WASHINGTON—The Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on a resolution on Sept. 4 authorizing President Barack Obama to strike Syria in response to the regime using chemical weapons against its civilians.
In the House, Secretary of State John Kerry passionately described the decision to strike Syria as taking a stand against a crime against humanity. Over hours of questioning in a hearing in the House Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry stayed patient until Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) accused him of being previously too cautious in military matters, and now too rash.
“I volunteered to fight for my country, and that was not a cautious thing to do. I am not going to sit here and be told by you that I don’t have a sense of caution,” Kerry said. Kerry is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who opposed the war after finishing his service.
While Kerry spoke, members of anti-war group Code Pink silently held up their palms, painted red.
In Kerry’s testimony, he characterized punishing Bashar al-Assad for deploying chemical weapons as an essential responsibility of the international community.
“This is about standing up for international norms that have only been broken two times since World War II, by Hitler and Saddam Hussein,” said Kerry.
Conservative Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey is politically far from Kerry, a Democrat. Yet both men shared a sense that America has a duty to react when nations commit crimes.
Smith said “We learned lessons from Rwanda and Yugoslavia,” where government-sponsored genocides took many lives. Smith called for a special tribunal on war crimes for the Syrian government, after a limited, short-duration military strike.
Like their Senate colleagues, most House legislators wanted to be sure no American troops would enter Syria. The Senate resolution rules out U.S. combat operations on the ground.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky conservative with strong Tea Party ties, has threatened a filibuster.
The administration blames a chemical weapons attack that took place on Aug. 21 on Assad’s government and says more than 1,400 civilians died, including more than 400 children. Other casualty estimates are lower, and the Syrian government denies responsibility, contending rebels fighting to topple Assad were to blame.
Obama, who will cross paths with Russia President Vladimir Putin at a G-20 economic summit this week, was asked in Stockholm about the strains that their differences on Syria were putting on their countries’ relations. Obama said he would continue to engage Putin, even though advances in U.S.-Russia relations had “hit a wall.”
Putin said in an interview with The Associated Press that Russia “doesn’t exclude” supporting a U.N. resolution on military strikes against the Syrian government if it is proved that government forces used poison gas on civilians. But he said it was “ludicrous” that Syria would use chemical weapons at a time when rebels were on the defensive.