(Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
By Paul Singer and Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
President Obama's bid to get congressional support to use military
force in Syria received a boost Monday as Republican Sens. John McCain
and Lindsey Graham said they have more confidence the White House is
developing a better strategy for dealing with Syria.
Graham are key votes Obama will need to win Senate approval for the
United States to launch missile strikes against Syria in response to an
Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 people.
said Saturday he had concluded the United States should launch an
attack in response to the attack, but he said he wants approval first
McCain and Graham have jointly expressed concerns
that a military strike should be part of a broader strategy in Syria,
not simply a random attack to punish the regime.
with Obama Monday, they both said they believed the White House is
developing a strategy that would weaken the regime of President Bashar
Assad and boost Syrian opposition forces - though they said Obama has
more work to do to explain this plan.
"We still have significant
concerns," McCain said, "but we believe there is in formulation a
strategy to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army and to
degrade the capabilities of Bashar Assad. Before this meeting, we had
not had that indication."
McCain of Arizona repeatedly said a
congressional vote rejecting the use of military force would be
"catastrophic" to U.S interests and would destroy the credibility of the
nation in the eyes of both allies and adversaries. Graham of South
Carolina said, "If we don't get Syria right, Iran is surely going to
take the signals that we don't care about their nuclear program. ... If
we lost a vote in Congress dealing with the chemical weapons being used
in Syria, what effect would that have on Iran and their nuclear
Both senators criticized the administration for lacking not having a clearer strategy in Syria before now.
In Syria Monday, Assad told a journalist with the French newspaper Le Figaro that any attack risked opening a wider war in the region.
has challenged the United States and France to provide proof to support
their allegations that Damascus has used chemical weapons, Assad said,
but that the leaders of both countries "have been incapable of doing
that, including before their own peoples."
McCain and Graham,
however, said they had no doubts about Syria's use of chemical weapons.
Their meeting Monday was part of a major lobbying push by the White
House Democrats were briefed on a conference call by
National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry,
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James
Clapper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.
Kerry said Sunday the administration has more proof Syrian troops used the nerve agent sarin in the Aug. 21 attack.
will be another busy day of lobbying for the White House. Obama will
meet with chairs and ranking members from key national security
committees, including the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,
House Foreign Affairs Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence and House Armed Services Committee.
Foreign Relations Committee will conduct a hearing on the issue Tuesday
afternoon in which Hagel, Kerry and Dempsey are likely to testify.