President Barack Obama may face an uphill battle in trying to convince skeptical members of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the advisability of his promised military action in Syria. Votes on a resolution to use military force in Syria, for the government’s alleged use of toxic gas on its own people on August 21, will probably not come for at least 10 days after Obama told reporters on August 31 of his decision to strike Syria, but defer authorization to Congress even while retaining the power to strike without authorization.
The Republican leadership in the House has given their oral approval to the strike, as of course has Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Currently, about 68 Represetnatives oppose military action – 54 Republicans and 14 Democrats. It will take 217 votes to kill or pass the measure in the House. About 350 members of the House are undecided, representing various currents of opinion. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) told a House committee hearing on the resolution, “Many Members on both sides of the aisle are struggling with this issue.” Engel himself favors striking Syria.
In the Senate, there are 20 confirmed advocates of Obama’s planned war in Syria. Among them is his former presidential election opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Secretary of State John Kerry, a former Senator and anti-war activist, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a veteran of the Vietnam War, both appear in hearings in the Senate and the House on the proposed “narrow” and “limited” strike contemplated by Obama. Kerry appealed to the humanity of the senators in his September 4 testimony when he asked for passage of the resolution in committee. The resolution passed in a 10-7 vote, with members of both parties on either side. However, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) dodged the bullet by voting ‘present.’ The full resolution will now go the full Senate.
At least one member of the House, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who on August 31 said he supported military action in Syria, has changed his mind. Speaking on Sept. 5, Grimm said that his constituents’ reaction to his support of Obama, coupled with the delay in action, have made him reassess his previous position. “Thus, after much thought, deliberation and prayer, I am no longer convinced that a U.S. strike on Syria will yield a benefit to the United States that will not be greatly outweighed by the extreme cost of war,” Grimm said.
Pointing out the White House telegraphing of which targets it has in mind in Syria, and the time lapse between Obama’s announcement and a congressional approval, Grimm added “Now that the Assad regime has seen our playbook and has been given enough time to prepare and safeguard potential targets, I do not feel that we have enough to gain as a nation by moving forward with this attack on our own.”
These remarks stand were in contrast to Grimm’s earlier statements, in which he said he stood with Obama. “We have to keep our word; this is about our credibility,” … “We can’t permit a precedent where there is a use of chemical weapons and there is no response.” Grimm is now the 91st House member to express opposition to military action in Syria, along with 93 who have expressed skepticism.
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., a strong supporter of US-Israeli relations as well as Obamacare, had already expressed opposition to military action. However, in an interview publish in The Atlantic magazine on September 4, he openly accused the Obama administration of manipulating intelligence to push its case for war. Grayson alleges that Representatives have been given intelligence briefings without any evidence to support administration claims that Syrian president Bashr Al-Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons.
A four-page White House report argues that Assad's government killed 1,429 people on Aug. 21 with a pre-meditated chemical weapon attack. Evidence cited in that report included "intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used." Grayson says "the claim has been made that that information was completely mischaracterized."
When asked in Newsweek magazine whether there are other instances of Obama administration manipulation, the Democrat said "Well yes," Grayson said, "but I'm very constrained about talking about it. ... This has become a fundamental problem with our system: The information we do get is limited, but beyond that we are very constrained in discussing it."
Opponents of a possible U.S. strike in Syria recall intelligence failures before the Iraq War that misled the George W. Bush administration about the presence of weapons of mass destruction. They also point out that many Syrian rebels are al-Qaida-associated Islamists who also commit atrocities. Some observers have expressed the opinion that a defeat of a war resolution in Congress would embarrass Obama, who in April 2013 set down a rhetorical “redline” for action in Syria, but later caving to pressure seek congressional approval. "We can't go to war to spare anyone embarrassment," Grayson told U.S. News. "That would be utterly immoral, we're talking about shedding American blood. ... The president has already made that argument and it's falling on deaf ears."