Why Congress Is Divided on Syria

Extremist rebels, regime atrocities leave lawmakers no easy options
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2013 7:33 AM CDT
Updated Sep 5, 2013 7:56 AM CDT
Why Congress Is Divided on Syria
Jordanian security police stand in front of protesters waving the Syrian national flag and an anti-American poster during a protest near the U.S. embassy, Amman, Jordan, Aug. 31, 2013.   (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

Congress is decidedly skittish about the prospect of military action against Syria—sources tell Politico's Playbook that if the vote were held today, it would fail—and the reason why has a lot to do with the thought of potentially bolstering men like Abdul Samad Issa, aka "The Uncle." Issa leads a small faction of about 300 rebels, and while it's not al-Qaeda-affiliated, it's uncomfortably ruthless—one former aide gave the New York Times a video of the group executing seven naked and beaten Syrian soldiers, who had been accused of raping civilians. The Uncle has promised his men "the extermination" of the entire Alawite sect Bashar al-Assad belongs to.

  • The would-be non-war is also unpopular. "The word from members is that no one back home supports intervention. Calls and letters are opposed in overwhelming numbers," one source tells Playbook.
  • On the other hand, there's the horror of Syria's chemical attack. A new study indicates that the rockets used in the alleged Damascus strike carried up to 50 times more nerve gas than previously estimated, the Times reports. That indicates that the material must have come from a large gas stockpile.
  • Syria's neighbors fear something even worse: that Assad could revive the country's bioweapons program. The US believes Syria mothballed the program in the 1980s, but it likely possesses everything it needs to make a weapon, including deadly bacteria and viruses, the Washington Post reports.
  • There are also political considerations. Republicans aren't eager to back President Obama on anything, which means that Nancy Pelosi may be more key to passing the bill than anyone, the Times argues. But even she might not be able to rally support from anti-war Democrats.
  • Robert Gates yesterday broke his silence on Syria to throw his weight behind his old boss, with a statement "strongly" urging Congress to approve intervention.
  • Obama, meanwhile, plans to "explain our current thinking" to allies at today's G-20 Summit in Russia, Politico reports. Administration officials say he's considering an Oval Office address toward the same end. But House members tell Playbook that so far that thinking, as communicated in private briefings, has been "surprisingly unconvincing."
(More Syria stories.)

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