President Obama could well consider a military strike in Syria despite the British Parliament rejecting a motion authorizing the UK’s involvement in the conflict.
White House officials told reporters Thursday that the statement from United States’ closest ally, reluctance from the United Nations Security Council, and widespread uncertainty in the US Congress would not be enough to sway Obama from a limited missile strike on Syrian targets. Obama, who has been criticized for not consulting with Congress over Syria, met with lawmakers and other top leaders in a White House conference call Thursday.
“We have seen the result of the Parliament vote in the UK tonight. The US will continue to consult with the UK government – one of our closest allies and friends. As we’ve said, President Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States,” said a White House statement following the meeting. “He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable.”
A White House statement released after the 90-minute teleconference said the call included, among others, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as well as relevant committee chairmen and ranking members.
“The views of Congress are important to the President’s decision-making process, and we will continue to engage with Members as the President reaches a decision on the appropriate US response to the Syrian government’s violation of international norms against the use of chemical weapons,” the White House statement read.
Hegel also said on a recent trip to the Philippines that “it is the goal of President (Barack) Obama and our government … whatever decision is taken, that it be an international collaboration and effort,” adding that the US would continue to consult with Britain on the matter.
“Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together. And I think you’re seeing a number of countries publicly state their position on the use of chemical weapons.”
When asked whether it was in Assad’s power to do anything to prevent the threat of military action against his country, Hagel replied that he did not wish to “speculate on hypothetical situations.”
US Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that administration officials failed to provide any new evidence but only revealed the government has allegedly intercepted “some discussions and some indications from a high-level [Syrian] official” regarding use of chemical weapons. “The main thing was that they have no doubt that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons,” Engel said.
The administration also plans to release a declassified intelligence report on the recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria Friday, according to Major Garrett of CBS News. The White House will reportedly release the legal justification for military action if Obama orders it, as well.
“When the president reaches a determination about the appropriate response…and a legal justification is required to substantiate or to back up that decision, we’ll produce one on our own,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in the hours before the British vote.
Thursday’s intelligence presentation did not implicate Assad in the chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, White House aides told the New York Times, but administration officials believe they have “enough evidence to carry out a limited strike that would deter the Syrian government from using these weapons again.”
Assad and the Syrian government have blamed the chemical attack, documented in gruesome footage throughout the Internet, on opposition forces. The White House has admitted that the US has “no smoking gun” to prove Assad was behind the attack, leaving enough doubt for the British House of Commons to reject military action.
While UK MPs debated possible a possible missile strike US Congress was in the midst of a summer recess, although Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said a vote would not be necessary.
“There have been consultations. There will be more consultations,” she told Time magazine. “This is not to send troops over, as I understand it…obviously, it would be good to wait, but if time is of the essence that’s the decision the administration has to make. I think there is lots of ways of doing consultations which is adequate.”