White House spokesman Jay Carney made it clear Tuesday that President Obama will not try to pursue “regime change” when he directs a U.S. response to Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons against his own citizens last week.
Repeatedly asked during his daily press briefing what the goal of a U.S. response, military or otherwise, would be, Carney said the U.S. was not trying to topple Assad from power or change the dynamics of the Syrian civil war, even though the U.S. has recently increased its support for the Syrian opposition and would like to see Assad ousted.
“The options we are considering are not about regime change,” Carney said, stressing that a U.S. response would serve to punish Assad for violating “an international norm” prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.
Even though bipartisan consensus in Washington has gelled around a plan to surgically strike key Assad-controlled targets, Carney said “there is no military solution” in Syria. Any resolution to the bloody three-year civil war, he said, must come as a result of a political process that forces Assad from power.
But for now, Carney said there must be a response to the chemical attack in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, as the death toll reaches beyond 1,000 and the West is confronted with macabre videos of those who died, along with those still suffering from the nerve-agent attack.
Several media reports early Tuesday said President Obama was planning strikes that would be limited in scope and aimed at sending Assad a message that future chemical attacks would not be tolerated. Those reports sparked a heated debate across the political spectrum about the impact of a a small-scale attack versus a broader one aimed at taking out Assad.
At the White House Tuesday, Carney continued to say that Obama has yet to make a decision about the appropriate response.
“The president continues to work with his national security team reviewing the options available to him,” Carney said. “That process continues.”
The only timing clues Carney provided regarded a declassified intelligence report laying out the evidence and rationale behind the U.S. determination that Assad’s forces are responsible for the chemical attack. He said the public should expect the report “this week” and disputed suggestions that it was expected Tuesday.
Members of Congress from both parties continued to call on Obama to seek congressional approval before ordering any type of military strike. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Monday had a preliminary discussion with the White House on the situation in Syria and a potential U.S. response and afterward called for more meaningful consultation with members of Congress on “clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron is recalling Parliament this week so it can vote Thursday to authorize a British response. Carney, however, would not say whether the White House would seek congressional approval.
“As this process is undertaken, we are consulting directly with House and Senate leaders in Congress,” he said. “We’re consulting directly with the leadership of the relevant committees as well as with other members of Congress who have a keen interest in this matter.”
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said administration officials briefed him Tuesday morning about the options they are weighing.
“The administration is proceeding cautiously, consulting with our allies and other countries in the region to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people,” he said. “The president is considering a broad range of options that have been presented by our military leaders.”