President Barack Obama will meet with John McCain today to ask for his former election rival’s help in overcoming deep Congressional opposition to plans for intervention in Syria.
Raf Sanchez By Raf Sanchez, Washington4:28PM BST 02 Sep 2013Follow CommentsComments
Desperate to avoid a humiliating defeat like the one suffered by David Cameron in Parliament, the White House has promised to “flood the zone” in an all-out lobbying effort to corral the votes needed.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defence, will both appear before Congress to make the administration’s case for war on Tuesday.
Mr Kerry told fellow Democrats on Monday night they faced a “Munich moment” on Syria – a reference to Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 trip to Germany where he signed an accord with Adolf Hitler in the hope of avoiding war.
Part of their drive includes winning over Mr McCain, who has called for the US to intervene forcefully to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and said he would oppose “isolated military strikes that are not part of an overall strategy” to defeat the regime.
Mr Obama has repeatedly promised a war-weary American public that the strikes would be “limited” and aimed at punishing the regime for using chemical weapons rather than toppling Mr Assad.
Even if the White House is able to win over Mr McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, a fellow Republican foreign policy hawk, the proposal to use force in Syria faces serious headwinds on Capitol Hill.
Both Republicans and Democrats have complained that Mr Obama’s two-page resolution authorising strikes is too vague and gives the White House “a blank cheque” for military action.
The current draft authorises the president to use any force he determines “necessary and appropriate” to prevent further use of chemical weapons and to protect US and its allies.
Resolution authorising use of force in Syria by Raf Sanchez
Aides to Senator Harry Reid, the Democrat leader, and Senator Robert Menendez, the chair of the foreign relations committee, are redrawing the resolution to narrow its scope.
The redrafted version is likely to include an explicit commitment that no US ground troops will be sent to Syria and may set a date by which military action must cease.
However, lawmakers in both parties said that even a narrower resolution would not guarantee their support when Congress reconvenes on September 9 after its summer recess.
Both liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans have expressed deep scepticism about the US intervening in another Middle Eastern conflict and some cast doubt on the White House’s case for action.
Senator Tom Harkin, a liberal Democrat, said that a classified briefing held by administration officials on Sunday “raised more questions than it answered”.
“I found the evidence to presented by administration officials to be circumstantial,” Mr Harkin said.
The White House lobbying effort will continue today with a conference call for House Democrats as well as individual calls to members of Congress by Mr Obama and Joe Biden, the vice president.
The president will host more senior members of Congress on Tuesday before flying that night for Sweden and then Russia for the G20 summit.
Among the many voices trying to lobby members of Congress will be a parliamentary delegation from Russia, which has blocked Western efforts to move against Syria at the UN Security Council.
President Vladimir Putin said the trip to the US by Russian legislators to talk about “the Syrian problem” was “very timely and correct” but it was not clear it would sway Congress’s votes.
Mr Obama’s aides have repeatedly refused to confirm whether the White House would press ahead with strikes even if they lost the vote in Congress, which is expected some time after September 9.
Mr Kerry said on Sunday that “I don’t contemplate” a Congressional defeat, adding: “I think the stakes are just really too high here.”