On Tuesday, President Obama is going to address a skeptical nation, and try to justify military intervention in Syria. Not only will he be trying to get Americans to see why military strikes are the only remaining option, he will try to get a divided Congress to give him approval to use military forces.
According to a CNN/ORC International poll, although eight in ten respondents believe the Assad regime used chemical weapons, seventy percent think a military strike on Syria will accomplish little. Gallup also released a slew of polls concerning Syria, showing that 36% of respondents support U.S. military intervention in Syria, with 51% opposing it. In comparison, public support for the Iraq War was 59% in 2003, with 37% declaring their opposition to it. Going a little further back, 82% supported the war in Afghanistan, with only 14% opposing it.
45% of Democrats support a strike against Syria, with 43% opposing it. Independents are split, 34% support, 53% oppose. Meanwhile, 31% of Republicans support a strike on Syria, and 58% are against it. 59% of conservatives, 43% of moderates, and 51% of liberals oppose intervention in Syria.
Of the Americans opposed to intervention in Syria, 43% base their opposition primarily on their belief that the United States has no business in Syria, 30% do so because they think a U.S. strike would accomplish little, 15% fear reprisals or escalation, 19% believe it’s not worth the cost and that there are other priorities, while 7% don’t believe in wars, period.
In the Congress, most representatives are undecided whether they will vote for giving the President authorization to use military forces in Syria. According to a USA Today survey of Congressmen, only 44 of 533 lawmakers, 22 Senators and 22 House representatives, are ready to vote ‘yes’ on giving the President approval to use forces. 149 Congressmen, meanwhile, are saying they will not vote yes. Currently, Democrats are evenly split, 28 for, 28 against, while Republicans are 16 for, 121 against.
Alabama Rep. Robert Brown Aderholt, a Republican, who has decided against the war, has said, “How is American involvement not the fuel for the fire the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist are trying to ignite throughout the region? Cruise missiles are not a strategy. The President by now should see that foreign policy is far more complex than that."
Thomas Cotton, a Republican in Arkansas’ fourth congressional district, supports the war. In a written statement, he said, “[W]e have a vital interest in maintaining the international taboo against chemical weapons. ... I’m also deeply worried that our inaction is destabilizing the Middle East, in particular our allies in Israel and Jordan as well as Turkey. And emboldening Iran, one of our most implacable enemies, as they send thousands of troops to fight in Syria, along with Hezbollah, its terrorist proxy from Lebanon. So that is why, miracle of miracles, I am in support of the President’s call for action in Syria."
Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, is against intervention in Syria, saying, “Invasion is the wrong course because it merely inflames the violence further, both within Syria and without.”
Juan Carlos Vargas, a California Democrat, is for intervention, saying, “Today’s hearing also confirmed that only targeted and limited strikes would be used. With a clear plan in mind, I support the White House moving forward. We cannot look away when more than a thousand Syrians, including innocent women and children, are gassed by their own government."
In the Senate, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin supports intervention, saying, “If the United States did not take this leadership role, I don’t know who would. I do want to say that I take very seriously the President's promise that we will not be putting boots on the ground in Syria.”
His Democratic colleague, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, has said, “Before any military action in Syria is taken, the Administration must prove a compelling national security interest, clearly define a mission that has a definitive end-state, and then build a true coalition of allies that would actively participate in any action we take. Based on the information presented to me and the evidence I have gathered, I do not believe these criteria have been met, and I cannot support military action against Syria at this time.”
Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss supports the war, saying, “It is time for the United States to act in a serious way, and send a clear message to Assad and his allies that the world will not tolerate chemical or biological attacks. Continuing to do nothing is not an option. Short of putting troops on the ground, I believe a meaningful military response is appropriate.”
Utah Sen. Mike Lee, meanwhile, says, “The risks of the president’s strategy far outweigh the possible gains. We cannot ask our men and women in uniform to engage in a military conflict that does not present a national security threat to the United States.”
Either way the President has a difficult job trying to convince Americans, and Congressmen, to support a strike against Syria. He must show how a strike against Syria is in the nation’s interests, what the strike would accomplish, how America will not be dragged into a deeper or broader regional war, how the war will be paid for, why the United States should proceed without key allies such as the United Kingdom, why the U.S. should attack without UN approval or with the support of NATO, and ultimately, assure everyone that ground forces would not be used under any circumstances – a wholly unpopular step.