WASHINGTON – The White House signaled Thursday that it will do whatever is necessary to protect "core national security interests" that it argues are at stake in Syria.
Josh Earnest, a deputy White House spokesman, said President Obama is "interested in engaging with the global international community" as he considers ordering punitive missile strikes in response to the reported massacre of hundreds of people, allegedly by poison gas, on Aug. 21 on the outskirts of Damascus.
"But at the same time, the president's chief accountability is to the American people that he was elected to protect," Earnest said. "And the president believes strongly in making the kinds of decisions and taking the kinds of steps that are necessary to protect our core national security interests that we've acknowledged are at stake in this situation."
Earnest said Obama would continue consulting allies around the globe, but wouldn't be constrained by them.
"We want to continue to keep our allies in the loop as the president considers a decision about a response," he said.
Earnest spoke as international pressure mounted to delay any military action until a team of United Nations chemical weapons experts completes its investigation of the alleged chemical attack, and then presents the evidence in the U.N. Security Council. White House aides said Obama has no interest in waiting weeks for that process, especially since Russia almost certainly would block any resolution against Syria, a close ally.
Aides suggested Thursday that the president doesn't have to wait for international bodies to deliberate, a surprising argument given Obama's past criticism of President George W. Bush for going to war in Iraq without a U.N. mandate.
But aides to the president say the situations aren't comparable. Obama is consulting and coordinating with other world leaders, they say, and has made dozens of phone calls to U.S. allies since the Aug. 21 attack.
Obama also has spoken to some members of Congress. Aides go out of their way to call them "consultations."
Senior intelligence officials planned a conference call for key members of Congress early Thursday evening to describe the intelligence gathered so far on Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) asked Obama during an early phone call to provide Congress and the public with a "legal justification for any military strike, the policy and precedent such a response would set, and the objectives and strategy for any potential action," said Brendan Buck, Boehner's spokesman.
"Only the president can answer these questions, and it is clear that further dialogue and consultation with Congress, as well as communication with the American public, will be needed," Buck said.