Friday, September 6, 2013

Will a deranged Obama strike Syria even if Congress says "No"?

Courtesy of

By David Martosko

President Obama today refused to rule out attacking Syria as new polls show he faces a crushing defeat in any vote in Congress.

An ABC News reporter at the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, tried to pin him down and get a 'direct response' to the question of what he will do if his gambit seeking congressional approval fails. 

'I'm not going to engage in parlor games now ... about whether or not it's going to pass,' he said.

But while he acknowledged knowing his Syria gambit with Congress was 'going to be a heavy lift' all along, the president insisted that he didn't 'put this before 
Congress just as a political ploy or as symbolism.'

Obama also announced that he will make his case on Syria to the American people again on Tuesday in a national address.

The speech will make a final pitch for support of his plan to cripple Syria's access to its chemical weapons stockpiles.

'It's conceivable at the end of the day I don't persuade a majority of the American people that it's the right thing to do,' Obama conceded. 'And then each member of Congress is going to have to decide.'

Polls show that few Americans agree that it's in America's national interest to get involved in a civil war that has already left 100,000 people dead and turned another 2 million into refugees.

It came as staffers to Republican and Democratic congressmen told MailOnline they believed the vote in the House was, so far, 'dead in the water.'

But a senior aide today added to the confusion over Obama's strategy. 

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, told National Public Radio on Friday morning that although Obama has the power to act on his own, he has no plan to pull the trigger if he loses a Capitol Hill vote.

It is 'neither his desire nor his intention to use that authority, absent Congress backing him,' Blinken said.
Even as public opinion tilts dramatically against him, Obama said in Russia that America has acted militarily in unpopular ways in the past when it was 'the right thing to do.'

He cited coming to Great Britain's defense in World War II, and attacking Kosovo during the Clinton administration.

If Obama has already decided to leave the final decision on Syria to Congress, his Tuesday address may be a foregone conclusion.

Senior staffers to Republican and Democratic members of Congress told MailOnline that while the president's war powers resolution may pass in the Senate, it's hopelessly lost – 'big time, end of story,' said one – in the House of Representatives.

Senate leaders formally filed the resolution with the chamber's clerk on Friday, signaling that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to put it to a vote, perhaps as soon as Monday.

Three Republican aides put the number of Republicans who will support the president at somewhere between 45 and 55, out of the 233 GOP members. One, a senior staffer to a Foreign Affairs Committee member, speculated that the measure won't even make it out of the committee for a vote of the full House.

'It's by no means a done deal,' the aide said. 'If a quarter of the 25 "R"s [Republicans] go for it and the same proportion of "D"s [Democrats] bail on Obama as we saw in the Senate committee, it's going to fail.'

'And if it does get to the floor, and the same numbers hold, the thing goes down by – let's say – a 235-200 margin.'

A Senate vote on a war powers resolution – one that's likely to pass – is expected before then, setting up a showdown between the White House and Republican leaders on the other side of the U.S. capitol.

But before the Senate can act, two of its members have proposed softening Congress' position toward Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, both Democrats, are circulating an alternative resolution calling on Assad to sign a chemical-weapons ban within 45 days in order to avoid a military strike.

'This will go down as one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history,' predicted a staffer to another House Foreign Affairs Committee member. 'Support is dwindling every day, and phone calls into our Hill and district offices are running about 100-to-1 against taking military action of any kind.'

The move by Manchin and Heitkamp may be seen as a political escape-hatch for the president if Americans' sentiments toward a unilateral strike against Assad turn uglier.

A congressional aide to a Democratic member of the Foreign Affairs committee said that many of the president's usual supporters are wavering.

'When the CBC [the Congressional Black Caucus] is your only solid base, and even they won't go out and sell the idea for you, you're in real trouble,' the aide said.

But Obama said he and his staff plan to 'systematically' speak with every single member of Congress in the coming days, with an eye toward convincing them that going after Assad's chemical weapons will be a 'limited' military operation that won't involve U.S. ground troops.

However, MailOnline has reported that a little-known Defense Department assessment from early 2012 determined that 75,000 American troops would be required to secure the chemical weapons themselves, and the facilities where they are made.

Russia warned Friday that missile or bomb attacks on chemical-weapons storage sites could release toxic chemicals and ultimately allow the chemical agents to fall into terrorists' hands.

'This is a step toward proliferation of chemical weapons not only across the Syrian territory but beyond its borders,' read a statement from the Russian government.

Obama surprised journalists assembled for the G-20 by announcing that he had held an unscheduled but 'candid and constructive' meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government is one of Assad's last remaining strong allies.

The discussion, Putin said, was 'substantial,' with the men agreeing Syria's civil war could only be resolved politically.

But on the question of whether the Washington should engage Damascus militarily, the two leaders couldn't be further apart.

'I don't agree with his arguments and he doesn't agree with mine,' Putin said Friday, 'but we are listening to them and trying to analyze them.'

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