Obama faces uphill struggle in bid for action on Syria

The US president is meeting opposition to strikes at the G20 and at home

President Barack Obama. In the face of a public weary of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and sceptical members of Congress who are unsure of the unintended consequences of US military strikes against Syrian government forces, the Obama team is facing an uphill struggle to make its case.

President Barack Obama. In the face of a public weary of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and sceptical members of Congress who are unsure of the unintended consequences of US military strikes against Syrian government forces, the Obama team is facing an uphill struggle to make its case.

 

US president Barack Obama is pressing foreign leaders at the G20 summit of world leaders to support military action against Syria over alleged chemical weapons use. He faces an equally chall- enging battle at home trying to convince Congress and the American people that this is the right course of action.

In the face of a public weary of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and sceptical members of Congress who are unsure of the unintended consequences of US military strikes against Syrian government forces, the Obama team is facing an uphill struggle to make its case.

The president tried to depersonalise the debate on the Syria crisis by saying that the famous “red line” he set on chemical weapons use was a standard that most governments around the world set when they signed up to a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

While Obama was travelling to Sweden and Russia for the G20 summit, US secretary of state John Kerry led the battle back home to generate support for military action.

Kerry said the debate was not about something that Obama said but about the world acting to stop a tyrant, describing it as “humanity’s red line”. The consequences would be even worse if the US failed to respond to the Syrian regime’s alleged chemical weapons attack on August 21st, he said.

The 10-7 vote by the Senate foreign relations committee on Wednesday night in favour of military action pushes its consideration on to the Senate floor for a vote, which is likely to be next week. But the make-up of the divided vote, with party members swapping sides, reflects the internal tensions within Obama’s own support base on the Democratic side.

Liberal Democratic senators Tom Udall of New Mexico and Christopher Murphy of Connecticut voted no. A third Democratic senator, former congressman Ed Markey, who took Kerry’s vacated Massachusetts seat, would only vote “present”. He raised concerns that the US could become further entangled in Syria’s civil war and sought more time to consider before voting in the full Senate ballot.

The president and his administration have as much convincing to do to persuade anti-war Democrats that military action is what is required as they do more entrenched opponents in the Republican ranks who believe military strikes don’t go far enough, or those who fear being drawn into another war in the region.


Bigger fight
The bigger fight is in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where opposition against Obama’s leadership on a range of issues, from immigration to the budget, has been most vocal since the last midterm elections. Political reporters have been busy doorstepping members of the House to see where they stand on action against Syria.

Yesterday, one political blog, the Washington Post’s the Fix, was showing that either opposition or hesitation towards military action was running at almost 60 per cent out of 300 members of the House canvassed for their opinion. Another 103 out of the total 435 members were listed as “undecided”.

The US public are equally unsure about the Obama administration taking military action. Polls taken over the past 10 days put opposition ahead of those in favour. A poll released on Tuesday by Pew Research put opposition at 48 per cent compared with 59 per cent in a Washington Post/ABC News poll taken at the same time.

In a political cauldron as partisan as the House of Representatives, even the support of leading Republicans House speaker John Boehner and majority leader Eric Cantor is unlikely to guarantee enough votes to authorise action. Democrat House minority leader Nancy Pelosi will be cajoling undecided Democrats who are torn between listening to the anti-war sentiment of voters at home and backing a president who is popular among their supporters.

Obama has said he reserves his right to bomb Syria even without the support of Congress, but to do so would not just damage his international standing but weaken his domestic authority.