PRESIDENT Obama last night won the support of key Republicans as he looks to build support for tactical strikes on Syria over the alleged used of chemical weapons by President al-Assad.
Eric Cantor, who leads the Republican party in the House of Representatives, gave his backing to the President, while John Boehner, the speaker of the house told reporters: “I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action.” However, Republicans will not be whipped to vote in favour on the issue, and are free to vote against it.
Congress is expected to vote on whether to endorse military strikes on Syria next week, with a motion to prevent or deter the use of chemical weapons tabled.
US Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in on the debate again yesterday in testimony to congress.
Kerry said that Congress should not rule out the use of American ground troops, but that there were no plans for such a scenario. He added: “I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.”
He further suggested that if the situation in Syria deteriorated significantly further, that a physical military presence in the country might be required to prevent weapons of mass destruction being acquired by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups.
There are divided opinions among other US politicians, with former presidential candidate Senator John McCain initially suggesting that Obama’s limited strikes were not bold enough, and that he should have acted without asking for congressional approval.
Senator Rand Paul, who is touted as a potential candidate for the Republican party in 2016, is opposed to action and believes that US interests are not threatened by conflict in Syria.
A Reuters poll suggests that the US public oppose action in Syria by nearly three to one, with 56 per cent in favour of an intervention and 19 per cent opposed.
Francois Hollande, the President of France, has emerged as the major European backer of action against the Syrian regime. Hollande confirmed yesterday that the French government would wait for the decision of the US Congress before proceeding.
In a press conference, the French President said: “The most serious threat would be to let him (al-Assad) get on with it. To let him continue to use chemical weapons. To let him massacre part of his population, and threaten the whole region.”