WASHINGTON (Reuters) - “Before I get to the subject at hand, I’d like to say a few words about Syria.”
With that preface, Hillary Clinton turned a routine White House event about the perils of wildlife trafficking into a platform to voice her views about U.S. military action against Syria.
She also delivered a message from President Barack Obama that a new Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control “would be an important step.”
The former secretary of state’s position on Syria, backing Obama, was not unexpected.
But the fact that she was able to command attention on Monday was a sign of her continuing strength as a drawing card and as a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Clinton urged Congress to support Obama as it considers whether to approve a military response against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after an August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria.
“The Assad regime’s inhumane use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent men, women and children violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order, and therefore it demands a strong response from the international community led by the United States,” Clinton said.
Clinton has been arguing for action against Syria behind the scenes as well. In recent days, for example, she called Arkansas Democratic Senator Mark Pryor, who has opposed action, and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a supporter of Obama’s request.
She met with Obama before Monday’s remarks and has had several conversations with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.
While saying it would be an important step if Syria were to surrender its chemical weapons stockpiles as suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia, she said the move “cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction” by Syria.
Clinton is the most closely watched Democrat likely to join the race to succeed Obama in 2016. Only Vice President Joe Biden generates anything close to the type of buzz that accompanies every move Clinton makes.
Many Democrats in Congress are skeptical of Obama’s proposal to launch a military strike against Assad for a chemical weapons attack that U.S. officials say killed 1,429 people.
Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist who was John Kerry’s campaign manager when he ran for president in 2004, said Clinton has little choice but to support Obama’s Syria policy, since she was tough on Syria as secretary of state.
“Anything else would be foolish on her part,” she said. “It would look inconsistent. She’s been for taking tough action on Syria for a long time.”
A risk for Clinton would be if the United States launched military action against Syria and becomes ensnared in war there despite Obama’s promises for a limited engagement should use of force be deemed necessary.
Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Roberta Rampton and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Jim Loney