Sen. Ron Johnson: Obama must make his case for an attack on Syria

Chris Moody
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ORLANDO, Fla. – President Barack Obama should not launch a military strike on Syria until he can make the case for action to Congress, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday.

In an exclusive interview with Yahoo News, Johnson, who was briefed at the White House this week, signaled he is open to approving a U.S. strike on Syria, where the government is accused of using chemical weapons against its citizens, but not until the president has outlined a clear reasoning for an attack.

“It’s incumbent on President Obama to explain the rationale to the American public — convince the American public to the point where he can come to Congress and gain approval from Congress,” Johnson said at Defending the American Dream Summit, an annual gathering of conservative activists.

“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. It’s not my job to give those answers; it would be my job to give him authority to do it once he’s made the case. The president must make the case first and foremost to the American public and then naturally make the case to Congress.”

The Obama administration this week began doing just that.

Secretary of State John Kerry outlined an argument Friday that the Syrian government, controlled by President Bashar Assad, was guilty of “a crime against humanity.” Kerry added that intelligence reports gave the administration “confidence” that the 1,429 people killed in an August chemical attack were conducted by Assad’s regime.

For two years, anti-government forces have waged a rebellion against Assad’s regime, and it is estimated that 100,000 people have been killed as part of his attempts to stamp it out.

Johnson cautioned against rushing into war after what he characterized as relative inaction on the part of the U.S. since the conflict began.

“We have been seeing atrocities occurring in Syria now for two years. We have known that Syria holds large quantities of chemical weapons — that has been a known fact. That is what, in my mind, makes it in America’s national security interest,” he said. “That to me is the case that President Obama should have been making the last two years, and he needs to start making it now. In terms of the red line, we’re talking about chemical weapons — that notches it up.”

Johnson added that he thought it would be “a mistake” for Obama to order military action without congressional approval.

It is still unknown precisely how Obama plans to proceed. The president on Friday said he is looking at the “possibility of a limited, narrow act,” and said he would “not be paralyzed” by process.