The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

August 31, 2013

Obama to seek congressional OK for Syria action

WASHINGTON — Short on support at home and allies abroad, President Barack Obama unexpectedly stepped back from a missile attack against Syria on Saturday and instead asked Congress to support a strike punishing Bashar Assad’s regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

With Navy ships on standby in the Mediterranean Sea ready to launch their cruise missiles, Obama said he had decided the United States should take military action and that he believes that as commander in chief, he has “the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization.”

At the same time, he said, “I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective.” His remarks were televised live in the United States as well as on Syrian state television with translation.

Congress is scheduled to return from a summer vacation on Sept. 9, and in anticipation of the coming debate, Obama challenged lawmakers to consider “what message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price.”

The president didn’t say so, but his strategy carries enormous risks to his and the nation’s credibility, which the administration has argued forcefully is on the line in Syria. Obama long ago said the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that Assad would not be allowed to cross with impunity.

Nor would the White House say what options would still be open to the president if he fails to win the backing of the House and Senate for the military measures he has threatened.

Only this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat when the House of Commons refused to support his call for military action against Syria.

Halfway around the world, Syrians awoke Saturday to state television broadcasts of tanks, planes and other weapons of war, and troops training, all to a soundtrack of martial music. Assad’s government blames rebels in the Aug. 21 attack, and has threatened retaliation if it is attacked.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he was appealing to a Nobel Peace laureate rather than to a president, urged Obama to reconsider. A group that monitors casualties in the long Syrian civil war challenged the United States to substantiate its claim that 1,429 died in a chemical weapons attack, including more than 400 children.

By accident or design, the new timetable gives time for U.N. inspectors to receive lab results from the samples they took during four days in Damascus, and to compile a final report. After leaving Syria overnight, the inspection team arrived in Rotterdam a few hours before Obama spoke.

The group’s leader was expected to brief Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday.

Administration officials said Obama appeared set on ordering a strike until Friday evening. After a long walk in near 90-degree temperatures around the White House grounds with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the president told his aide he had changed his mind.

These officials said Obama initially drew pushback in a two-hour session attended by Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Klapper, CIA Director John Brennan, national security adviser Susan Rice and homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco. They declined to say which of the participants had argued against Obama’s proposal.

Whatever Congress ultimately decides, the developments marked a stunning turn.

France is Obama’s only major foreign ally to date for a strike, public polling shows support is lukewarm in the United States, and dozens of lawmakers in both parties have signed a letter urging Obama not to act without their backing. Outside the gates of the White House, the chants of protesters could be heard as the president stepped to a podium set up in the Rose Garden.

Had he gone ahead with a military strike, Obama would have become the first U.S. leader in three decades to attack a foreign nation without mustering broad international support or acting in direct defense of Americans. Not since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan ordered an invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada, has the U.S. been so alone in pursuing major lethal military action beyond a few attacks responding to strikes or threats against its citizens.

Republicans generally expressed satisfaction at Obama’s decision to seek congressional support, and challenged him to make his case to the public and lawmakers alike that American power should be used to punish Assad.

“We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and other House Republican leaders said in a joint statement.

“In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9th. This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”

New York Republican Rep. Peter King was among the dissenters, strongly so. “President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander in chief and undermining the authority of future presidents,” he said. “The president doesn’t need 535 members of Congress to enforce his own red line.”

For now, it appeared that the administration’s effort at persuasion was already well underway.

The administration plunged into a series of weekend briefings for lawmakers, both classified and unclassified, and Obama challenged lawmakers to consider “what message will we send to a dictator” if he is allowed to kill hundreds of children with chemical weapons without suffering any retaliation.

At the same time, a senior State Department official said Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Syrian Opposition Coalition President Ahmed Assi al-Jarba to underscore Obama’s commitment to holding the Assad government accountable for the Aug. 21 attack.

