Obama’s comments a little more than a year ago were more specific to actions he would take, not Congress or the international community.
In August 2012, he said at a news conference that ‘‘a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.’’
‘‘That would change my calculus. That would change my equation,’’ Obama said, adding that chemical weapons use would entail ‘‘enormous consequences.’’
It’s unclear what treaty ratified by Congress implies that the United States or any other country must respond with military force to the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world.
To get a green light from Congress, Obama needs to persuade a Republican-dominated House that has opposed almost the entirety of Obama’s agenda since seizing the majority more than three years ago. Several conservative Republicans and some anti-war Democrats already have come out in opposition to Obama’s plans, even as Republican and Democratic House leaders gave their support to the president Tuesday.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Cal., said Wednesday that while it would be important to deter the use of chemical weapons by Assad and others, there remained many unanswered questions, including what the US would do if Assad retaliated to an American attack.
‘‘The administration’s Syria policy doesn’t build confidence,’’ Royce said in his prepared remarks.
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, said he backed Obama’s call for military action against Syria but said it should be limited and not involve US ground troops.
‘‘If we do not pass the authorization measure, what message will Assad get,’’ said Engel. ‘‘What message will Iran receive, Hezbollah?’’
The audience at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing included several people wearing signs opposing US action against Syria and who had colored the palms of their hands red.
Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, made their arguments in public Wednesday before the House panel. They and other senior administration officials also provided classified briefings to the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.
As anti-war demonstrators seated behind him silently raised their red-colored hands, Kerry told the Foreign Affairs committee that the world’s nations were watching Congress.
‘‘They want to know whether or not America is going to rise to this moment,’’ said Kerry.
Hagel seconded Obama’s warnings about the potential scope of danger from failing to uphold international standards, saying ‘‘a refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitments — including the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.’’
Obama, who arrived in Stockholm early Wednesday, was hoping to maintain the momentum toward congressional approval that he has generated since Saturday, when he announced he would ask lawmakers to authorize what until then had appeared to be imminent military action against Syria.
Pace reported from Stockholm, Sweden. Associated Press writers David Espo, Josh Lederman, Donna Cassata, Alan Fram, Jennifer C. Kerr and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.