WASHINGTON -- Doubts were widespread among lawmakers this weekend as the White House pressed for limited strikes against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Dozens of members of Congress returned to Capitol Hill Sunday, interrupting their five-week summer recess, to attend a classified briefing held by senior administration officials on the White House’s military strategy and its rationale for the use of force.
President Barack Obama surprised many when he asked for congressional authorization Saturday to launch a military offensive, when it had appeared for days that he was poised to make the call on his own.
His decision came after weeks of lawmakers pushing for debate and a vote in Congress, and as it became clear that there would be no United Nations resolution, and that usually stalwart ally Britain would not be involved in the campaign.
The Syrian civil war has raged for two years and claimed 100,000 lives, but many lawmakers and experts doubt whether U.S. military engagement would stanch the bloodshed.
"The question is, is military action actually going to make the situation better on the ground for the Syrian people and how do you make sure this doesn't escalate into something much more damaging and much more bloody within the region?" said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on NBC’s "Meet the Press."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that there was a 50/50 chance that the White House’s proposed resolution, which calls for "unified action by the executive and legislative branches" to "send a clear signal of American resolve," would lose a vote in the House, but that it would be "rubber-stamped" by the Senate.
"The line in the sand should be that America gets involved when American interests are threatened," Paul said. "I don't see American interests involved on either side of this Syrian war."
Paul added that Obama should never have said the use of weapons constituted crossing "a red line" -- a statement that hemmed him in a year ago.
Other lawmakers, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told reporters that the proposed resolution gave the president too much broad authority and the language would have to be narrowed to garner their support.
Van Hollen said after the briefing that he could not vote for a "partial blank check," while Leahy said that the Senate would amend the resolution and send it back to the president.
Those who have been exerting pressure on the White House to act more decisively in Syria, meanwhile, said the president’s plan was not expansive enough.
"I and others will be wanting a strategy, a plan, rather than just we're going to launch some cruise missiles and that's it," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on CBS’s "Face the Nation."
"The best way to eliminate the threat of Bashar Assad's continued use of chemical weapons—and, by the way, we know he's used them a number of times before—would be the threat of his removal from power," he said.
Speaking Monday after meeting directly with Obama, McCain said he was encouraged by what he had heard but that the administration still had some way to go before getting a resolution passed. He added that a congressional vote against military force would be "catastrophic”" for the United States.
Professor Adams said votes will not be easy to get, with many Americans still dogged by the memories of the wars of the last decade.
"What people are going to hear in their districts are why are we getting involved? We shouldn’t mess around in the Syrian civil war," Adams said. "People are skeptical about the justifications as a result of Iraq, and the other legacy is that people are just tired of it. They don’t want to fight another person’s war in the Middle East."