White House Argues For Syria Strike While Assad Denies Chemical Weapons Use

 @rpalmerscience
on September 08 2013 5:09 PM

An Obama administration official said on Sunday it’s “too early” to predict how the U.S. Congress will vote on authorizing the use of force in Syria. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad is denying responsibility for the alleged chemical-weapons attack that may prompt a U.S. strike.

After the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution last Wednesday authorizing President Barack Obama to use force in Syria in the wake of the alleged chemical-weapons attack in August, the matter will be taken up by the full Senate this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted that his chamber of Congress would likely authorize military action. The outcome isn't so certain in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

White House chief of staff Denis R. McDonough made the rounds on all five major Sunday-morning television talk shows to bolster the president’s case for a strike. He highlighted the gruesome footage that members of Congress have been shown, purportedly of a gas attack in Damascus on Aug. 21 that claimed nearly 1,500 lives.

“Nobody is rebutting the intelligence,” McDonough said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” He added: “Nobody doubts the intelligence. ... I hope that every member of Congress, before he or she decides how they’ll cast their vote, will look at those pictures.”

While McDonough acknowledged that American citizens are skeptical about another foreign entanglement following more than 10 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, he argued that Obama would have a much narrower focus with Syria. The aim would be to hit specific targets to underscore that Assad couldn't use chemical weapons again, he said.

Many members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are pushing back against the White House line.

“This is not a question about party loyalty -- this is a question for all of us about what is right,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said on CNN, according to the New York Times. “We’re being told that there’s two choices: do nothing or bomb Syria. Clearly, there have to be some other choices in between. We ought to explore them.”

On ABC News’ “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, disagreed with the president’s assertion that he could order a military strike on Syria without congressional approval. Moreover, any attack on Syria wouldn't be “based on defending U.S. national security,” Cruz said. “I don’t think that’s the job of our military to be defending amorphous international norms.”

A recent poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post found that nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose striking Syria unilaterally. And while European Union officials have condemned the Damascus attack as a crime against humanity, no country has committed to supporting the U.S. in a retaliatory action. Obama will be sitting for interviews with many major news channels on Monday, and he'll address the nation in a speech on Tuesday.

Charlie Rose of CBS News will be broadcasting an interview with Syria’s Assad on Monday. In the interview, Assad denies his government was involved in the Aug. 21 gas attack, according to the New York Times.

“[Assad] had a message to the American people, that it had not been a good experience for them to get involved in the Middle East in wars and conflicts,” Rose said on “Face the Nation.”

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