Lawmakers nudge Obama after Syria reports
March 19th, 2013
04:23 PM ET
10 years ago

Lawmakers nudge Obama after Syria reports

Washington (CNN) – Two leading Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, if true, mean the president's threshold for involvement in the country's civil war has been met.

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have led calls in Congress for greater U.S. involvement in Syria, issued a joint statement saying the attacks, if verified, would demand a response from President Barack Obama.

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“If today’s reports are substantiated, the President’s red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised," the senators wrote.

Syrian state media cited government figures Tuesday who accused rebels of a deadly chemical weapons missile attack in the town of Khan al-Asal, in Aleppo province. Rebels rebuffed the claims and blamed the regime.

The town of Ateibeh, in eastern Damascus, also endured "fierce shelling with chemical rockets," an opposition group said. An unknown number of casualties were reported.

The attacks have not been confirmed by western governments, including Britain and the United States. But McCain and Graham said if they were true, a series of U.S. actions were necessary to prevent further violence in Syria.

"That should include the provision of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad's aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians and opposition groups," McCain and Graham continued in their statement. "If today's reports are substantiated, the tragic irony will be that these are the exact same actions that could have prevented the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria."

In the two years since Syrian rebels began trying to drive Assad from power, the United States has waded into the conflict incrementally. The U.S. government formally recognized the leading Syrian opposition coalition in December 2012, though stopped short of saying the U.S. would join other nations like Qatar in providing the rebels with weapons.

Obama laid out his barometer for greater action in Syria during a White House press conference in August, saying that "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."

"That would change my calculus," Obama said. "That would change my equation."

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough explained Tuesday that if the reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria are validated, the Obama administration would take new action.

"If this is substantiated, it does suggest...this is a game changer and we'll act accordingly," McDonough said on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

"I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, but this is something we take very, very seriously. We had teams up working on this overnight, as you might suspect, and we'll continue to trace this," he continued.

Filed under: John McCain • Lindsey Graham • Syria
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Mr. Man

    If a tyrant is able to gas his people while Obama stands by and does nothing, then all hope for humanity is lost.
    All it takes for bad men to succeed is for good men to do nothing. McCain is spot on.

    To those of you demanding McCain send his own kids, I'll remind you that both he and Graham are actual veterans of vietnam. They know more about war then 99% of you.

    March 19, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  2. Frogman216

    The President needs to send McCain and Graham to Syria to establish whether these reports are true or not.

    March 19, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  3. Sly

    John McCain is an expert on the use of chemical weapons, having personally sprayed them on millions of Vietnamese women and children to kill them.

    And both Graham and McCain are also quite familiar with the United States constant use of chemical weapons in the middle east, since both Republicans were instrumental in helping America provide chemical weapons to our ally and friend, Saddam Hussein.

    In other words: Republicans STFU – you lie, you are hypocrites, and America cannot tell ANY other country about chemical or nuclear weapons.

    March 19, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  4. lolo

    Let them send their kids and family memebers over there since they want a war so bad. The lobbyist must need more money and they are trying whatever trick in the book they can to get it for them. Stupid War mongers are getting on my nerves. Let these people handle their own problems. They can't even take care of American citizens and now they want another war. Just ignorant I tell you.

    March 19, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  5. Jabbadahut

    Natalie, your comments are offending, if you weren't so stuck on bashing the repub party, maybe you can see that it was obozo that has a red line. Its about time that someone holds him for accountability since no one has to the present. Its a well known fact that foreign policy for this administration is a bridge too far. I bet if you had relatives in the M.E. your thoughts might be different.

    March 19, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  6. SeeThruIt2

    I don`t think anyone (including Republicans)really want US troops sent to Syria . They`re just calling the President out on his previous campaign promises.

    March 19, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  7. Desert Tortoise

    Do not believe one thing either of these two worthless reprobates says. They are self serving liars who will lead this nation to shame and depravation if they have their way.

