Syria crisis: Barack Obama attempts to rally waverers ahead of Congress vote on US strikes

Videos of gas victims deployed along with a media campaign and proxies to persuade public to back Syria military action

Facing the most perilous passage of his presidency, Barack Obama is to redouble his efforts to persuade a sceptical US Congress and American public to back strikes against Syria.

The President and his team are using a variety of methods to convince his opponents – among them videos of squirming gas victims, an Oval Office address and deploying myriad surrogates to speak on his behalf.

The task has in recent days become more daunting. Members of Congress return to Washington on Monday after mostly being besieged by their constituents to vote against action. Getting an authorising resolution through the Senate looks difficult; prospects of passage by the House look even tighter, with more than 200 members already indicating their opposition.

What happens on Capitol Hill in the next days may determine whether missiles aimed at Syria are fired and also shape the legacy of Mr Obama, whose authority, at home and abroad, is surely on the line. While the President could theoretically ignore a “no” vote in Congress and order strikes anyway, to do so would almost surely elicit an impeachment effort by conservative and Tea Party Republicans.

To his critics, Mr Obama has only himself to blame for the predicament. “This is an unmitigated disaster. It’s amateur hour at the White House,” Karl Rove, the former Bush aide,  declared last night. “If he gets the  authority it shows that he’s not a  lame duck,” said John Feehery, a former House Republican leadership aide. “If he doesn’t get the authority, it’s devastating.”

Denis McDonough, the Chief of Staff, played down the political stakes. “The President is not interested in the politics of this,” he said. Mr Obama will undertake some of  the “heavy lifting”, as the White House now calls it, himself, sitting down with all the major networks  and news cable channels on Monday to make his case before his Oval Office address on Tuesday.

But he will not be alone. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has plans to swarm Capitol Hill tomorrow with 250 lobbyists to urge members of Congress to support strikes.

Israel’s Ynet news agency on Sunday evening quoted senior Israelis close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that in recent days he has spoken with members of congress and figures in the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, the lobbying group, to explain to them the importance of an American military action against the Assad regime.

Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to comment on the report.

Meanwhile the White House is recruiting figures of influence from every corner, including from past Republican administrations, to help to make the case. Hillary Clinton will speak out for strikes at two events this week. David Petraeus, a former general and CIA director, urged action, as did the former Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

Mr Obama received little help from his two days at the G20 summit in Stockholm and Americans awoke on Sunday morning to images of 100,000 people, led by Pope Francis, holding a vigil for peace in Rome. Then, on the CBS network on Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad surfaced asserting his innocence. “There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people,” the network reported him claiming in an interview conducted in Damascus.

In a sign that continued talk of military intervention may be having an effect on the Syrian leadership, Charlie Rose, who conducted the interview, said that Mr Assad expressed concern that a US attack might degrade the Syrian military and tip the balance in the civil war.

Meanwhile, John Kerry, the Secretary of State, arrived in London on Sunday as part of a tour of European capitals to stiffen the support of key allies. Speaking in Paris earlier, Mr Kerry said that Mr Obama has not ruled out further discussion of Syria at the UN Security Council, an option the French opposition is pressing on President François Hollande. “All of us are listening carefully to all of our friends,” he said. “No decision has been made by the President.”

Ahead of talks with Mr Kerry, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, indicated that a second vote in Parliament might not be out of the question. “If circumstances change dramatically, then of course everybody would be looking at things in a different light,” he said on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. But he said the Government was not “gung-ho” about strikes, acknowledging “a lot of public unease about intervention”.

So far Washington has not seen  any point in re-engaging the UN because of Russia’s veto or even awaiting the results of the UN inspectors’ mission to Syria. But the British ambassador to the UN, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, hinted debate may yet resume in the Security Council.

Hoping to push the debate in the President’s direction, the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday posted 13 videos on the internet that “claim to show victims of a chemical or poison-gas attack”, according to the committee’s website. The videos, allegedly showing civilians gasping  and suffering spasms after exposure to the attacks, were supplied by the Syrian opposition and assembled by the CIA.

“Those videos make it clear to people that these are human beings, children, parents, being affected in ways that are unacceptable,” Mr Kerry said. “And the US has always stood with others to say we will not allow this.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links