WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is continuing its full-throated campaign to convince Americans of the need for military action to punish Syria for deadly chemical weapons attacks. Administration officials took to U.S. airwaves two days before President Barack Obama is to address the nation and urge congressional approval for the use of force.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough delivered the same message on multiple U.S. television programs, including Fox News Sunday.
"Assad used chemical weapons against his people," he said. "So the question now is for Congress is: are there consequences for a dictator who would have used those weapons to gas to death hundreds of children?”
President Obama made the case for limited U.S. military engagement in his weekly address Saturday, and will do so again in scheduled appearances on major U.S. broadcast networks Monday. The administration’s biggest lobbying effort to date on an international matter culminates Tuesday with a live presidential address to the nation.
Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation program, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers was critical of the White House’s efforts so far.
“An awful job explaining to the American people what is the national United States interest in any level of engagement in a place like Syria. It is a confusing mess up to this point," he said.
Polls show most American’s opposing military strikes in Syria, and only a tiny fraction of lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is on record backing the use of force. For now, it is not clear whether a resolution authorizing military strikes will pass either house of Congress, or what the consequences of a ‘no’ vote would be.
Adding to lawmakers apprehensions are concerns about the make-up and allegiances of some Syrian rebel elements that presumably would benefit from U.S. military intervention.
Republican Senator Rand Paul told Fox News Sunday he worries about rebel ties to Muslim extremists. “If we go in on the side of the rebels, we will be going in on the side of al-Qaida," he said.
Fellow-Republican Senator Ted Cruz expressed similar misgivings on ABC’s This Week program. “Just because [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad is a murderous tyrant does not mean his opponents are any bette," he said.
White House Chief of Staff McDonough said he is “outraged” by the suggestion that U.S. forces would be allied with terrorists. He also said that President Obama is concerned about U.S. national security - not about any political consequences that arise from congressional votes on the use of force.