President Barack Obama's inability to build strong international support for military strikes against Syria at the Group of 20 summit in Russia "clearly demonstrates a lack of leadership," former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax on Friday.
"The president has four groups of people who he needs to convince that going into Syria is an absolute imperative — and one of those is the international community," Hoekstra told Newsmax in an exclusive interview.
"And, coming out of the G-20 summit, where he had the opportunity to personally make the case to many of our allies — and to come away pretty-much empty-handed — shows exactly where this president is right now.
"It's going to make it very, very difficult to get the votes next week" in Congress, he concluded. "It's going to make it much more difficult for the president to get the American people to be supportive of a move into Syria if we can't convince our allies."
Obama, who plans to address the American people on Syria on Tuesday, left St. Petersburg on Friday without a clear, unified message of support among allies despite the "growing recognition" that the world could not stand by and let the use of chemical weapons go unanswered.
“Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence,” Obama said at a news conference before leaving the Russian city.
His efforts at the summit were strongly countered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hosted the event and who remains Syrian President Bashar Assad's strongest ally.
Putin has challenged U.S. evidence that Assad's military was behind a chemical weapons attack last month — and he has blocked action against Syria at the United Nations.
He said at his own news conference on Friday that Russia would continue supporting Syria if the U.S. launches strikes.
“We are already helping them with weapons and we are cooperating in the economic and humanitarian spheres,” Putin said.
Hoekstra, who served eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before leaving office to run unsuccessfully for Michigan governor in 2010, said he was not surprised at Putin's heavy lobbying at the summit.
"The disappointing thing here was that, even though it appears relatively certain that Assad gassed and killed over 1,000 of his citizens, it shows the weakness of this president's case that he couldn't — even though Putin was lobbying as well — build a coalition. We haven't been able to do that in this case."
Obama sought diplomatic support from the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. He met with the leaders of France, China, Japan, Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico.
So far, the countries that have indicated a willingness to support an armed response include Canada, France, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
French President Francois Hollande said in St. Petersburg that his nation’s military would only hit targets in Syria in a U.S.-led coalition.
“A military strike would accelerate a political solution. That’s what people have to understand,” Hollande said. If Obama failed to get authorization for a military attack from Congress, he said he was willing to ship weapons to Syrian rebels.
Still, "you don't have the key one," Hoekstra told Newsmax, "which, from my perspective, is Great Britain. They're not there." The House of Commons has rejected military action in Syria.
"It’s always somewhat comforting when you want to engage and take a military action that you have a list of allies who are willing to go with you and who are willing to support that effort," he added. "And, right now, we don't have it."
Hoekstra, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee from 2004 to 2007 and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Lignet.com, noted that Secretary of State John Kerry told legislators that Arab nations had pledged to finance the cost of any U.S.-backed military effort in Syria.
"What the secretary fails to recognize or doesn't talk about is that our greatest treasure are not the cruise missiles, not the airplanes that we send, but it is our young men and women who we send out on the battlefield," Hoekstra said.
"There may not be boots on the ground, but they're going to be dealing with the missiles, getting them prepared to launch. They may be flying over the skies of Syria. They may be protecting the embassies or American assets throughout the Middle East.
"That's our most precious asset, and if we go into Syria, that's what we're putting on the line."
At his news conference, Obama three times declined to directly answer questions about whether he would take military action even if Congress rejected authorization.
“I put this before Congress for a reason,” Obama said, adding that the U.S. position is strengthened if the nation is unified. “I’m not going to engage in parlor games” by speculating about whether it’s going to pass while still negotiating with lawmakers.
To that, Hoekstra told Newsmax: "I hope that since the president has asked for Congress' input, that when he gets it, he will listen to it."
More broadly, however, the former congressman said that Obama's G-20 experience showed that "the president is learning the difficulty of being an international leader. He's going through on-the-job training.
"I'm glad the president is learning," Hoekstra added. "I'm glad that the president is using some of the tools that former presidents have used — and I hope that this president will also develop the kind of coalition that President [George W.] Bush did before he takes action."
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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