As President Barack Obama cancels a two-day trip to Los Angeles to shore up congressional support for a military strike against Syria, the administration remains tight lipped about one thing that might convince some lawmakers to support the intervention: the names of countries that have made clear they would join the United States in an attack. The lack of transparency has led some to question the purported size of the White House's coalition.
For the past week, Secretary of State John Kerry and top Democrats -- including DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz have said "dozens" of countries have agreed to participate in an attack against Syria.
"I think we're at about 34 countries have indicated that if the allegations are true, that they would support some form of action against Syria," Kerry said Tuesday.
"In both military and diplomatic and political support, there are dozens of nations who had committed to back us up," Wasserman Schultz said earlier this week, citing classified briefings.
Both officials said they could not reveal a complete list of the countries willing to participate militarily, and when asked, Kerry could only name a handful of countries such as Turkey and France. At her daily briefing on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was repeatedly asked about the makeup of the U.S. coalition, but could only name nine who "publicly and explicitly expressed support for U.S. military action": Australia, Albania, Kosovo, Canada, Denmark, France, Poland, Romania, and Turkey. Those countries have not necessarily pledged to support the mission militarily, but Psaki said at least 10 countries have, though she couldn't name them.
To the undecided lawmakers on the Hill, that's a big problem.
"I don't see anyone else using any military at all," Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Cable. "We don't have NATO, we don't have the Arab League, we don't have the United Nations. This is an international violation, therefore it needs an international response." Meeks, like others, said he wants the U.S. to build more international support for a strike before he signs off.
Chances for a resolution passing in the Senate next week look good, but it's less certain in the House where a coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative and libertarian Republicans have shown unease about authorizing military force. A number of ad hoc whip counts in the media show more votes against military action than in support, but House aides from both parties say those charts are misleading because there's little incentive for members of Congress to declare they'll vote "yes" at this early stage. "Of course you're not going to say yes right now," one aide told The Cable. "If you're a Democrat, you'll rile up your liberal base. If you're Republican, you'll rile up your conservative base."
In order to allay lawmakers' concerns, administration officials have used a range of indicators to suggest international support for a Syria strike. Many of these indicators have been expressions that don't include military commitments.
"We've had some 53 nations or countries and organizations have acknowledged that chemical weapons were used here and have condemned it publicly," Kerry said on Tuesday. "Thirty-one nations have stated publicly that the Assad regime is responsible. And I think we're at about 34 countries have indicated that if the allegations are true, that they would support some form of action against Syria.... The Arab League countries have condemned this. A number of them have asked to be part of a military operation."
At Thursday's briefing, Psaki told reporters to keep in mind the number of behind-the-scenes discussions going on. "Obviously, there are a lot of private discussions that take place," she said." This is a work in progress. We're still consulting with other countries, we're still briefing other countries."