By Justin Sink - 08/27/13 03:09 AM EDT
President Obama is considering a military strike against Syria that is limited in scope in the hopes of preventing the United States from becoming ensnarled in the country's bloody civil war, according to a report in The Washington Post.
The attack would likely last no more than two days and involve either sea-launched cruise missiles or long-range bombers striking military targets within the country, the paper reported.
In a July letter to Congress, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that such "limited stand-off strikes" could target "high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile, and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes."
Separately, CNN reported Monday night that a senior administration official told the network Obama was on an "abbreviated timeline" to make a decision on how to react in Syria. The official also said that the White House expects to be presented with military options within the next few days, and that American forces could strike in hours if so ordered by the president.
The official also said that any action taken would not be to "punish or embarrass" Assad, but rather "we would be sending a message of accountability."
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney would only say that "the president and his team are evaluating options with regards to responses to this specific violation of an international norm — the prohibited use of chemical weapons against civilian populations," refusing to otherwise characterize the objective of potential U.S. action.
But the official's comment that the president was on an "abbreviated timeline" echoes remarks made by the president himself in an interview Friday with CNN. During that sit-down, Obama said that U.S. now faced a shorter timeframe to make a decision about how to respond to developments in Syria.
Meanwhile, CBS News reported Monday night that the president ordered his national security team to prepare a declassified report for public release outlining evidence that Syria used chemical weapons during a meeting Saturday at the White House.
The network also reported all attendees at the National Security Council meeting were in agreement that a military response was necessary.
And, according to the report, the president has also requested legal justification for military action to be prepared ahead of the potential use of force. That justification is expected to emphasize the alleged violations of the Geneva Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The CBS story came as Carney said Monday that he would not immediately "lay out a legal case" for military action "because we are evaluating potential responses."
At the same time, Carney said repeatedly on Monday that the alleged chemical weapons attack by allies of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad demonstrated "a disregard for international norms of behavior and a disregard for innocent life."
Carney confirmed to reporters that an assessment from the intelligence community would be shared "in the coming days."
Asked about the report that the president's national security team unanimously agreed military action was necessary, a White House spokesman said Monday night that they would not comment on internal deliberations.
The new developments are the latest in a loudening drumbeat for U.S. intervention following a rocket attack last week in the suburbs of Damascus, where rebel forces say some 1,300 Syrians were killed with poison gas. The Assad regime has denied responsibility, while the United Nations dispatched inspectors to the site.
The reports suggesting an accelerated push toward military intervention in Syria come amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by the United States.
Earlier Monday, national security adviser Susan Rice hosted a delegation of senior Israeli officials to discuss the developing situation, as well as foreign policy challenges in Iran and Egypt.
Separately, Obama phoned Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to discuss "possible responses by the international community" to the alleged chemical weapons use, according to the White House.
"The two leaders expressed their grave concern about the reported use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against civilians near Damascus," Carney said in a statement.
The Associated Press also reported late Monday that the State Department was canceling a meeting with Russian diplomats to discuss Syria later this week in The Hague.
In a phone call Monday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin said "that they did not have evidence of whether a chemical weapons attack had taken place or who was responsible," according to a statement from Downing Street.
That statement seemed to provoke Secretary of State John Kerry to say in a press conference Monday that it was "undeniable" that a chemical weapons attack had taken place.
“Our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscience and guided by common sense,” Kerry said.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad told The Associated Press Monday that airstrikes against his country would trigger "chaos" and could threaten world peace.
"If individual countries want to pursue aggressive and adventurous policies, the natural answer ... would be that Syria, which has been fighting against terrorism for almost three years, will also defend itself against any international attack," Mikdad said.
"They will bear the responsibility for such an attack, which will result in killing thousands of innocent people, as happened in Libya, and committing criminal actions against a sovereign country," he continued. "Syria will not be an easy target."
Meanwhile, administration officials were reaching out to lawmakers on Capitol Hill to brief them about possible military action. A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Monday night that officials from the White House had "preliminary communication” about possible moves.
"The Speaker made clear that before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability,” Boehner aide Brendan Buck said.
A spokesman for House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) also told NBC News that Kerry had called the congressman Monday afternoon to discuss Syria.
The White House did not formally announce any national security meetings on the president's agenda for Tuesday, although he is likely to confer with top intelligence and military advisers throughout the day. Kerry will meet Tuesday morning with Vice President Biden for a breakfast meeting at the Naval Observatory, ahead of Biden's trip to the White House for the presidential daily briefing.