Syria crisis: Obama sends Kerry to Capitol Hill to win over sceptics

While the president tries to win over lawmakers to his cause, the Syrian army has a message of its own for US Marines - in the form of a hack on their website

Amid signs in Washington of deep anxiety about unintended consequences and unforeseeable outcomes, President Barack Obama’s appeal to Congress for support for strikes against Syria will have its first big test on Tuesday as Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel face a fierce grilling on Capitol Hill.

As aides scrambled behind the scenes to redraft a first version of an authorisation bill that has so far received short shrift from increasingly sceptical members of Congress, Mr Obama won conditional support from two Republican hawks, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham during talks at the White House. Both warned him however that he would have to make a stronger case if he was to win broader congressional approval.

“We have to make it clear that a vote against this would be catastrophic in its consequences,” now and in the future, McCain said afterwards. “A degrading strike limited in scope could have a beneficial effect to the battlefield momentum. There will never be a political settlement in Syria as long as Assad is winning,” Mr Graham added.

No votes are expected until next week when Congress returns from its summer recess. But the administration has already given extensive briefings on the case for action. So far, reactions have ranged from muted and cautious support to near-open resistance with hopes for passage lower in the House than in the Democrat-controlled Senate.  In a conference call, Mr Kerry told Democrats they faced a “Munich moment” as they pondered their vote.

Hanging over all of Washington still is last Thursday’s shock parliamentary vote in Britain, staying the hand of David Cameron. Casting just as long a shadow in the US – as they have in London – are memories of 2003 when the Bush administration took America into the Iraq War with what turned out to be severely flawed intelligence.

The lead advocates for the administration are Mr Kerry and Mr Hagel, who must lay out their best case before an open, emergency session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon. Its members include Mr McCain as well as Rand Paul, the Libertarian and Tea Party flag-bearer, who is firmly against military intervention.

The draft bill that was first circulated late on Sunday drew criticism from many members for promising only “limited” action against Syria yet seemingly seeking broad and open-ended powers. And while Mr Kerry has focused so far on what he has said is the proof of the regime’s responsibility for gassing its own people 10 days ago, killing at least 1,429 civilians, it is now more what could come next. The end-game is concerning many members of Congress.

“Is military action actually going to make the situation better on the ground for the Syrian people and how do you make sure this doesn’t escalate into something much more damaging and much more bloody within the region?” asked Chris Murphy, a Democrat senator from Connecticut.

There is little understating the stakes for Mr Obama. Rejection by Congress would be seen to significantly weaken his authority domestically and internationally. Since the War Powers Act of 1973, no US President has been turned down seeking authority to use the US military overseas, even if they haven’t always paused to ask. A bill was passed in 2002 giving the green light to George W Bush for the Iraq War.

Russia, which will play host to Mr Obama at a G20 summit later this week, said it was considering sending a delegation of parliamentarians to Washington to pressure members of Congress to vote against a strike.

A screen-grab of the official marines.com website, hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army A screen-grab of the official marines.com website, hacked by the Syrian army

* Yet the president’s decision to go through the whole rigmarole of gaining Congress support at all has been met with taunts from the Syrian government.

It was hailed as a “historic American retreat” by the official state al-Thawra newspaper, and met with derision from Syrian officials who simultaneously deny responsibility for the chemical attack in Damascus on 21 August, and accuse the Obama administration of weakness for not responding more decisively in the aftermath.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters in Damascus: “It is clear there was a sense of hesitation and disappointment in what was said by President Barack Obama yesterday. And it is also clear there was a sense of confusion as well.”

Meanwhile, the US Marines received a message calling for support from their “brothers, the Syrian army soldiers” – in the form of a web attack from the Syrian Electronic Army.

Changing the homepage of an official Marines recruitment website www.marines.com to a page entitled “Hacked by SEA”, the message read: “Dear US Marines… We understand your patriotism and love for your country so please understand our love for ours.

“Obama is a traitor who wants to put your lives in danger to rescue Al-Qa'ida insurgents… The Syrian army should be your ally not your enemy.

“Refuse your orders and concentrate on the real reason every soldier joins their military, to defend their homeland. You’re more than welcome to fight alongside our army rather than against it.” Adam Withnall

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies