Washington: President Barack Obama is inviting Senator John McCain to the White House, hoping his foe in the 2008 presidential election will help sell the idea of a US military intervention in Syria to a nation deeply scarred by more than a decade of war.
Having announced over the weekend that he`ll seek congressional approval for military strikes against the Assad regime, the Obama administration is now trying to rally support among Americans and their congressman and senators.
Today`s meeting with McCain is meant to address concerns of those who feel Obama isn`t doing enough to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad`s government for an attack in the Damascus suburbs last month that the US says included sarin gas and killed at least 1,429 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children. On the other side of the spectrum, some Republican and Democratic lawmakers don`t want to see military action at all.
Obama`s turnabout on Syria sets the stage for the biggest foreign policy vote in Congress since the Iraq war.
Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday said the US received new physical evidence in the form of blood and hair samples that shows sarin gas was used in the August 21 attack.
Kerry said the US must respond with its credibility on the line.
"We know that the regime ordered this attack," he said. "We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards."
Kerry`s assertion coincided with the beginning of a forceful administration appeal for congressional support. At Congress, senior administration officials briefed lawmakers in private to explain why the US was compelled to act against Assad. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also made calls to individual lawmakers.
Further classified meetings were planned from today to Wednesday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans a meeting Tuesday, according to its chairman, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez.
The Senate Armed Service Committee will gather a day later, said Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the panel.
McCain, one of the most hawkish members of Congress on foreign policy, said Obama asked him to come to the White House specifically to discuss Syria.
"It can`t just be, in my view, pinprick cruise missiles," the Republican told CBS` "Face the Nation."