WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama worked on Monday to persuade skeptical lawmakers to endorse a U.S. military intervention in civil war-wracked Syria, winning conditional support from two leading Senate foreign policy hawks. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Obama still needs to make a strong case for attacking the regime of President Bashar Assad, but they toned down past criticism that the president’s plan was too weak to change the course of the fighting in Syria in favor of the opposition.
“We have to make it clear that a vote against this would be catastrophic in its consequences,” now and in future international crises, McCain told reporters outside the White House following an hour-long private meeting that he and Graham had with Obama and White House national security adviser Susan Rice.
But the outcome of any vote remained in doubt amid continued skepticism in a war-weary Congress. Several Democrats in a conference call with administration officials pushed back against military action, questioning both the intelligence
Obama has insisted that he will not send troops into Syria and that he was considering a military operation that was limited in duration and scope. The White House said Monday that Obama was open to working with Congress to make changes to the language of the resolution.
After changing course and deciding to seek congressional approval for military action, Obama is confronted with one of his most difficult foreign policy tests and faces a Congress divided over an unavoidably tough vote-of-conscience on overseas conflict rather than the more customary partisan fights over domestic policy.
“My impression is that a lot of people are up for grabs,” McCain said.
Following months of rejecting direct intervention in Syria, Obama and his aides now want to strike at the Assad regime in response to a reported chemical attack that the Obama administration says was carried out by Assad’s military. The administration says more than 1,400 people were killed, including more than 400 children.
Obama was trying to find a middle ground that would attract a majority in the House and the Senate – a difficult task complicated further because Obama is leaving for a three-day trip to Europe Tuesday night, visiting Stockholm, Sweden, and then attending an economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The visit is all the more significant because Russia has sided with the Syrian regime.