White House

Airstrikes in Syria possible as Obama readies speech to nation

President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Aug. 7, 2014. The president will make a televised address Wednesday night to outline plans for an expanded U.S. effort to confront violent Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Aug. 7, 2014. The president will make a televised address Wednesday night to outline plans for an expanded U.S. effort to confront violent Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) AP

President Barack Obama is considering authorizing U.S. military airstrikes in Syria as part of a broader campaign that will include additional resources in the form of money, training and diplomatic support for those fighting the terrorist group responsible for murdering hundreds and beheading two American journalists.

The airstrikes, which Obama would launch without seeking a vote from Congress, would be the new element in a developing strategy Obama plans to explain in a 9 p.m. EDT speech to the nation Wednesday from the White House.

“I certainly got the sense that’s under consideration,” former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who attended a dinner with Obama on Monday, said on CNN.

Obama also will reiterate that he has not seen any immediate threats to the United States.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama will outline “the next phase” of the fight, which includes continuing to build an international coalition to fight the group it calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Earnest said Obama would not necessarily detail costs or a timetable. Administration officials have said the group’s defeat could take years.

Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for an hour Tuesday at the White House, telling them that he believes he has the authority to take the action he needs without a vote of Congress, the White House said.

But the White House said Obama told the leaders he’d “welcome action by the Congress that would aid the overall effort and demonstrate to the world that the United States is united in defeating the threat from ISIL.”

An aide to Boehner who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting said Boehner made clear “that as we learned in Syria, the longer we wait, the more difficult our choices become.” The aide added that Boehner said he’d support Obama “if he chose to deploy the military to help train and play an advisory role for the Iraqi Security Forces and assist with lethal targeting of ISIL leadership.”

Earnest said Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and members of the national security staff and Cabinet also consulted with lawmakers of both parties in the last week. Senate and House of Representatives staff received classified briefings this week and all members of the House and Senate will receive briefings from the administration on Wednesday and Thursday.

Obama has said he will not seek any formal authorization for military action _ a move that has some congressional leaders relieved as they try to complete two weeks of work before breaking until after the midterm election in November. Senate Democrats are focused on trying to hold their majority, while House Republicans may be too split to agree to an authorization.

Just last summer, Obama asked Congress to authorize airstrikes against Syria but scrapped the request after it looked likely to fail and to allow time to explore a Russian proposal to get Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control.

Yet sentiment was growing Tuesday for some sort of congressional action on U.S. policy toward the Islamic State, though leaders remained reluctant to commit to any formal debate or vote.

Several members, including Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., and 10 House members introduced resolutions asking for authorization for strikes in Syria.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama’s best course would be to come to Congress and for it to approve an authorization for the use of military force.

“As the president outlines his strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS – a plan he acknowledges will take years – Congress must carefully consider what it is being asked to approve regarding a military campaign that will extend from this presidency to the next,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., using another acronym for the extremist group.

Support also is growing for U.S. airstrikes, at least in Iraq.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday show that 71 percent of Americans support airstrikes against the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, up 17 percentage points from only three weeks ago and up 26 points from mid-June, when the public split evenly on the issue.

The U.S. began airstrikes to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, to support humanitarian efforts and to back Iraqi forces Aug. 8; as of Tuesday, it had conducted a total of 153.

Obama’s speech Wednesday comes roughly two weeks after Obama said he did not have a strategy to combat the Islamic State in Syria.

Obama has sought to minimize U.S. involvement in Syria, where the more than 3-year-old civil war pits President Bashar Assad’s Iran-backed forces against the Islamic State and weaker insurgent groups, including al Qaida’s affiliate, the Nusra Front. Most of the groups also are fighting the Islamic State.

But Obama is being forced to reconsider his policy after an acknowledgment by top U.S. officials that the group can’t be crushed without addressing its presence in Syria. He authorized the first U.S. surveillance flights of Islamic State targets in Syria and launched an effort to build an international coalition to fight the group through military, humanitarian and other means.

The White House was considering a daytime speech, but on Tuesday it announced that Obama would address the nation the day before the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in his first prime-time address since the crisis in Syria last summer.

David Lightman and Ali Watkins of the Washington Bureau contributed.

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