Voting against Syria strike "would be catastrophic," McCain says

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, accompanied by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks with reporters outside the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, following a closed-door meeting with President Obama to discuss the situation with Syria.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Monday said President Obama has to make a strong case for attacking Syria if he wants to win lawmakers' backing. Still, they qualified - it would be a mistake for Congress to reject Obama's request.

"We have to make it clear that a vote against this would be catastrophic in its consequences," now and in future international crises, McCain told reporters outside the White House following a private meeting that he and Graham had with the president.

Said Graham: "A degrading strike limited in scope could have a beneficial effect to the battlefield momentum. There will never be a political settlement in Syria as long as Assad is winning."

McCain, one of the loudest critics of the administration's handling of Syria, said the administration's plan now could be more difficult because Assad "is moving his forces around." The remarks echoed concerns he expressed Sunday on "Face the Nation" that "unprecedented leaking" about what ships and missiles the United States has positioned near Syria, would mean that "a reversal, at this point, I think, has serious consequences."

Both McCain and Graham on Monday questioned the wisdom of the administration publicly signaling in advance its intention to strike.

The president had said earlier this year that any documented use of chemical weapons by Assad against his own population would amount to a "red line" that the international community would not let him cross. Mr. Obama now has called for a military response to Assad's purported use of chemical weapons, and the administration said Sunday it had evidence he used the chemical sarin gas in a Damascus suburb recently.

McCain and Graham, who often synchronize their foreign policy takes, talked to reporters in the White House driveway after a lengthy meeting with the president.

McCain said he believes lawmakers awaiting a critical vote on Syria "must be assured that this is different from the past two years of neglect" on the part of the administration. He also said he differs with the administration's view that there was sufficient time to seek an authorization from Congress.

"I am not satisfied that the timeline is of no consequence and I am astounded when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says it doesn't matter," McCain said, referring to Army Gen. Martin Dempsey.