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Syria strike plan faces tough sell in US Congress

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-09-05 07:35

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama has garnered Republican leaders' support for a military strike on Syria, but still faces an uphill climb in winning enough Congressional support to attack the embattled Arab country, experts and insiders said.

Obama on Saturday announced he would seek Congressional approval for plans to launch a limited strike on Syria, after President Bashar al-Assad's forces allegedly carried out a deadly chemical weapons attack last month, which crossed the "red line" that Obama said could trigger US military involvement.

Latest polls show most Americans oppose a strike, and analysts insisted Obama's appeal to Congress is an effort to buy time and shore up support among undecided lawmakers.

While backing from the Democrat-controlled Senate may be in the bag, the GOP-dominated House of Representatives will be a tough sell, analysts said.

"I think he can get (House support) but it's probably going to be extremely close," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.

Key to understanding lawmakers' positions is that the Syria vote comes in the lead-up to the 2014 mid-term elections, where all House seats will be up for grabs.

With a majority of the war-weary country opposing a Syria strike, House lawmakers consider a "yes" vote an electorally risky move, O'Connell said, who believed support would be easier in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where only 35 seats are open.

"If you're not sure which way your political future is going, the'no' vote is the safe one,"  said O'Connell.  

In fact, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsed Wednesday a revised resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria, in a 10-7 vote. It stated that the goal of US military intervention in Syria should be to bolster the Free Syrian Army which is fighting al-Assad's forces, while setting a 90-day time limit for the military action and barring US ground troops in Syria.

The Democrat-controlled Senate is to hold a debate and vote on the resolution after it returns from summer recess on September 9.

Still, history bodes well for Obama's chances of getting Congress' support, as never before has Congress not backed a president's request to use military force.

The president is in a sticky position, some experts said, as not taking action based on his "red line" rhetoric would be a major blow to U. S. credibility worldwide and could embolden anti- US extremists and countries.

"There's a recognition behind the scenes that if (Republicans) shut him down, it could be harming the next three presidents, regardless of party," O'Connell said.  

And that is weighing on lawmakers' minds.

"Part of this is about the message you're sending to the rest of the world, and they don't want to see the credibility of the United States on the global scene damaged," he said.

According to a regularly updated Washington Post analysis, congressional support broke down into four categories -- those in favor, those against, those undecided and those leaning toward a "no" vote.

Out of the 100 Senators shown in the survey, 12 lawmakers were against and 23 were for military action. Fifty-seven were undecided and the remaining eight were leaning toward a "no" vote, as of Wednesday afternoon.

Out of the 259 House lawmakers shown, 57 were against, 17 were in favor, 86 were leaning toward a "no" vote and 99 were undecided, as of Wednesday afternoon.

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