House Speaker John Boehner called on President Barack Obama on Wednesday to deliver a specific rationale for using U.S. military force against Syria as a growing number of congressional Republicans and Democrats expressed concerns about war with a Mideast nation roiled by civil conflict.
In a letter to the president, the Ohio Republican underscored that he has been supportive of administration policy to date as Obama has called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to resign and insisted that the use of deadly chemical weapons would be a gross violation of international norms.
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Boehner wrote that in light of the administration's contention that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against its people, Obama should provide "a clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action — which is a means, not a policy — will secure U.S. objectives."
The administration signaled on Wednesday that it would act against the Syrian government even without the backing of allies or the United Nations in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital last week. The United States has not presented proof publicly, but senior U.S. officials, have blamed Assad.
The administration was planning a teleconference briefing Thursday on Syria for leaders of the House and Senate and national security committees, U.S. officials and congressional aides said.
Boehner asked Obama to "personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve American credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy."
The speaker also pressed the president to provide a legal justification for any U.S. military action.
In the House, 69 Republicans and 13 Democrats have signed a letter to Obama demanding that he seek congressional authorization for any military action against Syria. The letter written by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., argues that intervention without a direct threat to the United States and without Congress' approval would be unconstitutional.
Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, cautioned that an attack might be ineffective and draw the United States into the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.
"Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of 'doing something' will not secure our interests in Syria," Smith said in a statement.
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he informed the administration that he could not support any military strike against Syria unless Obama presents a detailed strategy to Congress and provides a defense budget to support any action.
An increasing number of Republicans and Democrats insist that Congress should have a vote on whether to authorize any military steps against Syria, dismissing the notion that the commander in chief can act unilaterally and ignoring Congress' constitutional power to declare war.
"The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States and victory by either side will not necessarily bring in to power people friendly to the United States," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said.
In his letter, Boehner raised 14 questions that he asked Obama to answer, including what the administration would do if Syria retaliates against U.S. allies in the region, whether the administration would launch additional military strikes if the initial ones proved ineffective and what was the intended effect of such a step.
Boehner alluded to the 10-plus years of fighting in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the need for the administration to have strong public and congressional support for U.S. involvement in a Mideast war.
"Our military, as well as their families, deserve to have the confidence that we collectively have their backs — and a thorough strategy in place," the speaker wrote.
Here are the 14 specific questions that Boehner wants answered:
• What standard did the Administration use to determine that this scope of chemical weapons use warrants potential military action?
• Does the Administration consider such a response to be precedent-setting, should further humanitarian atrocities occur?
• What result is the Administration seeking from its response?
• What is the intended effect of the potential military strikes?
• If potential strikes do not have the intended effect, will further strikes be conducted?
• Would the sole purpose of a potential strike be to send a warning to the Assad regime about the use of chemical weapons? Or would a potential strike be intended to help shift the security momentum away from the regime and toward the opposition?
• If it remains unclear whether the strikes compel the Assad regime to renounce and stop the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or if President Assad escalates their usage, will the Administration contemplate escalatory military action?
• Will your Administration conduct strikes if chemical weapons are utilized on a smaller scale?
• Would you consider using the United States military to respond to situations or scenarios that do not directly involve the use or transfer of chemical weapons?
• Assuming the targets of potential military strikes are restricted to the Assad inner circle and military leadership, does the Administration have contingency plans in case the strikes disrupt or throw into confusion the command and control of the regime’s weapons stocks?
• Does the Administration have contingency plans if the momentum does shift away from the regime but toward terrorist organizations fighting to gain and maintain control of territory?
• Does the Administration have contingency plans to deter or respond should Assad retaliate against U.S. interests or allies in the region?
• Does the Administration have contingency plans should the strikes implicate foreign power interests, such as Iran or Russia?
• Does the Administration intend to submit a supplemental appropriations request to Congress, should the scope and duration of the potential military strikes exceed the initial planning?
In addition to Boehner, other lawmakers have raised concerns about Obama's level of consultation on any military action, which appears imminent. More than 100 lawmakers — 97 Republicans and 17 Democrats — signed a letter spearheaded by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) that urges Obama to seek Congressional authorization before any strike.
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