Asked by Menendez, whether a congressional resolution authorizing military action should contain “a prohibition for having American boots on the ground,” Kerry responded: “Mr. Chairman, it would be preferable not to have a prohibition, not because there is any intention or plan or any desire whatsoever to have boots on the ground.”
After saying that Obama will provide “every assurance in the world” that no troops would be used, Kerry sketched a scenario in which they might.
“But in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al Nusra (an al Qaida-linked group in Syria) or someone else, and it was clearly in the interest of our allies and all of us – the British, the French and others – to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements, I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to the president of the United States to secure our country.”
Kerry’s lengthy scenario drew rebukes from Corker and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as well as a gentler response from Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
By the end, Kerry had backed off his original stance and said the congressional resolution could contain an explicit prohibition against follow-on U.S. troops in Syria, though he continued to acknowledge that down the road their presence couldn’t be absolutely ruled out.
Another dramatic moment in the hearing came after a handful of protesters held up signs and shouted out objections to U.S. military action in Syria.
“We don’t want another war,” one of them yelled.
As guards ushered the protesters from the hearing room, Kerry reflected on his now-famous testimony against the Vietnam War before the same Senate panel in 1971 after he’d served in the Southeast Asia conflict and returned home.
“The first time I testified before this committee – when I was 27 years old – I had feelings very similar to that protester,” Kerry said. “And I would just say that is exactly why it is so important that we are all here having this debate, talking about these things before the country, and that the Congress itself will act representing the American people.”
At a White House session before the Senate hearing, Obama picked up a key supporter when Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters that he supports the president’s desire to launch a limited strike at Syria in retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons two weeks ago.
“I’m going to support the president’s call for action, and I believe my colleagues should support this call for action,” Boehner said after meeting with Obama.
“The United States for our entire history has stood up for democracy and freedom for people around the world,” he said. “The use of these (chemical) weapons has to be responded to, and only the United States has the capability and capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated.”
Assad has repeatedly denied responsibility for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb. Obama, Kerry and other top U.S. officials say the evidence of his involvement is indisputable.