you're watching al jazeera. i'm richelle carey. the top stories. we're waiting on a house committee in washington to hole a hearing on whether to authorize the use of military force against syria. >> i didn't set a red line. the world set a red line. >> president obama seeks support for military action against syria overseas. the president will make the case to congress for military action in syria. we are waiting for a house foreign affairs committee to get
foreign relations committee started a classified meeting that secretary kerry and director of national intelligence james clapper were testifying in. that meeting is still going three hours later. we saw secretary kerry. we have another camera staking out that position leave that meeting presumably on his way over to the house foreign affairs committee meeting. there's also, again, another meeting. senate armed services started at 9:30 and that's not yet finished. a lot happening here on a lot of fronts. >> let's talk about the house foreign affairs committee meeting, which might start a little late because the defense secretary, secretary of state and the chairman of the joint chiefs have not arrived yet. might there be a vote as early as today out of this particular committee meeting? >> reporter: you know, that's just not clear. they have a lot of talking to do. there are more than 40 members of this committee, and again, it's republican-controlled and everyone wants to get a question in and wants to be on camera. it's open and webcast, so it's
very high profile and very public. everybody is getting on record with the questions for the top administration officials who as you mentioned are really still on their way there. so a vote today very unlikely. certain there's going to be a lot of debate and a lot of talk about what they're hearing and what the administration has to say. not clear when we'll see a vote. >> really tough questions, obviously. we know speaker boehner has come out and said he will support the president, but if you had to take the temperature of the rest of the house, that's anybody's guess what the vote will actually being. >> reporter: that's absolutely right. speaker boehner at the white house there with minority leader pelosi. both of them making those statements in favor of action. shortly after that eric cantor another key republican said he would support the call for action, but the language is nuanced. speaker boehner saying support the president's call for action. cantor supports the call for
action, not the specific plan for action indicating that the white house still is going to have some work to do. speaker boehner's press secretary later in the day reiterating that they expect the president and the white house to win over the opinion of the american people. so everyone sort of hedging their bets walking back some of the enthusiasm about the support. a long way to go on all sides. >> paul, stand by for a moment. i'll going to bring in randall pinkston. i understand you have more information about what's going on in the senate. >> reporter: well, yes. we are hearing from the senate foreign relations committee that, indeed, that vote will not take place today because some of the members of the foreign relations committee, specifically senator john baraso and senator john mccain have some concerns about the draft joint resolution that would authorize the use of force against syria. the joint -- the draft joint resolution of that was publicized last night. it contained among other things
a 60-day limit on military action with the president being allowed to come back to congress to ask for a 30-day extension. it also said no boots on the ground. no troops would be used in that action. there were a lot of limitations, and as we know, some senators want a stronger action by the president. others want no action at all, and so we have to wait and see what results when the full foreign relations committee does vote on the draft resolution. >> randall, just for context here, senator john mccain has been wanting action in syria for quite some time, and then the president comes out and says, i afwrgre agree. i do want some action in syria. it seems they would be on the same page. the fact it now does not seem a slam dunk by any stretch with senator john mccain, that has to make it a little more difficult for the president to get people
on board. >> reporter: as paul pointed out, yesterday house speaker john boehner surprised everyone when he said he supported the president's call for action. as paul points out, he didn't say he supported whatever the plan is going to be. therein lies the rub. the devil is in the tee tails, the plan. that's where they are now. we'll just have to wait and see. >> earlier, randall, we spoke with florida republican congressman trey radle that says he's not convinced to support the plan. listen. >> i'm a father of a 2-year-old boy, and there are children killed right now by the assad regime. we cannot make them based on raw emotion. we have to understand what is important for the united states america. i'm unconvinced we need to go in
there. >> it would seem congressman radel is typical of the audience. he has to convince the constituents and the people he represents as well, and the congressman has really tough questions lined up for the secretaries of state and defense and chairman of the joint chiefs today. >> reporter: indeed, he will and so will many other members of the house foreign affairs committee. the issue that he's pointing out is the same one that has been ra raised by president obama, which is you have 100,000 people killed in syria during this conflict that has gone on now for about two years. you had 1400 people killed by the use of chemical weapons, presumably launched by assad. so some people are saying, well, we let 100,000 people die, so why so concerned about 1400? of course, house minority leader
