The resolution sought by the Obama administration for a military strike against Syria would allow for follow-up action by the United States if Syria again uses chemical weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry says.
Appearing on MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes" on Thursday, Kerry said the resolution would make clear to Syrian President Bashar Assad "use it again, and you can get hit again."
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But Kerry told Hayes the administration doesn't believe a second strike would be necessary. Assad has never retaliated against Israel for striking him in the past, he said.
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"I know the lessons of war," Kerry, a veteran of Vietnam, said. "I don't believe this is taking America to war."
The limited action the White House seeks would not authorize President Barack Obama to use military action to remove Assad from power, Kerry said.
"The U.S. policy is, we want Assad to leave office through the Geneva communiqué process that has already been agreed on, which the Russians have signed up to, whereby there is a transition government put in place with a mutual consent of the opposing parties," he said.
The Assad government and the opposition would have to agree to the transitional government, Kerry said. "But you can't get there while Assad is in this state of belief that he is able to gas and massacre the people of Syria into defeat."
If the United States doesn't take action, Assad will think he can use chemical weapons "with impunity," Kerry said.
President Barack Obama has been pushing for congressional approval of limited missile strikes after Syria crossed a "red line" drawn by Obama a year ago. The administration says it has proof that the Syrian government attacked civilians with sarin gas, killing more that 1,000.
The debate in Congress — and by pundits such as Hayes — has crossed political lines. There are Republicans and Democrats on both sides.
Those in favor of action have said that Obama may have made a mistake with his "red line" statement, but now it must be backed up to avoid the United States losing credibility in the world.
"We will have turned our back on the next batch of children, on the next batch of parents. We will have turned our back on the international norm," Kerry told Hayes, a vocal liberal critic of military action.
"We will have lost credibility in the world, and I guarantee you if we turn our backs today, the picture we all saw in the paper today and the media of those people being shot, that will take place more because more extremists will be attracted to this because they will be funded as the only alternative in order to take on Assad," Kerry said, referring to a New York Times front page photograph of Syrian soldiers being lined up and executed by rebel forces.
The image contrasted with video released in August of children and other civilians suffering the effects of sarin gas. Though U.S. intelligence confirmed Syria had used chemical weapons previously, the video of dead children stirred calls for action.
Obama initially said he could act without congressional approval, but failed to get backing from the British and public opinion polls in the United States.
Hayes, who said he was not persuaded by Kerry's arguments, pressed the secretary on whether the United States is backing the rebels who were shown in the press executing Syrian soldiers.
"We all know there are about 11 really bad opposition groups, so-called opposition. They are fighting Assad. They are not part of the opposition that is being supported by our friends and ourselves," Kerry responded. The moderate opposition condemns the executions, he said.
Kerry told Hayes the United States will not be going it alone if it takes action. France, countries in the Middle East, Turkey, Poland, and elsewhere are prepared to back America, he said.
Hayes noted that Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are both pushing for military action now, even though they say they were deceived by the Bush administration into supporting the Iraq war. Kerry also became a vocal critic of the Vietnam War after his own service there.
"I can guarantee you I'm not imprisoned by my memories of or experience in Vietnam. I'm informed by it," Kerry said. And I'm not imprisoned by my memory of how that evidence was used (by the Bush administration). I'm informed by it."
Neither he nor Hagel will put forth evidence that has not been properly vetted, he said. He vowed to "guarantee that we are not presenting to the American people the same shoddy intelligence that was presented to the American people back in Iraq."
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and other members of the administration are joining him in lobbying members of Congress to vote yes, Kerry said, adding that he expects Obama to make an address to a skeptical public after he returns from the G20 Summit in Russia.
"This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan. This is not even Libya," Kerry said. "This is a very limited, targeted effort to reduce."
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