U.K. Vote Against Syria Strike A Major Setback For Obama

In a symbolic vote, British lawmakers advised against a military strike in Syria.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

So where does this leave the Obama administration? For more on that, I'm joined by NPR's Mara Liasson. And Mara, what's the White House reaction been to this vote in the British Parliament tonight?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, a White House official issued a statement tonight that said: We have seen the result of the Parliament vote. Tonight, the U.S. will continue to consult with the U.K. government. President Obama's decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States. He believes there are core interests at stake. And countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable.

So translation: He's prepared to move ahead on his own with a limited military strike, even though he's not going to get the support of Great Britain; he's not going to get an endorsement from the U.N. Security Council; and it remains to be seen what kind of support he's going to get from Congress.

BLOCK: Well, that's the real question because there was an administration briefing of some members of Congress tonight. Do we know anything about what the tenor was of that discussion, and whether he does have that support?

LIASSON: Well, we know that large numbers - members of - large numbers of members of Congress have been asking him to go before Congress for a formal vote of support. He doesn't intend to do that, but he says he will have a robust consultation with Congress. We know that the speaker of the House, John Boehner - who talked with the president yesterday on the phone - is asking in a letter, what is the intended effect of the potential military strikes? A lot of members of Congress are saying, we don't think there's a strategy here; just a shot across the bow isn't enough.

And the administration on this call is going to tell members of Congress that the objective is to halt future use of chemical weapons; not remove Assad from power, but send a message that future use of chemical weapons would be met with consequences.

BLOCK: The president, in an interview with PBS "NewsHour," Mara, did say last night that he has not made any final decision. But if the United States does act unilaterally - taking action against Syria without the U.N. Security Council behind it, without its staunchest ally, Britain, behind it - what message does that send, and did the administration get out ahead of itself on this?

LIASSON: Well, I think it did get out ahead of itself. But don't forget, this is a box entirely of President Obama's own making. And it seems to be going from bad to worse. He's the one who said that the use of chemical weapons was a red line, and then the administration said that Assad had used chemical weapons several months ago and they didn't do anything. Now, he's used it on a more massive scale, and the president really has no choice but to act.

The problem is that he's saying he wants to act in a limited way - just a couple days of cruise missile strikes, a shot across the bow. If you think about that imagery, a shot across that bow usually splashes into the water. And the question is, when the president is done with his military response, will Iran - the big backer of Syria - and Syria be emboldened, or will they be chastened? And we don't know.

BLOCK: OK. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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