Obama making little headway with getting Congress to support attack on Syria

By on September 6, 2013

Nearly a week into President Obama’s campaign to convince Congress that airstrikes against Syria are necessary, he has achieved little headway against a wall of skepticism on Capitol Hill.

The president’s challenge is made more difficult by the fact that the two parties are splintered on the issue — and that lawmakers say they are hearing virtually no support for an attack from their constituents at home.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a libertarian who has taken on GOP hawks on National Security Agency surveillance and now Syria, tweeted Thursday: “If you’re voting yes on military action in #Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition.”

Democrats are torn between their fear of crippling a Democratic president with a “no” vote and their anxiety that they might be repeating the mistakes of recent history in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

For Republicans, the debate over striking Syria has reopened a long-standing schism between the GOP’s internationalist and non-interventionist wings at a moment when the party is struggling to reinvent itself. The vote will be a test of some of the party’s possible 2016 presidential contenders, who until now have had the luxury of standing on the sidelines and criticizing Obama on foreign policy.

Given the dissent within their ranks, even the most influential of those who back the operation are showing little enthusiasm for urging their colleagues to come aboard.

In the House — where prospects for approval appear dimmer than they do in the Senate — Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have said they favor strikes but will not pressure other members on what they consider a “conscience vote.”

On the Democratic side, “I’m not exactly leading the charge,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Time magazine. “But I’m supporting the president.”

On all sides, uncertainty remains over what would be achieved by attacking Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

Lawmakers remain unconvinced that limited strikes proposed by Obama would shift the balance in a bloody civil war that appears tipped in favor of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Or whether that is, in fact, what is desired.

“In order to justify action now against his regime and risk further escalating the conflict, the president must clearly identify what our national security interests are,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who heads a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel on the Middle East.

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