi Reyes
  3. Palace prepared to charge its allies
  4. Senator’s kickback from pork bigger than those of Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – Lacson
  5. Napoles turnaround alarms whistle-blowers
  6. What Went Before: Malacañang allies alleged involvement in pork scam
  7. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  8. Timeline: Napoles tell-all
  9. HK apology: Why Estrada and not Aquino?
  10. Cedric Lee’s cohort flies out of PH despite look-out order – De Lima
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  3. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  4. Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  5. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  6. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  7. Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
  8. Reckless driver endangered lives of Aquino, entourage–report
  9. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  10. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  9. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia
  10. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
Advertisement

News

  • 4 Etihad passengers not yet located
  • DAR to complete installation of Luisita land reform beneficiaries in May
  • Ex-COA chief and co-accused in Arroyo plunder case nabbed
  • Kris Aquino’s ex- close in security named new Air Force chief
  • The ‘link diagram’ that killed ex-Bataan police officer
  • Sports

  • NLEX holds off Jumbo Plastic for a playoff berth
  • Pacquiao can dodge tax issues
  • F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges
  • Big Chill freezes Cafe France to arrest skid
  • Pacquiao has to go through PBA Rookie draft
  • Lifestyle

  • Summer Mayhem: The ultimate beach experience
  • A haven for steak lovers
  • Gongs and southern dances star in a workshop at San Francisco Bayanihan Center
  • This woman ate what?
  • Photos explore dynamics of youths’ sexual identity
  • Entertainment

  • Smithsonian wants photos, videos for ‘Day in the Life of Asian Pacific Americans’
  • What Garcia Marquez left behind
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • Sony developing live-action Barbie comedy
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Business

  • Metro Pacific acquires stake in Victorias
  • How ‘one percent’ economic elite was uncovered
  • Facebook profits triple as mobile soars
  • Insular Honors Sales Performers at Testimonial Rites
  • Apple increases stock buyback, will split stock
  • Technology

  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 24, 2014
  • Talking to Janet
  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • Global Nation

  • Tiff with HK over Luneta hostage fiasco finally over
  • DOLE sees more Filipinos hired by South Koreans
  • Filipinos second-shortest in Southeast Asia
  • Obama to visit Filipino soldiers in Fort Bonifacio
  • Fil-Am youth conferences unite under one theme
  • Marketplace
    Advertisement