Obama said Friday he was considering “limited and narrow” steps to punish Assad, adding that U.S. national security interests were at stake. He pledged no U.S. combat troops on the ground in Syria, where a civil war has claimed more than 100,000 civilian lives.

In Syria, some rebels expressed unhappiness with the president, one rebel commander said he did not consider Obama’s decision to be a retreat.  “On the contrary, he will get the approval for congress and then the military action will have additional credibility,” said Qassem Saadeddine.

“Just because the strike was delayed by few days doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” he said.

With Obama struggling to gain international backing for a strike, Putin urged him to reconsider his plans. “We have to remember what has happened in the last decades, how many times the United States has been the initiator of armed conflict in different regions of the world, said Putin, a strong Assad ally. “Did this resolve even one problem?”

Even the administration’s casualty estimate was grist for controversy.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organization that monitors casualties in the country, said it has confirmed 502 deaths, nearly 1,000 fewer than the American intelligence assessment claimed.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the organization, said he was not contacted by U.S. officials about his efforts to collect information about the death toll in the Aug. 21 attacks.

“America works only with one part of the opposition that is deep in propaganda,” he said, and urged the Obama administration to release the information its estimate is based on.

 

1
Text Only
Top Stories
  • r071114redoak2.jpg Red Oak II: Lowell Davis’ ‘dream, art, love’ and final resting place

    The collection of buildings would become a town (though he didn’t intend for it to, and it has never been officially recognized either by the U.S. Postal Service or the state of Missouri).

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Anti-landfill group seeks grand jury probe

    As more than 200 people filed into Riverton High School on Sunday to attend an anti-landfill group meeting, many stopped to sign a petition asking the Cherokee County District Court to summon a grand jury to investigate how land was acquired by the city of Galena for a proposed landfill.

    July 27, 2014

  • Money clouds farm fight

    For much of the summer, while the campaign surrounding “right to farm” has been focused on its impact on “small, family farmers,” the bulk of the money pouring into the fight has come from big agriculture interests.

    July 26, 2014

  • r072514schoolhouse3.jpg VIDEO: Full of history, one-room schools focus of preservation by local groups

    The old Kings Prairie school sits on a narrow Barry County farm road, surrounded by quiet fields and farmland.

    July 25, 2014 6 Photos 1 Slideshow

  • 072814_jd anderson.jpg VIDEO: Noel strongman advances on talent show

    The past week has been busier than normal for Noel resident J.D. Anderson. Members of the production crew for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” told him they have shot more footage of him than of other contestants for the next episode. “They said I have the busiest schedule of anyone this week,” Anderson told the Globe in a phone interview Friday. “There’s so many fun things you can do with B-roll as a strongman.”

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • r072314girlgunclub3.jpg Women's league offers practice, social opportunities for gun owners

    The objective for some is to improve their skills for target or competitive shooting, the league's website says. Others, while wanting to improve their skills, also are interested in aspects of self-defense.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • r072414trainwreck2.jpg Train crash a century ago among area’s worst disasters

    Burk Johnson had been threshing wheat near Joplin when his newlywed son and daughter-in-law picked him up and took him to Joplin’s Union Depot to catch the evening train home to Neosho.

    July 26, 2014 4 Photos

  • 072614 Faith 2.jpg Rich Brown: McDonald County Children's choir combines music with a gospel ministry

    The McDonald County Children's Choir may entertain a lot of people, but the hope is that it will bless even more through its ministry, according to choir director Amber Nelson.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Appellate court upholds class-action status for Picher residents

    An appellate court upheld a 2013 ruling on Thursday that a class-action lawsuit brought by former residents of Picher, Oklahoma, against a Tulsa-based appraisal firm involved with the buyout of property in the city can proceed.

    July 25, 2014

  • 1717 Marketplace developer faces more federal charges

    The developer of 1717 Marketplace in Joplin has been indicted with more bankruptcy fraud charges, in addition to those leveled against him last year for a series of bank fraud and wire fraud schemes that totaled more than $3.3 million in losses.

    July 25, 2014