U.S. faces divided Congress, int'l community over Syria strike
Support for a potential military strike against Syria didn't pick up in U.S. Congress Thursday, and world leaders failed to agree on the issue as they met in Russia's St. Petersburg for the Group of 20 (G20) summit.
The sluggish congressional support could prove problematic for the Obama administration, indicating the need to spend more time and precious political capital to persuade the undecided lawmakers, as well as the American public.
The issue seemed apparent even on Wednesday, as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed their public mark up of the authorization resolution for over three hours. It was passed 10-7, including amendments from Sen. John McCain to "change momentum on the battlefield." But the vote tally showed bipartisan support as well as bipartisan opposition, indicating Congress' fractured state of opinion on the Syria issue.
Vote counts made by the press appear to testify the point. CNN said the Senate, expected to vote on the resolution next week, has 24 yes votes, including the Democratic leadership and most committee chairs, and 17 no votes, with 59 still undecided. It is believed that if opponents filibuster the resolution, Majority Leader Harry Reid may need to muster a supermajority of 60 votes to overcome them.
In the House, where all seats are to be contested in the election next year, there are only 26 yes votes, including both parties' leadership. There are 102 no votes, 284 undecideds and 21 unknown as of Thursday afternoon, according to CNN. A vote count by The Washington Post yields similar results.
According to recent opinion polls, the majority of the American public are against a military strike against Syria, and support for action typically lingers somewhere between 20 to 30 percent.
Members of Congress were acutely aware of the perils of supporting an unpopular military venture one year prior to an election. Reports indicated the House is poised to sit on any resolution after the Senate has voted on it. If it fails in Senate, the House might not take it up at all. Even if the Senate passed it, it could be the week of Sept. 16 before the House even begins to deliberate it on the chamber floor.
Likewise, President Barack Obama, who is currently in St. Petersburg and plans to top the summit's agenda with Syria issue, didn't seem to get enough support from G20 leaders on Friday.
Like it or not, Obama is facing a divided international community over the military strike against Syria.
During Friday's meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin, host of the summit and a strong objector of military action on Syria, gave a last-minute announcement for leaders to air their views during dinner.
Three hours' discussion ended in vain, with the participants finding the only thing they'd confirmed was the division among them over Syria.
Responding to a question on Syria during a press conference at the summit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia is not blocking the work of the UN Security Council, but encourages its partners to consider the situation in Syria "in a responsible manner" and not to use the so-called fact to justify their own actions.
"We cannot accept the proof which, from our point of view, is not proof at all and that is far from being convincing," Peskov said.
The Security Council is the "only legitimate body" in international affairs that can use legitimate forces, he said, adding "neither Russia nor the U.S." can make such decisions alone.
Moscow believes that decisions should not be made before UN experts finish their probe and provide evidence on who had used the chemical weapons in Syria, he added.
Moscow saw it as unacceptable if "anyone in the world imposes its will on another state and tries to change the international law regime under which the world lives," said the spokesman.
On this regard, China believes the summit should address the concerns of the international community, coordinate the macroeconomic policy of each country, promote international economic and financial governance, free trade and the development agenda, so as to exert a positive influence on the international economy.
For his part, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera said Thursday that a military strike against Syria required the backing of the United Nations Security Council.
"I want to say that the Chilean government believes that any military action in Syria must be within the context of the multinational institutional structure that we have at the United Nations and the Security Council, and not by a unilateral decision of a single or a group of countries," said Pinera in the presidential palace of La Moneda.
On the same day, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the U.S.that it will suffer "loss" over possible intervention in Syria.
The U.S. leaders are "trying to pretend that they want to intervene for humanitarian purposes, but nobody in the world could fancy that the Americans are after humanitarian issues" in Syria, said Khamenei, adding that the United States is making a mistake about Syria and will suffer a definite loss.
Meanwhile, in a fresh bid for international support, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday will kick off a weekend trip to Europe, where he plans to attend a meeting of EU foreign ministers and discuss with them issues in the Middle East, including Syria.