U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned on Tuesday that failure to take action over Syria's use of chemical weapons would damage the credibility of America's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
"A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments - including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Hagel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reported the Reuters news agency.
"The word of the United States must mean something," he stressed.
"There are always risks in taking action, but there are also risks with inaction. The Assad regime, under increasing pressure by the Syrian opposition, could feel empowered to carry out even more devastating chemical weapons attacks. Chemical weapons make no distinction between combatants and innocent civilians, and inflict the worst kind of indiscriminate suffering, as we have recently seen,” said Hagel.
The Defense Secretary and other officials in the administration were making their case for a military strike in Syria in a first public congressional hearing on the issue. Also participating at the hearing was Secretary of State John Kerry, who clarified that President Barack Obama was neither proposing nor leaving the door open to putting troops on the ground in Syria.
"I want to emphasize something...This authorization does not contemplate and should not have any allowance for any troop on the ground. What I was doing what hypothesizing on the potential of what might happen at some point in time," Kerry said, according to CNN.
He added that failing to strike Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack would open a "Pandora's box" of "dangerous consequences," leaving U.S. allies questioning the worth of America's word and U.S. enemies itching to test America's resolve.
"This is not the time for armchair isolationism," Kerry told the committee, adding that failing to act in Syria would embolden America's enemies.
He added that the evidence shows "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. He said failing to act would increase the risk that other regimes will do the same.
"Iran is hoping you'll look the other way," stated Kerry.
The hearing came after the Obama administration won support for a strike on Syria from top congressional leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner, emerging from a White House meeting, said the chemical weapons attack last month "has to be responded to," reported Fox News.
"The use of chemical weapons is a barbarous act. It's pretty clear to me that the United Nations is unable to take action, NATO not likely to take action. The United States for our entire history has stood up for democracy and freedom for people around the world," Boehner said. "I'm going to support the president's call for action."
Minutes later, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she, too, feels Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has "crossed a line."
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said definitively that he plans to vote in favor of giving Obama authorization to use military force.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has also indicated his support.
This past Saturday Obama said that he has decided to take military action against Syria, but that he wants this action approved by Congress first.
A day earlier, Obama told reporters that he is considering a limited action in response to a chemical weapons attack that he says Syria's government carried out last week.
Speaking before meeting at the White House with three Baltic leaders, Obama said the chemical weapons attack in Syria threatened Israel and Jordan and was also a threat to U.S. national security.