President Barack Obama’s decision to bolster military support to the Syrian rebels following a determination that the Assad regime used chemical weapons brought cheers from hawks in Congress — as well as calls for consultation.
The White House announced late Thursday that the intelligence community had determined that the regime had in fact used sarin gas, killing perhaps 100 to 150 Syrians.
“The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser.
Rhodes said the administration would consult with Congress as well as allies on next steps, telling reporters on a conference call that there would be military aid for the rebels but not detailing exactly what the United States would do.
“It is long past time to bring the Assad regime’s bloodshed in Syria to an end,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “As President Obama examines his options, it is our hope he will properly consult with Congress before taking any action.”
Hawks in Congress said it was about time the administration got more involved.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a joint statement said U.S. credibility was on the line given that the president’s red line had been crossed, and they urged not only “overdue” provision of ammunition and heavy weapons to the rebels.
“But providing arms alone is not sufficient,” they said. “That alone is not enough to change the military balance of power on the ground against Assad. The President must rally an international coalition to take military actions to degrade Assad’s ability to use airpower and ballistic missiles and to move and resupply his forces around the battlefield by air.”
In a colloquy on the Senate floor with McCain, Graham also urged the president to use his bully pulpit to explain to the American people why intervening in Syria is important to U.S. national security. He argued that taking out Assad would prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of extremists in the region, disconnect the terrorist group Hezbollah from Iran, and prevent the more moderate government in neighboring Jordan from falling to revolution.
Emily Cadei contributed to this report.