nancy pelosi pointed out that what we have is the red line represented by the chemical weapons. so they're not trying to fix everything that's wrong in syria, but they're trying to make a statement about what will not be accepted in a civilized society. it's a big argument. meanwhile, we have those poll results on the part of american voters. there is overwhelming opposition on the part of american voters so far to military force in syria. so there will be a lot of constituents not just in congress but around the country who need convincing. >> absolutely. randall, stand by for a moment. for some political context on this house hearing on syria we turn to mark jacobsen who focuses on the politics of national security at the german marshall fund of the united states. thank you for joining me. what needs to happen -- what would you like to see happen today in this hearing that would best serve the american people? >> well, i think a few things
have to be done, but first, thank you for having me on today. there are questions that need to be addressed, and i think paul has raised some of those, of course, and that is how can you be certain that assad can be deterred from using tell me -- chemical weapons through a limited strike? how can the american people be assured this won't be a ten-year war? you see people worried about a quagmire and getting into something unwinnable. finally, how can we be certain that the congressional language is not so restrictive, for example, the 60-daytime line, that it prevents the military from being able to effectively carry out strikes that will deter assad in the future? >> that's a great point. you say perhaps the president will get what he wants from congress, right, for congress to say we're fine with this. go ahead. but if it's not -- if it's not worded properly and doesn't really give the military the authority to do what they need to do to accomplish that, it's
almost -- it's pointless. >> that's what makes it so complicated. you have the big issues. what is our national interest? how does what is going on in syria, a syrian civil war, impact u.s. national security and the security of our allies? what it will come down to is the nuance of the language in this resolution. words matter, especially with legislation on capitol hill. congress is going to have to be very careful in crafting this legislation so it does not hamstring the president and the military's ability to deter assad. >> to your point, words matter, nuance matters so much. it was so clear yesterday when secretary kerry circled back and wanted to make it clear that he was not leaving any room for boots on the ground, as the term is that we've been using so long, for boots on the ground to be a factor in any type of military action that would happen in syria. he said it repeatedly, mr
mr. jacobsen, over and over because he knows how important it is to get it exactly right and get the approval they want from those in congress and from the american people. >> i would say that secretary kerry was concerned is an understatement. there can be no overstating the fact this was his number one concern. there is a danger, however, in terms of not being able to address the question of what happens if this doesn't work. so i think you see a little bit of flexibility in the senate version of this language. what i mean by that is there are other actions the united states is taking. for example, support of the syrian insurgeriainsurgeance on ground. this does not address that. in other words, regardless of what happens with this particular issue, deterring assad, there will be continued u.s. support of the opposition on the ground. >> mr. jacobsen, stand by for a
moment. we have interesting poll numbers to share with people. according to the latest polling, president obama is facing an uphill battle to convince americans to support military strikes in syria. the pew research center surveyed 1 # thousa-- 1,000 people. 29% said they support military action, but nearly half, 48%, said they're against it. 23% said they don't know. the survey also asked if americans fear a long commitment in syria, should there be a u.s.-led response? about two-thirds of those questioned, 61% said yes and and 26% not no. they asked if you enthuse a military strike will discourage the use of chemical weapons. 33% said yet and and 16% it
issed they don't know. back to randall pinkston. when you hear numbers like that, it is clear what the president and his team are up against, and it's clear that today secretary of state kerry, secretary of defense chuck hagel, chairman of the joint chiefs general dempsey get tough questions from members from the house once this hearing gets under way. >> reporter: if there is a hopeful sign with respect to the administration convincing members of congress, perhaps it's in the fact that the closed-door security meeting went on much longer than anticipated with the senate form r foreign relations committee where sensitive intelligence was shared to make the administration's case that indeed these chemical weapons were under the control of assad and they were used. i suspect that they may have also been some information about what happens if. those questions about what happens after the strike. with respect to the poll results, the only hopeful sign
there is that this poll was taken before bipartisan leadership came out yesterday in strong support of president obama's declaration that something needed to be done in syria. whether subsequent polls will show an increase in public approval, we'll have to wait and see. taking any kind of military action in essence going to a limited warfare is a very serious matter. the american public, having experienced afghanistan and iraq for more than a decade, rather skittish. >> to that point it seems to break down in a few different camps, randall. there are people that simply don't believe the intelligence and never will. there are people who believe the intelligence and still say the u.s. should do something, but can't agree on what it is to do.
