Syria crisis: Scepticism greets Barack Obama on both sides of partisan divide

Lawmakers waver as they report very low support among constituents for another Middle East war

Nearly a week into President Barack Obama’s campaign to convince Congress that air strikes against Syria are necessary, he has achieved little headway against a wall of scepticism on Capitol Hill.

The President’s challenge is made more difficult by the fact that the two parties are splintered on the issue – and that lawmakers say they are hearing virtually no support for an attack from their constituents at home.

Republican congressman Justin Amash, an outspoken critic of military hawks within his own party, tweeted on Thursday: “If you’re voting yes on military action in #Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition.”

Democrats are torn between their fear of crippling a Democratic President with a “no” vote and their anxiety that they might be repeating the mistakes of recent history in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

For Republicans, the debate over striking Syria has reopened a long-standing schism between its internationalist and non-interventionist wings when the party is struggling to reinvent itself. The vote will be a test of some of the party’s possible 2016 presidential contenders, who until now have had the luxury of standing on the sidelines and criticising Mr Obama’s foreign policy.

In the House of Representatives – where prospects for approval appear dimmer than they do in the Senate – the Speaker, John Boehner, and Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, have said they favour strikes but will not pressure other members on what they consider to be a “conscience vote.”

On the Democratic side, “I’m not exactly leading the charge,” the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, told Time magazine. “But I’m supporting the President.”

On all sides, uncertainty remains over what would be achieved by attacking Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons. Lawmakers remain unconvinced that limited strikes proposed by Mr Obama would shift the balance in a bloody civil war that appears tipped in favour of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Or whether that is, in fact, what is desired.

“In order to justify action now … and risk further escalating the conflict, the President must clearly identify what our national security interests are,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who heads a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel on the Middle East.

“What are our objectives in limited and targeted air strikes? What does degradation [of the Syrian government forces] look like? And what will we do if the initial action does not yield the intended result?” she asked a hearing with administration officials on Wednesday.

On the same day, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly approved an authorisation resolution that gives Mr Obama the power to launch a military strike, the first since the 2002 resolution that preceded the Iraq war. The 10-7 vote revealed deep divisions in both parties. Opponents included five Republicans and two of the panel’s most liberal Democrats, Tom Udall and Christopher Murphy. Several Republican establishment figures, including John McCain, sided with the Democratic majority.

After the Cold War, Democrats “coalesced around the use of American power to prevent genocide and other gross violations of human rights,” William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton, wrote this week. “But for many of today’s Democrats, Iraq serves as the moral equivalent of Vietnam and evokes comparable doubts about the use of American power.”

Democrats say that Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons should not go unaddressed, but they are also haunted by the war in Iraq. In 2002, Congress gave President George W Bush broad authority to invade.

The resolution, based on faulty intelligence, opened the door for an unpopular conflict that lasted nearly nine years.

Authorising force: The latest whip count

How members of Congress have indicated they will vote:

Senate

Against military action: 15

Leaning no: 10

Undecided: 52

For military action: 23 

House of Representatives

Against military action: 102

Leaning no: 103 

Undecided: 143

For military action: 24 

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments