WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama on Thursday prepared for the possibility of launching unilateral American military action against Syria within days as Britain opted out in a stunning vote by Parliament.
Facing skepticism at home, too, the administration shared intelligence with lawmakers aimed at convincing them the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people and must be punished.
Despite roadblocks in forming an international coalition, Obama appeared undeterred, and advisers said he would be willing to retaliate against Syria on his own.
Even before the vote in London, the U.S. was preparing to act without formal authorization from the United Nations, where Russia has blocked efforts to seek a resolution authorizing the use of force, or from Capitol Hill. But the U.S. had expected Britain, a major ally, to join in the effort.
Top U.S. officials spoke with certain lawmakers for more than 90 minutes in a teleconference Thursday evening to explain why they believe Bashar Assad’s government was the culprit in a suspected chemical attack last week. Lawmakers from both parties have been pressing Obama to provide a legal rationale for military action, as well as to lay out a firm case linking Assad to the attack.
Several lawmakers raised questions in the briefing about how the administration would finance a military operation as the Pentagon is grappling with automatic spending cuts and reduced budgets.
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron argued a military strike would be legal on humanitarian grounds. But he faced deep pressure from lawmakers and promised not to undertake military action until a U.N. chemical weapons team on the ground in Syria released findings about the Aug. 21 attack.
The prime minister said after the vote that while he believes in a “tough response” to the use of chemical weapons, he would respect the will of the House of Commons.
It was not certain the U.S. would have to act alone. France announced that its armed forces “have been put in position to respond” if President Francois Hollande commits forces to intervention against Syria. Hollande does not need parliamentary approval to launch military action that lasts less than 4 months.
Assad, who has denied using chemical weapons, vowed his country “will defend itself against any aggression.”