By Ledyard King
Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez reached agreement Tuesday evening on a more limited authorization of force than the one sought by President Barack Obama and began circulating it to fellow senators.
The agreement with the Democratic chairman from New Jersey would limit both the scope and duration of congressional authorization to 60 days and would strictly prohibit American boots on the ground, the Tennessee Republican said in a statement. It would also require the Obama administration to report to Congress "detailing U.S. support for vetted, moderate opposition groups in Syria."
"I look forward to the input from my colleagues on the committee and in Congress who will have an opportunity to weigh in on what we've produced," said Corker, the committee's top Republican. "This is one of the most serious matters that comes before the Congress, so as we proceed to a potentially defining vote next week, the president and his administration must continue to vigorously make their case to the American people."
Corker said earlier Tuesday that he was "totally dismayed" that the Obama administration had not moved quickly to arm moderate Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Corker, who supports taking military action against the Syrian government in response to its apparent chemical weapons attack against civilians, made that comment to Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The panel is reviewing Obama's call for a limited strike against Syria.
Corker, who was recently in the region meeting with refugees and others, called the administration's efforts to help the rebels "slow" and "inept," especially given the White House's stated policy that it would help moderates defeat Assad.
"It is to some degree humiliating to be in a refugee camp when our policy has been that we're going to train, were going to equip, we're going to give humanitarian aid to the vetted opposition, and yet when you sit down with the people that we're coalescing around, very little of that has occurred," he said.
Kerry said the rebel forces were a loose coalition until recently. Efforts to help them are picking up now that they have "evolved" and have brought in new groups to bolster their support, he said.
'This is not Iraq'
Congress is debating whether to approve a resolution authorizing Obama to strike at the Syrian government militarily. Obama said he wants a limited, tactical strike that would not aim to topple Assad's government and would not involve sending troops.
Top congressional leaders, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said they support the president. But members of the Tennessee delegation aren't so sure.
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, who attended a classified House briefing Sunday on Syria, said he hasn't made up his mind.
"I'm extremely leery of U.S. military involvement," Cooper said in a statement.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, said he does not support a strike against Syria even though "the preponderance of the evidence" suggests chemical weapons were used and the Assad regime probably was responsible.
"I do not see a direct threat to American interests or its allies or national security," said DesJarlais, who also attended the briefing.