Syria crisis: Senate resolution like Goldilocks' porridge

John Kerry testifies before Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 4 September 2013 The committee voted for military action in Syria after hearing testimony from US Secretary of State John Kerry

The United States is a little further down the road towards action in Syria.

We cannot call it war, because Secretary of State John Kerry says it is not.

The Senate foreign relations committee has voted to authorise military action, by 10 votes to seven with one abstention.

If the committee mirrors its colleagues, President Barack Obama would win a narrow victory next week. But they may not be typical. It looks like it will be close.

The motion is a curious hybrid, which underscores the president's difficulty in selling his intended action. Like the porridge of the Goldilocks fairy tale, it can neither be too hot nor too cold, but just right.

The original motion was crafted to reassure those who are worried about an attack on Syria developing into something else. It limits action to an initial 60 days. It forbids combat troops on the ground.

But Senator John McCain, the doyen of hawkish use of American power, has long been worried that President Obama has done too little and has not set out how his "shot across the bows" could make a real difference in Syria.

He thinks the US should not just declare Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should go, but act to encourage that outcome.

So he added in words that stress that policy is to "reverse momentum on the battlefield", degrade President Assad's capabilities, and help the opposition, including giving them weapons.

I am not certain if, in the terms of the motion, this would only be for a couple of months.

But what senators will vote on does seem to both tie the president's hands and beef up the aims of America's action.

It could provide something for everyone. Or it could please nobody.

It is very hard to predict the outcome next week.

An ABC/BBC straw poll found that out of the 100 senators, 57 told us they had not made up their minds. Of those who talked and had made up their minds, the majority for action was 21 to 13.

That level of uncertainty should make the White House very nervous - and very active - in the next few days.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I have every faith that Obama is well informed & reluctant. I also believe that Blair knew the lies behind WMD in Iraq but had to bow to pressure from US Hawks. The thing that concerns me is the underlying motive, and who is really calling the shots. I doubt that it is all down to one man. Something hidden is pushing this onwards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Brian M@12"ZERO evidence"

    What evidence would meet your standard of conclusiveness?

    quietoaktree @18 "-- at what?"

    At the fact that the US and UK governments are taking a more democratic approach to a difficult no-win decision.

    Where are the 165 countries that signed the 1992 UN Chemical Weapons Convention? Was the convention just a joke?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.


    The UN Charter states "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."

    The CWC does not specify what happens when you break it, but international law demands that we convene the UNSC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I don't know Interested, do you think 200,000 would be better.

    Care to project how bombing Syria, aiding Jihadis is going to lessen the casualties and not prolong this war, given the regime has been making significant progress?

    The West is desperate because Assad is winning, nothing to do with chemical weapons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    With everything so well planned --and if it ends in a catastrophe--

    the excuse will be -- someone sneezed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Mystery babylon

    As USA is mentoring FSA rebels they should explain why outside mercenaries have a right to overthrow foreign government and why NSA has a right to spy on citizens

    legal thing
    reserve right to submit further statements and fact finding requests
    reserve right to file charges of war crimes against shady untrustworthy US presidents

    (as opposed to complaining like nasty nazi's)

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Brian, there are 100,000 dead.
    200,000 be better?

    Over Vietnam and Iraq, we swore "Never again."

    Over Bosnia, and Rwanda, over Ouradour, and Guernica, and Lidice, we also swore "Never again".

    What makes Damascus different from Guernica?

    Weigh each case on its own merits.

    These aren't easy choices, and there are more ways to help the people of Syria than just cruise missiles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Isn't it curious that for all ,the spy satellites, all the spies, that both Iraq and now Syria have something in common:

    WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. intelligence agencies did not detect the Syrian regime readying a massive chemical weapons attack in the days ahead of the strike, only piecing together what had happened after the fact, U.S. officials say.

    they always miss the important stuff....proof

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    #11 Curt Carpenter

    "We should all be pleased." ?

    --at what ?

    --Let someone else have the dilemma ?

    The West can still be victims down the line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    What with all the various political and economic issues surrounding Iran, Libya, Egypt, North Korea, China, Russia, Israel, Lebanon, Argentina, Greece, Spain and others, this seems like a tinderbox waiting for a spark to set it all off.

    It's never been a riper time to kick off another major war.
    All it needs is someone to get things going..

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The mention of a time limit of 60 days is clearly a disingenuous red herring. As they are talking of army the Al Qaeda rebels, do you think they will give the weapons back after they've borrowed them for 60 days? The whole thing is folly.
    Yes, chemical weapons are bad, but so is war. Two wrongs don't make a right and the US has no right to declare itself boss of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Mission creep..... by tip toe...well-rehearsed we have seen it all before. It is clear this is regime change, we know this is bad now, but things may turn out worse with no proper strategy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Undeterred by the plain language in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, President is again going through the motions of gaining the support required by U.S. Law, all the while maintaining that he will do as he pleases. Might I suggest then that the President can find the legal basis to conduct military action unilaterally within the framework of U.S. government. A Letter of Marque.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @10. Local chap
    "And Geoff, if this proposed action "is against the UN charter", what is the use of chemical weapons? No more than a fart in the playground?"

    It is also against the UN charter but it is not up to the United States to act against it. It has no right and no mandate to be the world police.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    All rhetoric

    ZERO evidence

    and yet the media forces all the propaganda down our throat

    If Assad falls, what happens to the now dominant Jihadists? Or is that the point? Is that when the invasion will take place?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The price for American action in Syria will be immediate. The price for doing nothing in Syria will be paid in installments, with a balloon payment at the end.

    Either way, the President has done exactly the right thing in leaving the choice between these options to the congress -- as did the PM in setting the precedent and leaving the choice to the parliament.

    We should all be pleased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Geoffrey @8- suggest you extend your reading as bbc is pretty balanced.

    And Geoff, if this proposed action "is against the UN charter", what is the use of chemical weapons? No more than a fart in the playground?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    -- and Iran mines the Strait of Hormuz.

    --then what ????

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The BBC are accepting whatever the US administration says and poses none of the difficult questions.
    BBC, this is war, even if Kerry says it is not. It is against the UN Charter, and is objected to by over 60% of the US and UK, but you will not find that here on the BBC.
    Please report more sides of this argument BBC, otherwise you cannot call yourself neutral.
    Kerry is lying.
    Obama is inept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    It probably won't start a war, but, despite the best of intentions, it won't finish this one either.

    We must make them look at the futility and stupidity of Vietnam and Iraq. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past.

    The Israel Hawks here might be consigning their beloved cause to the fires of war, and for What?

    The USA chanters may be promoting the final nudge to trash our economy


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