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Obama lobbies US Congress for Syria strike nod

world Updated: Sep 03, 2013 04:24 IST
Yashwant Raj

The Obama administration launched a campaign on Sunday to convince Congress to approve his plan to launch military strikes against Syria for using chemical weapons.

Top national security officials briefed over 80 lawmakers behind closed doors on Capitol Hill on Sunday. And President Barack Obama will be meeting some of them on Monday.

President Obama surprised everyone last Saturday when he announced that he was ready to strike Syria, but was seeking congressional approval for it.

US has alleged that the Bashar al-Assad government used Sarin nerve gas (that impairs breathing, fatally if untreated) in multiple attacks on August 21 killing over 1,400 people, a third of them children.

But Obama’s request for approval is going to be a hard sell. Lawmakers from both parties have concerns, impelled in no small measure by lack of public support for another war.

Some lawmakers find the mission unclear. Republican senator John McCain, a presidents election rival in 2008, has opposed military action that doesn’t end in regime change.

A White House draft of the approval said the objective was to “deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for, future use of, chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction”.

Some lawmakers have called it “too loosely drawn” and wanted the objective to be sharply defined to prevent the US from getting sucked into another war.

“As currently constructed it provides the President with too much of a blank check,” said senior House of Representative Democrat Chris Van Hollen.

He wants the approval to clearly deny the administration the power to put boots on the ground, continue striking Syria and become a party in the civil war.

That’s consistent with Obama’s stand, but lawmakers are demanding clarity on both the scope and duration of the strike, which the administration is assuring will be “limited”.

The administration is also throwing Iran into the mix, arguing the punitive strikes will have a salutary impact on other players with similar stockpiles and intentions. Congress is in recess till September 9, which gives the Obama administration plenty of time to bring around unconvinced, war-weary lawmakers. Senate plans to start committee hearings from Thursday.