WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama faced deep resistance Thursday to plans for a possible military strike against Syria, with U.S. lawmakers demanding more proof that Bashar Assad's government perpetrated a deadly chemical weapons attack and Britain's Parliament rejecting military action in a stunning late night vote. Even so, the U.S. could launch action within days.
Unless British Prime Minister David Cameron defies Parliament, Obama faces the prospect of proceeding without a major ally that was expected to come on board. The White House signaled he was willing to move without international partners if it came to that.
"The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests in the United States of America," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Even before the vote in London, the U.S. was preparing to act without formal authorization from the United Nations, where Russia has blocked efforts to seek a resolution authorizing the use of force, or from Capitol Hill. Still, the White House sought to ease growing concerns among congressional lawmakers by deploying a bevy of top administration officials to brief lawmakers Thursday evening on U.S. intelligence assessments.
Cameron made the case earlier Thursday that a military strike would be legal on humanitarian grounds. But he faced deep pressure from lawmakers and had already promised not to undertake military action until a U.N. chemical weapons team on the ground in Syria released its findings about the Aug. 21 attack.
The prime minister said in terse comments after the vote that while he believes in a "tough response" to the use of chemical weapons, he would respect the will of the House of Commons.
France, though, announced that its armed forces "have been put in position to respond" if President Francois Hollande commits forces to intervention against Syria. Hollande does not need French parliamentary approval to launch military action that lasts less than four months.
Obama discussed the situation in Syria with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who wrote to the president earlier this week seeking a legal justification for a military strike and the objectives of any potential action.