Obama Promises ‘Broader’ Syria Strategy

The president's language seemed design to win the support of hawks like John McCain, and he asked for quick congressional approval of military action

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US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Syria during a meeting with members of Congress at the White House in Washington, DC, September 3, 2013.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday promised a “broader” strategy in Syria while asking for quick congressional approval of military action.

In language that seemed designed to win over hawks who have pushed for a stronger response, like Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Obama said his game plan would go beyond a simple military response to Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack that killed hundreds last month.

“It is something limited. It is something proportional. It will degrade Assad’s capabilities,” Obama told reporters ahead of a White House meeting with congressional leaders. “At the same time, we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition and allow Syria to ultimately free itself.”

McCain, who met with Obama Monday, has used the same “upgrade” and “degrade” language, and Obama’s parroting of his former rival underscores just how much he needs McCain to bring along other Republicans. The administration has resisted calls to arm rebel factions.

Obama, who announced last weekend that he’ll seek congressional approval for the military response he wants to mount, asked Congress to vote on the issue promptly, and predicted the kind of success on Capitol Hill that has so often eluded him with Republicans in control of the House.

“We are going to be asking for hearings and a prompt vote,” he said. Asked if he’s confident lawmakers will support him, Obama responded, “I am.”

And he reassured Congress — and the American people — that taking action in Syria will not lead to extended wars like those started by former President George W. Bush.

“This is not Iraq, this is not Afghanistan,” Obama said. “This is a limited proportional step that will send a message not only to the Assad regime, but to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences.”