President Obama said Saturday that the United States has decided to use military force against Syria, saying last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack there was “an attack on human dignity,” but that he has decided to seek congressional authorization for such a strike.
The announcement appeared to put off an imminent cruise missile attack on Syria and opens the door to what will almost certainly be a contentious and protracted debate.
Obama’s remarks came as senior administration officials were making a fresh round of calls to congressional leaders on Saturday in an effort to bolster support for a potential military strike on Syria, officials said.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among the administration officials expected to speak to key members of Congress on Saturday afternoon, amid signs that the White House is close to ordering an attack on Syria to admonish it for its alleged use of chemical weapons last week.
“We’re continuing to weigh our options,” a senior U.S. official said. “We’re confident in our analysis that the United States and our allies can handle any contingencies that come as a result of military action should it be chosen by the president.”
Hagel, who returned to Washington on Friday night after a week-long trip to Asia, had substantive discussions while on his way home with Obama, as well as with his French and Israeli counterparts, said the official, who would discuss the administration’s efforts only on the condition of anonymity.
As key allies and members of Congress have raised concerns about and objections to U.S. military involvement in Syria’s messy civil war, the White House appears to be carefully weighing the risks of launching an attack that would likely be carried out with cruise missiles. The priority Saturday appeared to be bolstering support for the operation on Capitol Hill, where key members have expressed strong reservations and called on the White House to full consult with Congress before authorizing a strike.
“We have a financial crisis in our military,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Thursday after being briefed by an administration official. “Several members agreed with me that whatever is decided upon, it’s going to take military resources that are at decreased readiness levels due to a lack of funding.”
White House officials have said they are only contemplating a limited, brief strike and have pushed back on the contention that such a move could drag the United States into a new prolonged conflict in the Middle East.