The U.S. appeared poised Wednesday to take action, likely a sea-based missile strike, against the Syrian government for alleged use of chemical weapons, even without the backing of allies or the United Nations.
Defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said military commanders were ready to execute the attack but were awaiting orders from the White House. The strike could be carried out exclusively by four destroyers based in the eastern Mediterranean, they said.
U.S. officials emphasized any military action would be punishment for the Syrian government’s apparent use of chemical weapons and not an operation to remove President Bashar Assad.
A potential strike has stirred mixed reactions in the U.S.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, said he believes that "short of putting troops on the ground, a meaningful military response is appropriate" against the Syrian government.
"Based on available intelligence, there can be no doubt the Assad regime is responsible for using chemical weapons on the Syrian people," he said.
"It is time for the United States to act in a serious way, and send a clear message to Assad and his allies that the world will not tolerate chemical or biological attacks. Continuing to do nothing is not an option."
Earlier in the week, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said he didn’t believe the U.S. should send forces "to fight an undefined enemy capable of such unspeakable atrocities."
"What is happening to the people of Syria is wrong and beyond the bounds of any warfare," Collins said. "The violence in Syria today is a result of multiple elements, including al-Qaida, Hezbollah and untold other forces."
President Barack Obama "needs to carefully and firmly articulate our policy for the region, as he should have done long before now," said the freshman representative, who spent part of 2008-09 in Iraq as a chaplain with a U.S. Air Force Reserve unit.
"Sending troops and other resources at a time when we haven’t been able to effect change so far will only make this grim situation much more serious."
Collins’ spokeswoman Kelley McNabb said Wednesday the congressman also doesn’t favor air strikes against Syria.
Georgia’s other Republican senator, Johnny Isakson of Marietta, couldn’t be reached for comment. On Monday, Isakson spokeswoman Lauren Culbertson said the senator was out of the country.
Early Wednesday, U.S. officials were still grappling with what type of military strike might deter future chemical weapons attacks and trying to assess how Assad would respond, two senior administration officials said.
Intelligence agencies are preparing a report laying out the evidence against Assad’s government in chemical weapons attacks on civilians. The classified version would be sent to key members of Congress and a declassified version would be released publicly. The White House said it’s already convinced, however, and is planning a possible military response while rounding up support from international partners.
"If there is action taken, it must be clearly defined what the objective is and why" and based on "clear facts," said one of the senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly.
The official said the administration is considering more than a single set of military strikes and "the options are not limited just to one day" of assault.
In broad terms, the U.S. and international objective of striking Syria would be to damage the Syrian government’s military and weapons to make it difficult to conduct more chemical attacks, and to make Assad think twice about using such weapons in the future.
Britain added a hurdle to deliberations about a military strike when it went to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday with a draft resolution that would authorize the use of military force against Syria.
As expected, the five permanent members of the Security Council failed to reach an agreement, as Russia reiterated its objections to international intervention in Syria.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. cannot be held up in responding by Russia’s intransigence at the United Nations.
Russia said the use of force without a sanction of the U.N. Security Council is a "crude violation" of international law.
On Tuesday, the 22-member Arab League declared the Syrian regime "fully responsible" for an alleged chemical weapons attack, giving the Obama administration symbolic regional cover to proceed with a punitive offensive that could begin within days.
It called Syria "fully responsible for the ugly crime and demands that all the perpetrators of this heinous crime be presented for international trials."
While the Arab League is generally derided as an ineffectual organization, its tacit endorsement of a U.S.-led strike against Syria is important as the Obama administration cobbles together a coalition of Middle Eastern and European allies to avoid the delays and vetoes of trying to authorize action through the Security Council.
"I think it’s very significant because it shows there are countries in the region that are concerned and want NATO to act," said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I think of what happened with Libya a few years ago. There was a resolution from the Arab League to intervene. It makes it easier for the administration and provides cover because there is support."