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The White House’s assessment of Syria’s likely use of chemical weapons in its civil war has intensified calls on Capitol Hill for more aggressive U.S. intervention there, but lawmakers are far from agreeing on what any greater American role would look like.
Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Thursday captured lawmakers’ outrage and ambivalence over Syria when she described the intelligence community’s analysis of Syria’s chemical weapons use as having “medium to high” confidence.
Her disclosure made clear that Syria had crossed the red line set out by President Barack Obama, who has said the use or transfer of chemical weapons would constitute a “game changer” to his policy of providing only humanitarian and nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition. But Feinstein also said she was against unilateral U.S. action.
“The world must come together to prevent this by unified action, which results in the secure containment of Syria’s significant stockpile of chemical weapons,” Feinstein said. “On the basis of this new assessment, which is matched by France and the United Kingdom, I urge the United Nations Security Council, including Russia, to finally take strong and meaningful action to end this crisis.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the news Thursday during a trip through the Middle East. “It violates every convention of warfare,” Hagel told reporters in Abu Dhabi.
Several senators quickly renewed their calls for stronger U.S. intervention without waiting for U.N. action.
Arizona Republican John McCain, an outspoken advocate for greater U.S. involvement, said he wants the United States to help provide a safe area for the opposition to operate, establish a no-fly zone, provide weapons to people in the resistance that it trusts and get operational capability to secure chemical weapons stocks.
“It requires the United States’ help and assistance,” McCain said Thursday. “That does not mean boots on the ground.”‘Tipping Point’
New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, weighed in on the side of McCain and others who want Obama to respond to the Syria crisis more aggressively.
“Before we heard of this news on the use of chemical weapons to some degree, I had said we need to change the tipping point in Syria,” Menendez said. “Now with a limited use of chemical weapons — even though we don’t know exactly the supply chain and the chain of control, but we presume for argument’s sake that it’s the Assad regime — it seems to me that our situation has only ratcheted up.”