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Kerry, Seeking Congressional Approval, Goes on PR Blitz

Secretary of State John Kerry is leading a publicity blitz, making the rounds on Capitol Hill and this past weekend’s Sunday shows, to get lawmakers behind President Barack Obama’s call for military intervention in Syria.

Written by Susannah George Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

It could be working; on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters that he was in favor of intervention. “I am going to support the president’s call for action,” he said. “I believe my colleagues should support this call for action.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), followed suit.

“Bashar al-Assad now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein [who] have used these weapons in time of war,” Kerry said on NBC’s Meet the Press, while on ABC’s This Week, he laid out the administration’s basic argument for intervention: that it “cannot allow Assad to be able to gas people with impunity,” and that if the U.S. is unwilling to stand up to the Syrian president, “we will be granting a blanket license to Assad to continue to [use] gas.”

It’s a lively step-up in rhetoric for the usually staid Kerry, who labeled Assad, with whom he shared a fancy dinner on a 2009 visit to Damascus, a “thug and a murderer” in a fiery speech on Friday. On Sunday, he refused to say the evidence against Assad as pertaining to the use of chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 eastern Ghouta attack was a “slam dunk,” but expressed the administration’s “high confidence.”

“The words ‘slam dunk’ should be retired from American national security issues,” he told NBC. “We are saying that the high confidence that the intelligence community has expressed and the case that I laid out the other day is growing stronger by the day.”

The Obama administration has also released new intelligence aimed at bolstering its claims that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. Kerry outlined that evidence on Meet the Press, saying that samples from first responders after the Aug. 21 chemical attacks in east Damascus tested positive for “signatures of Sarin … this case is building, and this case will build.”

In a weekend piece, The New York Times labeled Kerry’s mission as a “full press campaign” aimed at the lawmakers who have been tasked with debating whether or not the U.S. should stage an intervention against Assad, who, if he did carry out the attacks in Ghouta, would have finally crossed Obama’s “red line.”

“The lobbying blitz stretched from Capitol Hill, where the administration held its first classified briefing on Syria open to all lawmakers, to Cairo, where Secretary of State John Kerry reached Arab diplomats by phone in an attempt to rally international support for a firm response to the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus,” wrote Jackie Calmes and Michael R. Gordon. “The word from many American politicians is that the best U.S. policy is to stay out. As Sarah Palin put it: ‘Let Allah sort it out.’”

But Kerry is on a mission to change that mindset this week. On Fox News Sunday, he defended Obama’s decision to request congressional approval for a strike, which many in the Arab world view as an easy way out: a way of putting off the decision. Kerry said Obama believes the U.S. “is stronger when you have the time to be able to have the support of the United States Congress and obviously the support of the American people through them.”

But he faces an uphill battle in convincing Congress to strike. Not only do lawmakers remain skeptical, but so do their constituents: 29 percent of Americans are in favor of intervention if Assad’s government used chemical weapons on civilians.

Many on Capitol Hill are also wary of involvement in yet another foreign war after the U.S.’s drawn-out occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. “I am very concerned about taking America into another war against a country that hasn’t attacked us,” Representative Janice Hahn (D-CA), told Reuters. Hahn said the lawmakers who met with Obama were “evenly divided” over whether to approve a Syria strike.

As Kerry went before the cameras, the subject of intervention was also being mulled in Syrian media. The government-controlled, pro regime television station reported that Assad had assured Iranian Foreign Ministry representatives that U.S. threats “will not discourage Syria from commitment to its principles.”

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