The Obama administration continues to plod toward a military strike in Syria, with Britain Prime Minister David Cameron taking the lead on establishing legal justification and President Barack Obama scheduled to brief congressional leadership during a conference call Thursday evening. But the timing and scope of action remains unclear, as public and international support remains mixed.
Cameron's plans to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning alleged chemical weapon use by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday were derailed when Syrian allies China and Russia walked out of the meeting. But Cameron took to the floor of the House of Commons in London Thursday, armed with a British legal report justifying military action against Assad's regime.
"No decision about military action has been taken," he said. "It would require another vote of this House, but if we wanted to see action that was purely about deterring and degrading future chemical weapons use by Syria…then you need countries that have the capabilities to do that. The United States and the United Kingdom are two."
Ed Miliband, Britain's Labour Party and opposition leader, said he was not ruling out the potential for military intervention but urged Cameron and the United States to wait until U.N. weapons inspectors finished their investigation.
"The U.N. is not some inconvenient sideshow and we don't want to engineer a moment," he said.
Obama said Wednesday he has yet to make a decision on a course of action, despite the fact top administration officials have been laying the groundwork to justify a strike since Monday.
"We have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place," he said in an interview with PBS Newshour. "We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences."
The American public has largely opposed intervention in Syria, despite reports of hundreds being killed in a chemical weapons attack, according to recent polling.
Meanwhile, members of Congress have pressed the Obama administration to keep them involved in the march to military strike.
"I have conferred with the chairmen of the national security committees who have received initial outreach from senior administration officials, and while the outreach has been appreciated, it is apparent [it] has, to date, not reached the level of substantive consultation," said House Speaker John Boehner in a letter sent to Obama Wednesday. He asked the president to "fully make the case" for intervention to both the American public and Congress.
"It is essential you address what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of Congressional authorization," Boehner said.
Michael Noonan, director of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, says it's hard to predict what kind of response the U.S. will take, but it's likely to be unpopular no matter what.
"It's tough to say what kind of response they will have; there's already criticism and we haven't done anything yet," he says. "This is something the United States needs like a hole in the head right now, but at the same time I think the British did a good job with the legal justification under the law."