As President Obama departed Russia on Friday with a mixed showing of international support at the G20 and with Congress scrambling to find consensus on its ultimate decision on whether or not to authorize a U.S. military attack on Syria, rapidly moving events over the past two weeks have culminated in a situation in which those advocating for military action have now firmly squared off against those arguing that only diplomatic solutions can prevent further suffering and bloodshed in the war-torn country.
The key question remains: Which side will win out?
Though the overall situation is fluid, an outline of the key issues and dynamics has begun to emerge with statements by President Obama, developments in Congress, and the chorus of voices both for and against new military engagement in the Middle East.
A sketch of the unfolding situation shows that a showdown between the White House and Congress will largely depend on whether or not elected lawmakers in Washington will choose to follow overwhelming American public opinion against military intervention or succumb to the full-court press for military strikes coming from the Obama administration.
What follows is a rundown of the latest developments and some key dynamics to be aware of in the important days and weeks ahead as this fight plays out.
Following a hearing earlier this week which saw testimony top administration officials about the White House plans to take military action against Syria, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee formulated language on a resolution authorizing the use of military force by President Obama. That committee subsequently passed the resolution by a narrow 10-7 margin (which included one member voting "present").
Having passed, that resolution—which included an amendment added by well-known war hawk Sen. John McCain stipulating the U.S. military campaign should have as its stated goal the achievement of "a democratic government in Syria"—is now heading to the full Senate for a vote.
The Senate resolution can be read in its entirety here.
As of Friday, a look at how senators are likely to vote, according to the Washington Post's whip count (which is being updated continuously here), showed that out of 100 Senators, 23 were for military action, 15 were firmly opposed, 10 were "leaning no," and the remaining 52 in the "undecided" column.
The vote is expected to take place next week, possibly on Wednesday.
The House of Representatives
Though the House Foreign Relations Committee also hosted hearings this week on Syria, the members of the committee have yet to draft or release a resolution for a possible vote. It is possible they could adopt the Senate version, but that is thought unlikely by most observers.
If they generate and vote on new language, that will necessitate a conference between the House and Senate over the resolution which would push back the prospect of ultimate passage even further.
The dynamic in the Republican-controlled House is doubly complex due to the strong opposition against giving Obama war authorization by a deeply mistrustful conservative membership and a Democratic caucus that finds itself torn between supporting the leader of their political party and the large anti-war sentiment among its base of constituents.
Additionally, with Greg Sargent among those reporting the dynamic, the opposition to war is being led by a 'strange bedfellows' coalition with anti-government Tea Party/libertarian members on the Right and anti-war progressives on the Left.
Almost all of the news outlets tracking the whip count in the House show that a war resolution—at least at this point—would have a tremendously hard time passing.
As The Hill reports, "Most House Republicans who have taken a stance are vowing to vote no or are leaning no. Many lawmakers are citing constituent feedback in explaining their opposition."
Utilizing the Washington Post's whip count for the House, it showed (as of Friday afternoon) that out of 433 representatives, 106 were firmly opposed, 118 were "leaning no," 184 remained in the "undecided" column, and only 25 had been recorded as "in favor" of a U.S. military assault.
In comments made from the G20 meeting taking place in St. Petersburg, Russia on Friday, President Obama affirmed his desire to use the U.S. military to execute strikes against the armed forces of Syria. Though faced with steep political resistance among other G20 leaders, Obama pressed the case as he ducked a key question from reporters about whether or not he would attack Syria even if Congress refused to sign off on such action.
Before leaving St. Petersburg, Obama was able to obtain a signed statement from eleven of the G20 nations that voiced support for "a strong international response to a grave violation of the world's rules" but fell well short of backing an armed attack.
In a separate development, Obama also announced that he would bring his case to the American people in a national televised address on Tuesday night next week.
The Anti-War Campaign
Anti-war groups and coalitions continued their efforts to lobby members of Congress to oppose Obama's request for military authorization.
Groups urging their members to sign petitions, call their representatives or take direct action against the war include:
- Win Without War
- Credo Action
- United for Peace and Justice
- Progressive Democrats for America
- War Times
- Iraq Veterans Against the War
- Friends Committee on National Legislation
- Just Foreign Policy
- Grassroots Global Justice
- Arab Resource and Organizing Center
- Veterans for Peace
- US Labor Against the War
- Middle East Children's Alliance
Anti-war coalitions have also announced next Monday, September 9 as a national day of action against military intervention in Syria with United for Peace and Justice hosting this directory of local actions taking place nationwide.
In addition, for any "progressives" still on the fence about U.S. intervention, Peter Certo, editor at Foreign Policy in Focus, thinks those unsure—whether inside or outside of Congress—should read this, his primer against a military attack which also includes alternatives approaches the Obama administration, Congress, and in the international community would be wise to pursue.