September 3, 2013

In first major test, Obama overrules new foreign policy team

By Julie Pace / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

The officials and others close to the deliberations requested anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.

As the White House appeared to be nearing imminent military action against Syria, Kerry was among those pressing for the most aggressive response. Even before being tapped to lead the State Department, the former Massachusetts senator had been pushing for stronger action against Syria. He has advocated sending more and better assistance to the opposition and has backed robust, though limited, military action to punish the regime and force Assad to change his calculation for continuing the conflict that has left more than 100,000 people dead.

People close to Kerry say he was emotionally affected by the images coming out of Syria following the chemical weapons attack, particularly those of dead and injured children. He channeled that emotion into two powerful speeches, including one on Friday that appeared to be a prelude to a military strike.

"History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings," said Kerry, reflecting what aides said was his strong belief that action was a moral imperative.

Kerry made similar arguments during his turn on the Sunday talk shows, but emphasized that he supported the president's decision to seek congressional approval.

Hagel, the former Republican senator now running the Pentagon, spent most of the Syria debate weighing in from Asia, where he was on a nine-day trip. While he declared during the trip that the military was "ready to go" if Obama gave the orders to strike Syria, he also appeared to be focused on the risks of acting without international backing. And like others in the Pentagon, including Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, he seemed to be considering the unknowable next steps after a limited military strike, particularly if it roiled adversaries elsewhere in the Middle East.

Rice and Power kept the lowest profiles of the new foreign policy team during the Syria debate, both choosing to make their only public comments on Twitter. But their 140-character statements backed up their reputations as supporters of intervention for humanitarian purposes.

Rice, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations before moving to the White House earlier this year, wrote that those responsible for the chemical weapons attack "will be held accountable." And Power, who now holds the U.N. post, wrote of the "haunting images of entire families dead in their beds" following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.

"Verdict is clear," she wrote. "Assad has used CW's against civilians in violation of international norm."

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