Top Obama administration officials heading to Capitol Hill Tuesday are likely to make the case for a military strike in Syria by playing up the importance of U.S. credibility, now that President Barack Obama has called for action.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are tasked with making the case for the unpopular mission following a chemical weapons attack against citizens by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They are scheduled to meet with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday afternoon and the House counterpart Wednesday.
Obama himself continued to press for support in remarks Tuesday morning before meeting with House and Senate leaders at the White House.
"I've made a decision that America should take action, but I also believe that we will be much more effective, we will be stronger, if we take action together as one nation," Obama said.
The president emphasized, as he did all last week, that he does not want to send troops into Syria, but rather pursue a more targeted approach.
"The key point that I want to emphasize to the American people [is] the military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs – and that I believe is appropriate – is proportional; it is limited; it does not involve boots on the ground," Obama said. "This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan."
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, says Obama's best hope for winning congressional approval is to continue to emphasize he intends a limited approach.
"I would assume that there would be some division of duties there. That the larger foreign policy context, that's what you expect from secretary of state and the more practical, what sorts of things do we want to hit and the potential implications, I would expect that more from Hagel," he says.
Bandow adds that the administration also needs to lean on Congress to support the president so as not to show weakness in the international community.
"The only pitch that works well is American credibility," he says
Obama scored nominal support for action from House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action," Boehner said after leaving the briefing with Obama at the White House.
But even the speaker's support doesn't translate to assured passage of a military resolution, as the fractured House has struggled to pass even the most mundane measures this year, including agriculture and transportation measures. And Boehner's office says the burden for winning over members lies on the White House, not the speaker.
"Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the speaker expects the White House to provide answers to members' questions and take the lead on any whipping effort," said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, in a release. "All votes authorizing the use of military force are conscience votes for members, and passage will require direct, continuous engagement from the White House."
Bandow says the pressure is on for the president and congressional leaders to deliver.
"You've got one shot – it's big, if you lost it, I don't think you come back from that," he says.
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