it seems to break down roughly that way. >> reporter: i think, richelle, if we go back and look at polls prior to other military engagements in the past decades, couple of decades, that we would probably see some of the same results. i cannot recall. with the exception of afghanistan, where there was overwhelming support for doing something after the 9/11 strikes, with the exception of afghanistan, i can't personal recall off the top of my head any overwhelming support on the part of the american public for military action, certainly not in iraq. maybe there was some before the 1991 desert storm and first gulf war, but i don't think it was ever overwhelming. so here's the thing. commanders in chief and our elected officials, our elected representatives have to make some tough decisions, and that's what they're trying to do. >> randall, as you were speaking secretary of state john kerry made his way into the room. we can already see the protesters code pink are in the
room as well. as soon as the hearing gets going, we will let you know. in the meantime, we'll take a quick break, but we're standing by waiting for the house foreign affairs committee to get underway to discuss what action, if any, to take in syria. a quick break. don't go anywhere. why some critics say the school is setting the kids up for failure. components of the aljazz mission.
welcome back to al jazeera. edward royce, the chairman of the house foreign affairs committee is addressing the room as the committee gets underway. let's listen. >> to put on the brakes on iran's nuclear program. there are concerns. the president promises a military operation in syria of limited scope and duration, but the assad regime would have a say in what happens next. that would be particularly true as president obama isn't aiming to change the situation on the ground. what are the chances of escalation? are different scenarios accounted for? if our credibility is on the line now, as is argued, what about if assad retaliates? americans are skeptical of getting near a conflict that, as one witness has noted, is fueled by historic ethnic religious and
tribal issues? the administration's syria policy doesn't build confidence. for over two years u.s. policy has been adrift. initially the obama administration saw assad as a reformer. once the revolt started, it backed u.n. diplomacy, and then it bet on a moscow policy and the thought that russia would play a constructive role. predictably that has not worked. over a year ago president obama drew in his words a red line. yet, only last week did the administration begin to consult with congress on what that means. today the house begins formal consideration of the president's request to use military force in syria. it is a cliche but true. there are no easy answers. syria and much of the middle east are a mess, so we look forward to a thorough and
deliberate discussion today, one reflecting the gravity of the issue. i'll now turn to ranking member ingle who has been ringing the alarm bell on syria for a long, long time. ranking member i thi ingle from new york. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. thank you for holding this hearing today. secretary kerry, welcome. i look forward to this hearing, which addresses the syrian regime's use of chemical weapons, a serious threat to the national security interests of the united states and our allies. many of us know that i have been following the middle east for many years. in particular i've spent an enormous amount of time on syria. the syria builtability act of 2003, which i authored, is the landmark statement of american policy towards syria and imposed sanctions on damascus in large
part due to chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. in march of this year i introduced a bipartisan bill that would authorize the president to arm vetted members of the opposition. when i talk about syria, i'm speaking from years of experience, hours of hearings and scores of meetings with u.s. and foreign officials. mr. chairman, we've all seen the images of the lifeless bodies of syrian men, women and children, at least 400 children neatly lined up in rows wrapped in white sheets. their bodies appear to have no out ward physical injuries, entire families killed in their homes in a blink of an eye. our intelligence agencies have assessed with high confidence that these innocent civilians were killed by sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the u.n. security council and outlawed by the chemical weapons convention of 1993. they have also concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the
assad regime is responsible for the use of these horrific weapons. i strongly agree with president obama that the united states must respond to this flagrant violation of international law with a limited military strike to deter the further use of chemical weapons and degrade the assad regime's ability to use them again. but the issue with you confront today is much bigger than the use of chemical weapons in syria. we are talking about the credibility of america as a global power. we're talking about sending a clear message to the dictators in tehran and pyongyang there's serious consequences for flouting the will of the international community, and that the u.s. backs its words with action. iran in particular is watching very carefully to see if the united states is willing to stand up for its vital interests in the region and the interest of our allies. they are a central player in the syrian civil war, providing weapons, money, advice and
