Nightly News | August 29, 2013
>>> good evening. i'm lester holt in for brian. the u.s. tonight appears to have just lost a key ally as it tries to build consensus for a punishing military attack on syria . there's late word from london that britain's parliament has voted against supporting an attack. even as efforts towards an international consensus unravel, the white house is still pressing its case here at home for a military strike . members of the president's national security team are briefing congressional leaders in what the white house believes was the syrian government's role in a deadly nerve gas attack. and also laying out the parameters for a u.s. military response with or without international partners. we have reports from washington, as well as inside damascus tonight. andrea mitchell starts us off from washington. andrea, good evening.
>> good evening, lester. tonight the president is losing momentum for quick action against syria , and thinking of the real prospect if he does act within days he may be doing it alone. something the white house said today it is willing to to. they were still collecting evidence today of last week's attack. now plan to leave syria saturday. their mandate is only whether a chemical attack took place, not who did it. the british government said today an intervention would be legal on humanitarian grounds. but the jets are grounded for now. that's because the public is deeply opposed. today the prime minister's own party rebelled against using force. looming over today's debate, the iraq intelligence failures a decade ago.
>> the well of public opinion was truly poisoned by the iraq episode and we need to understand the public's skepticism. we must consider where we've been before in this house, might just be wrong. because it was before.
>> today the british government 's intelligence assessment said it is highly likely the regime was responsible for the chemical attacks. but no smoking gun. and tonight the government even lost a symbolic vote.
>> 285 to the left.
>> the white house is also on the defensive. members of both parties says it has a legal obligation to provide more classified intelligence to congress than tonight's telephone briefing.
>> i think it's very important. i think both for legal reasons and for doing the right thing by getting buy-ins in congress, that the administration come up, talk to a broader senate members to get buy-into the program.
>> today syria 's president assad said syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression. and russia is moving war ships to the mediterranean. approving the use of force . some experts say the president still needs to explain the mission.
>> i think the notion that you can simply launch a few tomahawk missiles , even a couple hundred and then walk away and say we've made our point, i think that's not sufficient. it sets in motion the russian support for syria , with iran's support for syria , with hezbollah support, et cetera .
>> the president still has not explained his rationale, beyond not wanting to punish syria . the critics say he has yet to provide the legal rationale for military action .