Obama: Stuck in the Middle On Syria

Credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • NEW DAY, NEW RESOLUTION: A new Senate use-of-force resolution on Syria came together last night, which would set a 60-day deadline for President Obama to act with limited military strikes, ABC's JEFF ZELENY reports. The proposal also would specifically restrict U.S. ground troops from being used. This is a bipartisan agreement, reached by leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that will be given preliminary consideration today. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the committee, negotiated the deal with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking Republican. READ THE RESOLUTION: http://1.usa.gov/1ahDnPm
  • SENATE WHIP COUNT: The ABC News political unit has put together a "whip count" of how senators are likely to vote on the Syria resolution. The count is based on public statements, interviews with aides, and statements from Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing - and it could change. ABC News will continue to update this list as new information becomes available: http://abcn.ws/18rMbwx
  • KERRY ON 'WHAT'S AT STAKE': During yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry offered a forceful defense of what a decision not to act in Syria would mean for the United States' standing in the world, warning that this could be a key "moment" in history, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. "It's not a question of what will happen if we don't do it; it's a certainty. Are you going to be comfortable if Assad, as a result of the United States not doing anything, then gasses his people yet again and they - and the world says, why didn't the United States act? History is full of…moments where someone didn't stand up and act when it made a difference. And whether you go back to World War II or you look at a ship that was turned away from the coast of Florida and everybody on it lost their lives subsequently to German gas, those are the things that make a difference. And that's what's at stake here," Kerry said.
  • WHAT WILL RAND DO? Outside the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told ABC's JEFF ZELENY that he has not ruled out filibustering the Syria resolution next week. In either case, he said 60 votes would be needed for passage of the resolution - a higher hurdle than a simple majority."


ABC's RICK KLEIN: So the public is as divided as the Congress, according to the new ABC News/Washington Post poll. The plus side of that is that President Obama can truly claim he's leaving a decision on Syria in the hands of the people (at least for now). The downside is that those people aren't sure how they want to act. You didn't have to look far behind Rand Paul's Constitution lessons and John McCain's poker game to realize that the president has stirred up deep-seated concerns about the use of war, concerns that cut close to equally in both parties. The dynamics are reminiscent of bailout votes of not-long ago: More members of Congress probably want to do it than want to own it. And the minority party in the House is going to have to play along; the moves to win support of Republican hawks are starting to provoke the left into a backlash.

ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The sentiment for a limited military strike on Syria is slowly, but still steadily, building steam. Yes, the attack has won support of most top Congressional leaders - Sen. Mitch McConnell is the only one of the big four holding his cards - but perhaps more significantly it is gaining strong approval from key pro-Israel groups. If the Republican Jewish Coalition, financed to a large degree by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, were to start actively lobbying in favor of the Syria strike, would that change the minds of some Republican lawmakers?

ABC's GARY LANGER: The results of the new ABC News/Washington Post poll to some extent reflect pre-existing attitudes; in an ABC/Post poll in December, 73 percent of Americans said the United States should not get involved in the situation in Syria. However, at that time, 63 percent said they'd favor military action if Syria used chemical weapons against its people. The new findings indicate a re-thinking of that view given the latest developments. Attitudes can change with the course of events; it remains to be seen whether public views may be influenced by the ongoing debate in Congress, including support for Obama's call for force from some prominent Republicans. Nonetheless, current attitudes mark a battle ahead not just in Congress, but over public opinion more broadly. Public compunctions about involvement in Syria also are shown in strength of sentiment on the issue. Nearly four in 10 Americans, 39 percent, "strongly" oppose unilateral U.S. air strikes, vs. 18 percent who strongly support them. And the gap on arming Syrian rebels is even wider - 50 percent "strongly" opposed, vs. just 9 percent strongly in support.


SIX IN 10 OPPOSE U.S.-ONLY STRIKE ON SYRIA. Nearly six in 10 Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll oppose unilateral U.S. missile strikes against Syria, and even more oppose arming the Syrian rebels - a complication for Barack Obama and proponents of military action in Congress alike. Even given the United States' assertion that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in the civil war there, 59 percent in the national survey, conducted Wednesday through Sunday, oppose U.S. missile strikes, far more than the 36 percent who support them, ABC News Pollster GARY LANGER writes. Showing greater acceptance of allied action, attitudes move close to an even division on air strikes if other countries such as Great Britain and France participated - 46 percent in favor, 51 percent opposed. The U.K. House of Commons voted down military action last week, while France has signaled its willingness to participate. At the same time this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that 70 percent oppose the United States and its allies supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, underscoring the extent of public skepticism about U.S. involvement there. A striking result is the lack of partisanship on the issue. Similar numbers of Democrats and Republicans alike oppose both unilateral U.S. air strikes and supplying arms to the opposition. And both groups divide closely on allied air strikes. http://abcn.ws/1dDDTrs

