Sen. Menendez: U.S. should not focus on long-term view or regime change in Syria

(CBS News) As the Obama administration considers military options against the Syrian regime in response to a suspected chemical attack on civilians, House Speaker John Boehner wrote a letter to the White House requesting more information about possible U.S. military action and a second letter -- signed by over 100 lawmakers from both parties -- urging the White House to share more details.

The administration is set to brief high-ranking members of Congress Thursday and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who serves as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is hopeful that he will "hear the underpinnings of the intelligence" behind the "nature of the attack itself."

"From my understanding," he said, "It [is] rather clear that only the regime itself or elements of the regime have the capacity" to carry out a chemical attack.

This "cannot stand," the Democratic senator added, explaining that the issue is "beyond Assad and Syria." "It's really a question of whether or not you send an international message that weapons like chemical weapons cannot be used against innocent civilians."

President Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. is considering "limited, tailored" approaches to avoid "getting drawn into a long conflict" and Menendez reiterated that "there are several options for the administration to consider," Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

"They can take missile attacks against some of the critical elements of the Assad regime ... to [deliver] a message that there are consequences for using chemical weapons ... [or] they might look at the particular troops that the Assad regime has in Eastern Damascus and strike at them, sending a message to everyone in the Assad regime."

"This is not about regime change, nor it is about a long-term engagement, nor is it about boots on the ground," Menendez continued, explaining that a boots-on-the-ground operation "would be far more complicated."

And, he said regime change should not be a priority from the U.S. point of view. "To the extent that anyone should seek regime change, it should be the vetted Syrian rebels that ultimately want to fight for freedom in their own country."

While Mendendez would prefer President Obama seeks Congressional approval before authorizing military action in or around Syria, he said that given that "time [is] of the essence here," it's possible Obama will move forward without the go-ahead from Congress, under the War Powers Act.

Should the U.S. fail to act, Mendendez -- who voted against authorizing the war in Iraq -- says "we are going to have a global message that the use of chemical weapons against citizens ... can be had without consequences."

However, there is a pressing, additional security concern that exists whether or not the U.S. takes action in Syria. as Syria devolves into a failed a state, "it will become a country in which ultimately attacks against the U.S. or our interests within the region can be levied," Menendez explained, adding, "the reality is unfortunately we can't insulate ourselves from the world."

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