September 5, 2013 - 08:58 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A sharply divided U.S. Senate committee voted Wednesday, Sept 4, to give President Barack Obama limited authority to use force against Syria.
A Reuters report says that the committee voted 10-7 in favor of a compromise resolution that sets a 60-day limit on any engagement in Syria, with a possible 30-day extension, and bars the use of U.S. troops on the ground for combat operations.
The administration is trying to balance the views of many in Congress who want a narrowly defined resolution against hawks such as Senator John McCain, who has pushed for a broader resolution that would allow direct U.S. support for rebels.
The Senate committee adopted amendments proposed by McCain with policy goals of degrading Assad's ability to use chemical weapons, increasing support for rebel forces and reversing battlefield momentum to create conditions for Assad's removal.
The authorization still faces significant resistance in Congress, where many lawmakers fear it could lead to a prolonged U.S. military involvement in Syria's civil war and spark an escalation of regional violence.
The full Senate is expected to vote on the resolution next week. The House of Representatives also must approve the measure.
The White House welcomed the vote, declaring, “America is stronger when the president and Congress work together.” But administration officials said that while they expected the full Senate to vote next week, after Congress returns from recess, they did not think the House would act until the week after and were girding for a prolonged debate, the New York Times reports.
Still, the Senate vote was hardly resounding. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, co-author of the resolution and the ranking Republican on the committee, was one of the Republicans who sided with Mr. Obama. Another was Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a freshman who voted with his state’s senior senator, John McCain, an ardent proponent of robust intervention.
The three Democrats who did not support the resolution served as a warning to White House aides still searching for support in the House. Senators Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut and Tom Udall of New Mexico are newcomers who reflect the sentiment of the House Democratic ranks they recently left. Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the Senate’s newest member and a longtime denizen of the House, voted present, saying he was still haunted by his vote to authorize war in Iraq.
“In the days to come, I will further examine the classified intelligence information and consult with experts before deciding how I will vote on the final resolution when it is considered on the Senate floor,” Markey said in a statement.
For the second day in a row, divisions over what do in Syria played out at a combative hearing in which Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, argued the Obama administration’s case. Hagel said any U.S. military strike would not be a mere "pin prick", but would reduce the Syrian government's military capability. He said he thought there was a "very high" likelihood that Assad would use chemical weapons again if the U.S. did not act.
According to BBC News, in Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Damascus was mobilizing its allies, who were "offering it all sorts of support". He cited Iran, Russia, South Africa and some Arab countries.
Appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Kerry offered a new argument: extremist groups fighting against the Syrian government would become stronger if the United States did not carry out a military strike.
Kerry said the United States had worked hard in recent months to persuade Arab nations and benefactors not to finance or arm the more extremist rebels who are battling Assad’s forces. But if the United States does not punish the Assad government, Kerry said, it is likely that some Arab supporters of the Syrian opposition will provide arms and financing to the best rebel fighters, regardless of whether they are extremists. “We will have created more extremism and a greater problem down the road,” Kerry said, according to the New York Times.
So far, only 23 senators have said they support or are likely to back the resolution, according to a tally by ABC/BBC News. 16 have said they oppose or are likely to oppose the resolution, while 61 votes are undecided or unknown.