HILLARY CLINTON BACKS OBAMA. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday endorsed President Obama's plan for limited U.S. military action in Syria, giving a boost to the administration as it mounts a full-court press to win over Congress and the public, ABC's DANA HUGHES, DEVIN DWYER and MARY BRUCE note. "Secretary Clinton supports the president's effort to enlist the Congress in pursuing a strong and targeted response to the Assad regime's horrific use of chemical weapons," a Clinton aide told ABC News. The comments come at a key moment, before an expected congressional vote next week on a resolution that would authorize Obama to use force in Syria against the Bashar al-Assad regime. Clinton, who supported a more aggressive U.S. approach to Syria during her tenure as secretary, adds influence to the administration's so-called "flood the zone" strategy to lobby members of Congress. Her high profile and popularity could prove particularly helpful in convincing skeptical progressive and Democratic allies. http://abcn.ws/17qmk5I

-BEHIND THE SCENES: Since she left office in February, Clinton had been conspicuously absent from the Syria debate. Her parting comments, in an exit interview with ABC News, defended the administration's Syria strategy as "productive" in addressing an "extremely complex problem." After allegations of a horrific Syrian chemical weapons attack surfaced last month and the Obama administration prepared a response, Clinton remained silent, even as other recent Obama administration alumni, including former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and several of the president's political rivals, spoke out. Clinton's critics had suggested she might have been trying to avoid taking a position on military intervention because of concerns about how it might affect her possible presidential run in 2016. Her 2002 vote authorizing President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq became a point of contention during the 2008 primary debate. Clinton may address the Syria situation at greater length next week when she steps back into the national spotlight for a high-profile speech at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. http://abcn.ws/17qmk5I

HAGEL AND DEMPSEY MAKE THE CASE. The role Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey played at the hearing yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was largely to support Secretary of State John Kerry's case for a limited U.S. military action against Syria, ABC's LUIS MARTINEZ notes. Beyond Hagel's opening remarks both had some brief moments where they made clear points as to why they support such a move. Both Hagel and Dempsey were asked why they seemed to have changed their minds about previous stands about the costs of a Syrian intervention. Hagel said "the dynamics have changed" and he noted the administration is seeking authorization for "a very specific and focused military action." Dempsey made the point that the task of the limited U.S. military action against Syria is "to deter and degrade, and to be limited in scope and duration." http://abcn.ws/1ahBwKB

IRAN BECOMES KEY TO ADMINISTRATION'S ARGUMENT. Iran has increasingly become one of the Obama administration's top talking points in the case for military action against Syria, ABC's DEVIN DWYER notes. "Iran is hoping you look the other way," Secretary of State John Kerry bluntly told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. "Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention if not to put it to the test." In his Rose Garden remarks on Saturday, President Obama did not mention Iran a single time in announcing his decision to take action, only indirectly referencing the message that will be sent to "governments who would choose to build nuclear arms." Yesterday, however, Kerry mentioned Iran four times in his brief opening statement before the committee, repeatedly tying U.S. action in Syria to deterrence of Iran's nuclear threat. He said a U.S. strike against the Bashar al-Assad regime would send a clear signal about the seriousness of American opposition to weapons of mass destruction. Asked directly whether the Obama administration might use congressional authorization to target Syria's WMD to also confront threats in other countries, such as Iran's nuclear program, Kerry said explicitly "no." Still, influencing Iran is clearly becoming a top objective of supporters of U.S. military action in Syria. "Our refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments, including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," testified Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. http://abcn.ws/1dEg4je

WORTH A CLICK: The Assad family has ruled Syria for 42 years and two generations, under the control of the Ba'ath Party. The Assads established an authoritarian regime, with family members playing key roles in the country's government and military. See the members of Bashar al-Assad's family in this ABC News Infographic from ABC's Kevin Dolak, Russell Goldman, Karin Halperin and Greg Atria: http://abcn.ws/17xDmmw


BOEHNER, PELOSI BACK OBAMA'S CALL FOR ACTION. House Speaker John Boehner yesterday offered his support for President Obama's request that Congress authorize a military strike against Syria and urged his colleagues to do the same, ABC's MARY BRUCE notes. "This is something that the United States, as a country, needs to do. I'm going to support the president's call for action. I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action," the speaker told reporters, as he emerged from a White House meeting with the president. "We have enemies around the world that need to understand that we're not going to tolerate this type of behavior. We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it's necessary." Speaking after the meeting with the president, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered her support for military intervention in Syria but said the American people "need to hear more" from Obama about the intelligence that supports this action. http://abcn.ws/19feYFy


"CONGRESS SHOULD APPROVE ATTACKS ON SYRIA," an ABCNews.com Op-Ed by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "The crisis in Syria should remind us of three important truths: (1) if the prevailing rule is anything goes, pretty soon anything does; (2) rules have little impact unless someone is willing and able to enforce them; and (3) predators are more likely to strike when they sense weakness and vulnerability. The raw acts of cruelty by the Assad regime flagrantly violate basic principles. If Assad's actions go unchallenged or are only meekly challenged, more "anything goes" behavior from him and others will surely follow. The world's response to Syria is not just about Syria. It is also about ensuring the freak show of Assad-like leaders around the world recognize it is in their interest to adhere to the fundamental rules of a civilized planet. Of course, those rules will only be followed if they are enforced. Only America can lead those efforts. They cannot be led by the often inept United Nations, the morally indifferent leadership of China or the many well-meaning but mostly complacent countries in Europe." http://abcn.ws/19hHYMU


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