September 9, 2013

Obama steps up his pitch to strike Syria

He says Syria's offer of giving up all chemical weapons is positive, but 'if we don't maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure,' Syria may back off its proposal.

The Associated Press

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Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria shout during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington on Monday. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama will address the nation regarding Syria.

The Associated Press

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"I will vote 'no' because of too much uncertainly about what comes next," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican. "After Step A, what will be steps B, C, D and E?" he added, reflecting concerns that even the limited action Obama was contemplating could lead to a wider war. Missouri Republican Roy Blunt also announced his opposition.

In the House, one of two female Iraq war veterans in Congress announced opposition to military strikes.

"As a soldier, I understand that before taking any military action, our nation must have a clear tactical objective, a realistic strategy, the necessary resources to execute that strategy, including the support of the American people, and an exit plan," said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. She said Obama's plan "fails to meet any of these criteria."

Legislation approved in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week would give Obama a maximum of 90 days to carry out a military attack, and it includes a ban on combat operations on the ground in Syria. Both of those limitations were last-minute concessions to critics of a military option, and it was unclear whether Reid would seek additional changes to build support.

Despite the difficulty confronting Obama, an AP survey indicated the issue was hardly hopeless for the president, particularly in the Senate where Democrats maintain a majority, and perhaps also in the Republican-controlled House.

The survey showed 23 Senate votes in favor of military authorization and 10 more leaning that way. Opponents totaled 20, with another 14 leaning in the same direction, with the remaining 33 senators undecided or publicly uncommitted. That created at least the possibility of the 60-vote majority that will be necessary to advance the bill.

In the House, there were fewer than a dozen declared in support and 150 opposed or leaning that way. But 201 lawmakers had yet to take a public position, more than enough to swing the outcome either way.

The public opinion polling was daunting for the president and his team.

An Associated Press poll showed that 61 percent of those surveyed want Congress to vote against authorization of U.S. military strikes in Syria and 26 percent want lawmakers to support such an action, with the remainder undecided.

Adding to the uncertainty of the debate in Congress was a flurry of diplomatic activity that offered a potential way of achieving U. S. aims without military action.

Reacting quickly to a comment made by Secretary of State John Kerry in London, Russia called on Damascus to surrender control of its stockpile of chemical weapons and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said he welcomed the proposal.

At the White House, Obama's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken, said the administration will "take a hard look at" the proposal. "We're going to talk to the Russians about it," he said noting pointedly that it comes in the context of threatened U.S. military action. "So it's even more important that we don't take the pressure off," he said, urging Congress to give Obama the authority he seeks.

Other officials sought to tamp down any suggestion that Kerry was making an orchestrated effort with Russia to avoid the strikes.

 

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