Chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said that an ongoing congressional process toward votes on a use-of-force measure against Syria would give the Obama administration leverage in ongoing negotiations. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Two powerful US lawmakers said Washington must maintain the threat of force as leverage against Russia and Syria, and warned Iran is hitting America’s financial system with cyber strikes.
House and Senate leaders have accepted President Barack Obama’s request to delay votes on measures that would authorize him to launch limited strikes on Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal and military. But the top Republican and Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence want lawmakers to continue crafting and refining those measures.
Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., told a conference here that an ongoing congressional process toward votes on a use-of-force measure would give the Obama administration leverage. The idea would be to keep the possibility of attack on the table, forcing Moscow and Assad to follow through on plans to transfer Syria’s chemical arms to the international community.
Ruppersberger called maintaining the possibility of a US strike “the only leverage we have with the players involved,” meaning Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad.
Rogers was critical of the White House, saying Russia and Assad “got exactly what they wanted ... which is time.”
“Time to dig in. Time to engage in denial and deception, time to provide arms, financing and other things” to Assad’s military, Rogers said.
Putting off US strikes and allowing Russian involvement “sends a dangerous message to the opposition that [Assad’s] going to be there for a while,” Rogers said.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, a senior House Democrat, said during a Thursday morning MSNBC interview that Democratic leaders will continue trying to convince members of the caucus to vote for a force resolution, if one is needed.
As Democratic leaders and Intel Committee leaders want the House to keep alive the threat of a force resolution, senior senators told Defense News on Wednesday they doubt either chamber will ever vote on such a measure.
Obama has said he could launch strikes should the Russia plan fail even without congressional approval. And he has stressed he will not insert US combat troops into Syria.
To that end, Rogers called speculation of inserting up to 70,000 troops into the Middle East nation to secure Assad’s chemical weapons “nuts.”
Meantime, Rogers and Ruppersberger issued dire warnings about America’s ability to defend its financial and other infrastructures against cyber attacks. And, in blunt comments, they accused Tehran of regularly mounting such strikes.
Ruppersberger said Washington and the US private sector, which US officials long have said owns much of the infrastructure other nations and groups have targeted, “have a long way to go on cyber.”
Rogers warned of the threat of a debilitating cyber strike on US financial or other systems: “We’re not doing anything about it.” The panel’s top Democrat said of that kind of threat: “I wouldn’t be surprised if a sophisticated nation like Iran is plotting [a cyber attack] on Wall Street.”
Rogers said he and Ruppersberger have had talks with their Senate counterparts, and remain hopeful that Congress can send a cyber security bill to the president by the end of the year.