McCain's back-and-forth on the Syria resolution

John McCain, as seen on "Face the Nation" on Sept. 1, 2013.
CBS

Sen. John McCain, who for 18 months led the charge for U.S. intervention in Syria, said Wednesday morning that he opposes a Senate resolution authorizing military action in Syria. A few hours later, the Arizona Republican joined seven Democrats and voted for the resolution.

Wait, what?

McCain, long revered for his foreign policy prowess, has been the loudest cheerleader for intervention since March 2012, when he called on President Barack Obama to build an international coalition and launch airstrikes against Syria. The White House balked at the time. But after 18 months of bloodshed and at least two chemical attacks, administration officials have adopted many of McCain's talking points as they lobby Congress to authorize force.

But now that Obama embraced McCain's original position, the Arizona senator staked out an even more hawkish stance and opposes the Syria resolution because it doesn't go far enough.

McCain made it clear Sunday on "Face The Nation" that he supports a much more aggressive strategy than Obama, who has called for a short campaign of isolated airstrikes. McCain wants the U.S. to arm the rebels and actively support the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"It can't just be, in my view, pinprick cruise missiles," McCain said.

One day later, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., met with Obama at the White House. McCain later told reporters that it would be "catastrophic" for the Senate to reject the use of force -- a declaration many interpreted as him warming up to Obama's proposal.

Obama returned the favor on Tuesday. He changed his rhetoric and suggested that U.S. airstrikes could be part of "broader strategy" that would "allow Syria to ultimately free itself."

Momentum was building. Under tough questioning Tuesday from McCain at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing, top administration officials softened their opposition to a broad strategy.

But as the sun set Tuesday night, reports emerged of a new Syria resolution. The bipartisan proposal would impose strict limits on the president, narrowing the scope and duration of military intervention. The new draft was designed to gain the support of war-weary lawmakers and an American public that is skeptical of U.S. involvement in another Middle East conflict.

McCain, unhappy with the narrow wording, announced his opposition Wednesday morning.

But during its markup of the resolution Wednesday, the Foreign Relations Committee accepted a controversial amendment from McCain that states U.S. policy is intended to "change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria" so a negotiated settlement can be reached. The panel later approved the proposal 10-7, with support from seven Democrats and three Republicans.

McCain got the provisions he wanted, and Obama won his first step toward authorization. But in the process, the resolution was loaded with language that could imperil its future as it moves to the full Senate and later to the Republican-controlled House.