President Obama announced on Saturday at the White House that he would seek approval from Congress to attack Syria. That stopped the clock for at least a week on what had loomed as an imminent attack.
U.S. Sen Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a likely supporter of the president’s call for war in response to the reported chemical weapon attack by the Assad regime in Syria.
Menendez will preside over a hearing beginning Tuesday to debate whether Congress should authorize Obama to use military force in Syria.
“Senior administration witnesses will testify before the Committee, and the Congress will debate this issue actively, fully, and publicly,” Menendez said in a statement. “It is my view that the use of military force in Syria is justified and necessary given the Assad regime’s reprehensible use of chemical weapons and gross violation of international law.”
More than 140 federal lawmakers had asked Obama to seek congressional approval before taking any military action on Syria but Congress is out for its summer recess until Sept. 9.
News that Obama would seek permission was not universally greeted with celebration.
“That the US will not become involved in foreign wars of choice without the consent of the American people through their representatives Congress is a central mandate of the US Constitution, not some enlightened, progressive innovation of the 21st century,” wrote Glenn Greenwald, who noted that Obama has radically altered his position since he was a candidate.
In 2008, President Obama, as a candidate for president, told the Boston Globe: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
As Commander-in-Chief last year, Obama gave orders to American military forces to engage in operations in Libya without Congressional approval and authorization.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the Congressional vote would not be binding: “[Obama] has the right to do this no matter what Congress does.”
Obama said he has confidence in a U.S. intelligence report that directly blames the Syrian government for planning and carrying out the chemical attack that, the document says, killed at least 1,429 Syrians, including 426 children, in four Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.
The Syrian government of President Bashar al Assad denies using chemical weapons and says the rebels have used poison gas against Syrian troops.
United Nations inspectors plan to deliver samples collected in Syria to laboratories on Monday.
Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma — a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — is against any response. “I’m opposing military action by us,” said Inhofe. “We just can’t take on anything else.”
“We urge you to show real leadership in protecting the people of Syria with a more creative, effective, and prudent approach than military action,” said Democrat James Devine, in a letter to the President and Congress signed by 36,309 other members of MoveOn.org. “Galvanize world leaders to demand a multilateral cease-fire and evacuate people who choose to flee harm. Do not be fooled into thinking that war-making will protect or defend a population.”
At its core, the Syrian civil war is a conflict over Sunni Islam vs. Shi’a Islam, an argument that goes back a thousand years. Assad is Shiite, but the majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims.
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