    March 19, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  8. Branden

    Iraq has WMD. Let's attack them!!! Sounds like that whole situation all over again to me. A bunch of unconfirmed reports that certian people are jumping on which is annoying.

    March 19, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  9. Ron

    It should not matter what Obama said about a red line in Syria. The president does not declare war – Congress does. Anytime anyone in Congress makes statements about the president acting unilaterally in sending American troops into war, those Congress people are abdicating their responsbility. If Congressional persons want to go to war, then they should raise the subject to their peers in Congress, discuss it, vote on it. If approved, then the president can send troops.

    March 19, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  10. RC

    The US needs to set this one out and take care of the soldiers we have used and abused during the combat actions since the 50's.

    March 19, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  11. Thomas

    Mar 18, 2004 – U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix faults Bush administration for lack of "critical thinking" in Iraq ... "We went to sites [in Iraq] given to us by intelligence.

    Thats not do another GW Bush jump first , see where we land reaction .
    Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham need to take a chill pill and not be so reactionary .

    March 19, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  12. Vic

    I am amazed on how the Syrian situaiton is playing out in the US media. All of a sudden congressmen are so in love with the Syrian people when they have been working against them for 40 years. They refused to have normal ties with Syria no matter what Syria tried. The missed a golden opportunity when the cold war ended and Russia had nto so good relationship with Syria. Of course, all for Israel. I bet some of these congressmen did not even know where Syria is (2) years ago. US media keeps repeating things to come in Syria and all of a sudden it becomes reality. It is called staging. This is playing out like the "Wag of war" movie. Hey US citizens, think for yourself read and listen to other international news from all side to make decisions to go to war or not. When it comes to international news, your media is not free. They say what the US government wants them to say. That is why everyone who disagrees with US is Evil and who obeys to US are good. Ask yourself, Who will benefit from this inciddent and news?. Not the Syria govenment for sure. Whoever did this is working against the government of Syria.

    March 19, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  13. Matt

    Assad was close to winning last year when the US thought of arming the opposition. That is when the FSA was patched over more weapons came in and the opposition started to gain more ground. Since then the prospect of Assad losing and heavier weapons falling into the hands of the opposition is possible. And now everyone is worried about who the opposition is. What is moderate. When the Saudi's walked out and refused to support the arms embargo, that was it. Assad only chance was to kill unarmed people. Now there is a chance of the opposition winning, the US have to go in to provide security. Chemical weapons cannot save him, Jihad, everyone you kill another 10 turn up in their place. It is the case in Afghanistan and was the case in Chechnya. How did the Chechen war the first method was to kill everyone. It ended in handing control to a Muslim warlord and is an Islamic state, what were they fighting for in the first place, it is part of Russia, but has its own President, which mean Russia is the only country in the world with two Presidents. In Afghanistan it ended in defeat. Look at the US ROE in Afghanistan and why they have it.

    Anyway that brings it all back to post Assad security and who is going to do it.

    Legally because all of the opposition cooperate with each other, if you fight with a terrorist group, then you are guilty by association of being a terrorist. So technically under a legal definition they are all terrorists as are their backers. And it is the same for the other side, Hizbullah and thus Iran and Syria and even Russia.

    March 19, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  14. Tom&Jerry

    Since we are doing such a great job taking care of us then why not take care of the rest of the world. Oops I forgot we have a laundry list of problems that we need to put on the back burner first!

    March 19, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  15. Vic

    Sorry about my typos/grammer in the above message. I hate typing with phone keyboard. I hope I got my message through.

    March 19, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  16. Jabbadahut

    I'm afraid I have to side with "BOB's" post and say that if you have never had boots on the ground you have no concept of military operations and national policy 'cause in the article it is the president's red line and has nothing to do with any political policy.

    March 19, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  17. Pander Bear

    Uh yeah, because the Syrian state media wouldn't lie or anything. Hurry let's send troops! They're sure to find those WMD's er, I mean chemical weapons.

    March 19, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  18. Jabbadahut

    SLY, you disgust me and many other veterans.

    March 19, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
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