manpower to the assad regime and supporting the intervention of their terrorist proxy hell bow la. according to the iaea they're moving full-speed ahead with efforts to develop nuclear weapon capability. i believe that congress must authorize the commander in chief to use limited military force against the assad regime, and i hope my colleagues will join me in supporting such an authorization. we should not give the president a blank check. the authorization measure we take up must clarify that any strike should be of a limited nature, and that there absolutely be no american boots on the ground in syria. while it is critically important for the u.s. to hold the assad regime accountable for the use of chemical weapons, we must also focus on developing a larger strategy to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis, support our regional partners, and ultimately find a path
forward that brings a lasting peace for the syrian people. as i mentioned earlier in march, i introduced a bipartisan free syria act, legislation to increase humanitarian aid and authorize the president to provide lethal and non-lethal assistance to syria's moderate opposition. i continue to believe that the moderate opposition is key to syria's future and that we must re-double the efforts to support them as soon as possible. i know many members on both sides of the aisle are struggling with this issue of using force in syria. we're all trying to do the right thing for our constituents, country and national security. questions of war and peace are always difficult, and i'm proud that we are treating them with the utmost seriousness in this committee. but in the days before we take any vote, i encourage my colleagues to ask themselves these questions. if we do not pass the authorization measure, what message will assad get? what message will iran receive,
h hezbollah and our allies. we have to live up to our commitments. i'd like to thank you for calling this important hearing and i look forward to secretary kerry and the testimony of our other distinguished witnesses. >> thank you, mr. engel. this afternoon we're pleased to be joined by our secretary of state, john kerry, and shortly we will be joined by the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. prior to his appointment, john kerry served as a united states senator for massachusetts for 28 years and chaired the senate foreign relations committee for the last four years. without objection, the witnesses' statements, senator kerry and those of secretary hagel and general dempsey will be made part of the record.
members here will have five days to submit statements and questions and extraneous material for the record. i'd like to note, members, we have a nearly full committee with us here today, and therefore, we need to work within the time constraints that we have. we're going to ask all members to be mindful of that timer as you ask questions. so we will begin now with secretary kerry's testimony. mr. secretary. >> thank you very much, ranking member engel. as the chairman said, an early congressional leader on syria and to all the members of the committee, let me just say, first of all, i have enormous respect for the fact that everybody has returned unexpectedly and hurriedly to come back here to be part of the debate. on behalf of the administration and the american people, i thank you for doing so.
i think it's -- i don't think. i know it's no exaggeration to say that the world is not just watching to see what we decide here, but the world is really watching to see how we decide it. frankly, whether or not we can still make or achieve a single voice speaking for the united states of america. the congress and the president of the united states. they want to know whether or not america's going to rise to this mome moment, whether or not we will express our position with the unity that this moment demands. the question of whether or not to authorize force the chairman referenced in my 28 years here, i had a number of occasions to make those votes and a number of occasions to make judgments about presidents who acted
without coming to congress. i found that we were and are always stronger when we can act together. first and foremost, i think it's important to explain to the american people why we are here. i don't think it can bear enough repetition as people grapple with this at the end of summer, post-labor day, kids going back to school and a lot of other concerns on their mind. we're here because against the multiple warnings from the president of the united states, warnings from congress, from many of you, warnings from friends and allies and even warnings from russia and iran that chemical weapons are out of bounds. against all of that, the assad regime and only undeniably the
assad regime unleashed an outrageous chemical attack against its own citizens. so we're here because a dictator and his family's enterprise, which is what it is, were willing to infect the air of damascus with a poison that killed innocent mothers and fathers and children. their lives all snuffed out by gas during the early morning hours of august 21st. now, some people in a few places amazingly against all the evidence have questioned whether or not this assault on conscience actually took place. i repeat again here today unequivocally, only the most willful desire to avoid reality, only the most devious political
purpose could assert that this did not occur as described or that the regime did not do it. it did happen. bashar al assad's regime did it. i remember iraq, and secretary hagel, who will soon be here, and general dempsey also remember it very well. secretary hagel and i both voted in the united states senate. so both of us are especially sensitive to never again asking any member of congress to vote on faulty intelligence. that is why our intelligence community took time. that's why the president took time, to make certain of the facts and make certain of this case and to declassify unprecedented amounts of information in order to scrub and rescrub the evidence and present the facts to