August 28th, 2013
11:02 AM ET

White House: Chemical Strikes Require Response

The rhetoric from the White House seems to indicate the U.S. is now ready for possible military action in Syria—a shift from less than a week ago, when the president told CNN's Chris Cuomo chemical weapon use was a question mark and that the U.S. needed to be cautious.

Vice President Biden now says there's no doubt chemical weapons were used and warns that, “those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should, and must, be held accountable.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says U.S. forces in the region are ready to go if needed, with armed U.S. warships in the region.

A defense official also tells CNN that if the president chooses the most limited option, it could be over in 2-3 days, reports CNN’s Chris Lawrence.

“Cruise missiles could target Syria's weapons launchers, and command and control facilities—but that's it.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the administration is considering options that "are not about regime change."

But some say this less aggressive position could backfire on the White House.

"It may give Bashar Assad a propaganda advantage, by saying he was able to resist the United States’ attacks," argues Senator John McCain.

While the Administration continues to accuse Bashar al-Assad of gassing his own people, it has yet to offer hard evidence.

According to Carney, “The intelligence community is working on an assessment.”

“U.S. officials tell CNN that assessment includes forensic evidence that chemical weapons were used, satellite images of activity at chemical weapons depots, and intercepted communications of Syrian forces,” Lawrence reports.

But administration officials also downplay the significance of those reports, saying they're not necessary in order to act.

At stake is the president's credibility, says CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend.

“You can't draw red lines unless you're willing to enforce them," Townsend says.

But the constitutionality of an attack without getting congressional approval is coming into question, especially in regards to the Iraq war's legacy.

“Most of that is coming from republicans saying consult the Congress, some republicans saying seek Congressional authorization first, but more and more democrats are joining that debate,” reports CNN Chief National Correspondent John King.

The president is sending the message that the U.S. will make “a military strike but not about regime change,” because that was the negative of the Iraq war.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour explains that an attack is imminent nonetheless.

“It's pretty much a given that the United States has decided to go ahead, even though the president has not announced it yet, nor the timing. But all the allies believe this is going to happen, and have come out and said very forcefully they are foursquare behind punishing Assad.”

Amanpour says the question at hand is really how the Syrians may respond.

The Syrians tell the press they have two choices in the event of an attack; surrender or fight back. They say they will choose the latter.

“They are not presumed to have big capability that could in any way match the United States forces…standoff forces… Any kind of cruise missiles or U.S. and allied air power far outweigh the ability of the Syrians to respond.”

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