Dem senator: Obama must prove Syria strikes ‘only alternative’ left

Democratic Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) said President Obama must convince lawmakers that airstrikes in Syria are the “only alternative” available for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria before expanding military operations.

In an interview on CNN Tuesday, Reed said Obama “would have to make the case and make it compellingly that this represents the only alternative we have in the face of a very grave and serious threat.”

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President Obama has authorized military strikes against the al Qaeda offshoot in Iraq and is weighing expanding those attacks to the group’s foothold in Syria.

Reed said Obama had made “the right step” in authorizing surveillance flights over Syria to assess the threat posed by ISIS. 

“Because without the facts, with the good analysis, I don’t think you could get that kind of automatic, instantaneous, reflexive support” in Congress, he said.

But Reed, who would lead the Armed Services Committee if Democrats hold on to the Senate next year, joined a growing chorus of lawmakers who say Obama needs congressional approval before military action in Syria. 

Reed said “sketchy” intelligence had been used to justify the war in Iraq.

“We can’t do that again,” he said.

The White House has refused to commit to seeking congressional authorization before airstrikes in Syria.

A year ago, Obama went to Congress to seek permission to strike Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for using chemical weapons. But the administration pulled back their request after receiving only tepid support.

Reed said the president could take immediate action against ISIS if he determines it poses an “imminent” threat. Obama could then notify lawmakers under the War Powers Act, as he has done with operations inside Iraq.

But Reed cautioned that a “long-term, intense operation” would be “another issue.”

In that case, congressional input would be “very useful and very critical,” he said.

Bipartisan approval would be “much more effective than a single action by the executive,” he added.