Senator Lindsey Graham said Monday that President Obama must make a strong case for attacking Syria if he wants to win the backing of Congress.
Graham made the comments with fellow Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) shortly after meeting with Obama at the White House. Both Graham and McCain have been calling on the Obama Administration to be clearer in its strategy for the region.
The President said this weekend that he thinks military action against Syria is warranted due to its use of sarin gas in an August 21 attack. But Obama said Saturday that he first wants to get the approval of Congress. Syria has denied using chemical weapons in its attacks.
Graham criticized the president for sending mixed signals on potential U.S. involvement. “It is not a mystery to me that most members of Congress are reluctant to engage when it comes to Syria because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he told reporters Monday. “They don’t have any idea how this military strike, so limited in focus and nature, is going to change things. What are they going to tell people back home?”
Both Graham and McCain said they believe the White House is developing a strategy to weaken the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and “upgrade” Syrian rebels. However, they said the challenge would be getting support from a Congress that is bipartisan with its reluctance to get involved in another Mideast conflict.
Graham said he would have preferred quick, decisive military action and that he did not believe Congress’s approval was needed. “This is pretty bizarre to give the enemy weeks to reconfigure their force,” he said.
South Carolina’s senior senator has received heavy criticism on his position from the four candidates running against him in 2014. Republicans Lee Bright, Richard Cash, Nancy Mace, and Democrat Jay Stamper have all said they believe a military strike against Syria is not the U.S. national security interests and may lead to an escalation in the region.
The rest of South Carolina’s Republican congressional delegation has been cautious about staking a position so far. Sen. Tim Scott has not taken an official stance, other than saying he will not support “boots on the ground” (Graham also says he opposes ground troops). Reps. Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney and Mark Sanford have all said the President should get Congress’s permission before any attack. Rep. Joe Wilson said he has not decided if he would support a military strike. Rep. Tom Rice has stayed mum on his position.
South Carolina’s sole congressional Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn, has said the U.S. should consider “No Fly Zones” in Syria.