White House Sends War Authorization to Hill, Brief Lawmakers on Sunday

The White House sent a carefully worded draft resolution to Congress late Saturday afternoon that would authorize the United States to begin military strikes against the Syrian regime.

The short, two-page document reiterates president Obama’s continued insistence that any action would be focused on degrading the ability of the Syrian military to continue to launch chemical weapons attacks, while refusing to outline any larger political or military goals.

The draft of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) said that “the objective of the United States’ use of military force in connection with this authorization should be to deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for, future uses of weapons of mass destruction.”

White House staffers will head to the Hill at 2pm on Sunday to brief lawmakers and their staffs on the administration’s intelligence picture and plan for action, reports say.

Just as Secretary of State Kerry and the president made clear in a series of statements earlier this week, the document said that a key objective of any strike would also be to deter foes like Iran, North Korea and terrorist groups like Hezbollah from considering using chemical or nuclear weapons in the future.

Strikes should be planned to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components used in such weapons; or 2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat of such weapons.”

In a surprise move, on Saturday afternoon president Obama announced that he would seek congressional approval before ordering any military action in Syria, where 100,000 civilians have been killed over the past two years fighting against the regime of Bashir Assad, and an estimated 1,400 people were killed in a single chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 in a suburb of Damascus.

In a bid to tie Syrian chemical weapons to core US security interests, the draft also reminds Congress that in 2003 it passed the Syria Accountability and Lebanon Sovereignty Act which “found that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security of the Middle East and national security of the United States.”

But some on the Hill are already complaining that the White House’s language doesn’t go far enough.

Republican Senate hawks John McCain and Lindsey Graham released a joint statement on Saturday saying that “we cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President’s stated goal of Assad’s removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests.”

The duo, which has slammed the administration’s inaction on Syria for the past two years, added that anything short of removing Assad “would be an inadequate response to the crimes against humanity that Assad and his forces are committing.”

While White House staffers are heading to the Hill on Sunday to brief lawmakers, Congress won’t be in session until September 9 — so barring an emergency callback from their home districts that doesn’t seem imminent there’s little chance of anything happening until that debate can be held.

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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