WASHINGTON — As President Obama tries to rally support in Congress for missile strikes on Syria, two longtime GOP critics who have been deeply troubled by the White House’s handling of the situation have nonetheless become the linchpin of his lobbying effort.
In television interviews Tuesday morning, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C. ) warned there would be dire consequences for the country if Congress did not consent to military action, or if it approves a resolution so narrowly as to allow only limited strikes that would not inhibit Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military capabilities.
“The president said that it was a red line if Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons,” McCain said on CBS’ “This Morning.” “Unless the United States of America responds, then the word of the United States of America is no longer valid .… Our standing in the region is at an all-time low and this will sink it even further when the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, says he’s going to do something and we don’t do it.”
The Arizona senator, who had previously expressed skepticism about whether the White House planned significant missile strikes, emerged from a meeting with the president on Monday saying he was confident the plans were not just cosmetic and could degrade Assad’s military capabilities.
“We would have a conduit for weapons and training to the Free Syrian Army so they can have a chance on the ground,” McCain said.
Graham said he, too, would work with the White House in its bid for congressional authorization. But both senators said Obama had the authority to act without congressional consent and accused him of dithering. They also said the president had failed to make the case to the American public that military strikes were crucial to the country’s national security interests.
“This is about the most mismanaged situation I’ve ever seen since World War II, when they were trying to control the Nazis,” Graham said on CNN’s “New Day.” “This is bizarre .… Put yourself in the shoes of the average member of Congress. The public doesn’t understand our strategy. I’m trying, along with Sen. McCain, to make sure we get Syria as right as possible given the really bad options.”
The White House and congressional supporters of its military plans are walking a tightrope. Democrats are concerned that missile strikes would lead the United States down a slippery slope toward full military engagement. Republicans inclined to support the president, McCain and Graham included, are adamant that any resolution give the president enough authority to take action that would force Assad into retreat.
“If we don’t take those concrete measures and if the resolution doesn’t allow it, then obviously I can’t support it,” McCain said, stressing that neither he nor the White House supports sending American troops into Syria. “Almost as bad as not passing a resolution is passing a resolution that doesn’t allow us to take action that reverses the situation on the battlefield so that Bashar Assad will sooner or later leave. The only way he’s going to leave is if he thinks he’s losing.”
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