The White House on Sunday defended its approach to the Syrian conflict as Republicans launched fresh accusations that the Obama administration is doing too little and has moved too slowly to aid rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.
“We have to be very discerning about what's in our interest and what outcome is best for us, and the prices that we're willing to pay to get to that place,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
“We've rushed to war in this region in the past. We're not going to do it here,” he added, an apparent reference to the war in Iraq launched by the George W. Bush administration.
The White House announced last week that it would provide military aid to Syrian rebels, and according to news accounts it’s likely to consist of small arms and ammunition.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a leading GOP critic of White House foreign policy, said on NBC Sunday that greater intervention – a no-fly zone – would be needed.
“I think our goal should be to balance the military power,” he said. “We need to create a no-fly zone.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), appearing on ABC News, criticized the White House’s policy on Syria, alleging Obama waited too long to act.
“Timing matters and these were options that were there for us a year-and-a-half ago,” said Rubio on ABC’s “This Week.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said the White House lacks a clear vision for addressing the Syrian crisis, which he called “catastrophic” and worsening by the day.
“The administration needs to come up to Congress and make a comprehensive case. What is the plan? Where are we going on Syria? And what do you want to accomplish? Some of the things that they have told the Intelligence Committee in the past doesn’t comport with that they are presenting as the direction they want to go,” Rogers said on the same CBS program where McDonough appeared.
“It seems to me they have a great media strategy. They don’t have a great Syrian strategy,” he said.
McDonough defended the White House approach and declined to get into details on the level of assistance that the U.S. will ultimately provide.
“I don't think we've gotten into the kind of individual puts and takes. What we have said is that the scope and feel of our assistance, which has been robust heretofore, to the Syrian opposition council, as well as to the Syrian military council, actually the fighters on the ground, that assistance will expand. The scope and scale of that assistance will expand,” he said.
“Why are we doing that? We're doing that because we want to make sure that Syrians who want to take charge of their own country have the ability to do that,” McDonough said.
A senior Democrat, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said on Sunday that multiple forms of intervention in concert with U.S. allies may be needed.
He noted, “If Assad continues to have unlimited air power and artillery, that is a hard battle to win against simple arms,” but declined to criticize the White House.
“We need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them, and the president is moving in the right direction, and to a large degree this is about whether or not we exert American leadership with our allies abroad, both in the Gulf region and in Europe. A lot of what we might want to see done can be done through our allies if we direct them and tell them this is where we want to head,” Menendez said on the CNN program "State of the Union."
He said options “with our allies” that should be considered include efforts to tear up government airfields in order to ground Syria’s air force.
This story was updated at 1:16 p.m.