By STEVE CHAGGARIS, STEPHANIE CONDON
The Obama administration has concluded that Syrian President Bashar Assad‘s government used chemical weapons against the rebels seeking to overthrow him and, in a major policy shift, President Obama has decided to supply military support to the rebels, the White House announced Thursday.
“The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition that will involve providing direct support to the [Supreme Military Council]. That includes military support,” Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes told reporters.
President Obama has repeatedly said that the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” that, if crossed, would be a “game changer” for more U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.
“The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a red line for the United States,” said Rhodes in a separate written statement.
“The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” he continued.
In terms of further response, Rhodes said, “we will make decisions on our own timeline” and that Congress and the international community would be consulted. Mr. Obama is heading to Northern Ireland Sunday for a meeting of the G8 group of nations; Rhodes indicated the president will consult with leaders of those countries.
“Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity,” Rhodes said.
To date, the U.S. policy on Syria has primarily focused on offering the rebels nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid.
THE U.S. SENATE
Hey, Marco: You cannot lead in two directions. . .
at the same time.
It’s like having a forked tongue.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a star at the Democratic National Conventionand leading advocate of immigration reform, criticized Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell‘s call for significant changes to the bipartisan bill now before the Senate.
“What we need now are folks who are seriously working to pass it come together and make the compromises, make the small changes that are needed,” Castro told CBS News after a White House event with business and labor leaders united behind comprehensive reform. “It has a strong framework and it’s going to take serious legislators who actually want to get things done.”
McConnell took the Senate floor and predicted the bill as drafted by the so-called Gang of 8 (four Republicans and four Democrats) would fail as written. Even so, McConnell voted to begin debate on the legislation, helping it clear one important procedural hurdle.
“At the risk of stating the obvious, this bill has serious flaws,” McConnell said. “In the days ahead there will need to be major changes to this bill if it’s going to become law. These include, but are not limited to, the areas of border security,government benefits and taxes.”
On the issue of border security, Castro echoed the White House contention that improvements in border security ought to pave the way for comprehensive reform. The chief goal of that reform is creating a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already here. Under the legislation, most undocumented workers would be immediately protected from deportation but have to wait up to 13 years to obtain citizenship.
Castro also said it would be impossible to create absolute border security, implying any attempt to tie legalization of undocumented workers to that standard would gut the 1,077-page bill.