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Divided vote foreshadows Obama challenge on Syria


Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel's deep divide over giving President Barack Obama the authority to use U.S. military force against Syria underscores the commander in chief's challenge in persuading skeptical lawmakers and wary allies to back greater intervention in an intractable civil war.

The administration was pressing ahead Thursday with its full-scale sales job, holding another round of closed-door meetings for members of Congress about its intelligence on Syria. On another continent, Obama was certain to face questions from world leaders when he arrives in St. Petersburg, Russia, for an economic summit.

The event's host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, stands as a reminder of resistance to U.S. pleas for Moscow to intervene with its ally Syria and President Bashar Assad.

Obama has called for military action after the administration blamed Assad for a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that it says killed more than 1,400 civilians, including at least 400 children. Other casualty estimates are lower, and the Syrian government denies responsibility, contending rebels fighting to topple the government were to blame.

Responding to Obama's request, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday to authorize the "limited and specified use" of the U.S. armed forces against Syria, backing a resolution that restricts military action to 90 days and bars American ground troops from combat.

Obama's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken, picked up the sales pitch for the absent president Thursday, appearing on several morning news shows.

In an appearance on MSNBC, Blinken said he believes the American people will be more supportive of Obama's request once they see the Syrian situation as a separate and distinct problem as opposed to viewing it "in the prism of the last decade" of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is not open-ended. This is not boots on the ground. This is not Afghanistan. This is not Iraq. This is not even Libya," Blinken said.

He said that if the United States does not stand up to Assad and against the use of chemical weapons, some world figures will believe "it's OK to use them with impunity."

Secretary of State John Kerry, testifying for the second consecutive day before Congress, insisted that the U.S. military response would be restricted as Americans fatigued by more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan show little inclination to get involved in Syria.

"I don't believe we're going to war, I just don't believe that," Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, citing the ground troops and long-term commitment that he said wars entail. "That's not what we're doing here. The president is asking for permission to take a limited military action, yes, but one that does not put Americans in the middle of the battle."

In the Senate, five Republicans, including potential presidential candidates Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and two Democrats opposed the resolution, which is expected to reach the Senate floor next week. The timing of a vote is uncertain.

"I believe U.S. military action of the type contemplated here might prove to be counterproductive," Rubio said. "After a few days of missile strikes, it will allow Assad, for example, to emerge and claim that he took on the United States and survived."

Paul, a Kentucky conservative with strong tea party ties, has threatened a filibuster, although he acknowledged that proponents have the votes to prevail in the Senate, and he pinned his hopes on the House.

The notion of a contained operation has failed to sway many Republicans and Democrats in the House, who question why the U.S. should get involved now in a Syrian civil war that has killed an estimated 100,000, displaced millions and is in its third year. While House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have expressed support for military action, but rank-and-file Republicans remain reluctant or outright opposed.

Republican Rep. Chris Collins said voters in his western New York district are "overwhelmingly against involvement." The freshman congressman is undecided.

"Really, I'm looking for the president to justify limited military strike and establish what are the objectives he's seeking and what is the mission," Collins said in a phone interview.

Kerry told the Foreign Affairs Committee that he believed Obama would address the nation on Syria in the next few days. The president returns home from overseas Friday night.

Speaking in Sweden on Wednesday, Obama left open the possibility he would order retaliation for the deadly chemical weapons attack even if Congress withheld its approval.

"I always preserve the right and responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security," he told a news conference. In a challenge to lawmakers back home, he said Congress' credibility was on the line, not his own, despite saying a year ago that the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line."

The Senate panel's vote marked the first formal response in Congress, four days after Obama unexpectedly put off an anticipated cruise missile strike against Syria and instead asked lawmakers to unite behind such a plan.

The vote capped a hectic few days in which lawmakers first narrowed the scope of Obama's request and then widened it.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a proponent of aggressive U.S. military action in Syria, joined forces with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware to add a provision calling for "decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria."

At their urging, the measure was also changed to state that the policy of the United States was "to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria." McCain, who long has accused Obama of timidity in Syria, argued that Assad will be willing to participate in diplomatic negotiations only if he believes he is going to lose the civil war he has been fighting for more than two years.


Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Josh Lederman in Sweden and Bradley Klapper, Alan Fram, Deb Riechmann, Kimberly Dozier, Lolita C. Baldor and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

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mikethenovice wrote:
When comes to helping the poor, the Republicans say no. When it comes to funding a war, the Republicans say yes.
on September 5,2013 | 06:08AM
AhiPoke wrote:
Actually, I think it's more like, when it comes to funding lazy freeloaders, the democrats say yes. When it comes to funding this war, it's more likely that the democrats say yes.
on September 5,2013 | 07:38AM
false wrote:
LOL LOL LOL You nailed it.
on September 5,2013 | 07:51AM
1local wrote:
when it comes to abomiations, and breeding - leave that to the Senate majority... when it comes to economic and sound judgement - leave that to the House majority...
on September 5,2013 | 10:23AM
false wrote:
If the majority of the population is against President Obama attacking Syria.. and the House is way more against an attack... how can the Senate possibly agree with President Obama's plan to attack Syria?????? Don't they care how the people they represent feel ?
on September 5,2013 | 07:54AM
pcman wrote:
IRT false on attack plan. The people who want to support attacking Syria are being duped to become the scapegoats for Obama should the end of Assad result from the attack. That end could then lead to another take-over by the Muslim Brotherhood of another Middle East country. This is Obama covering his tracks for future blame of the wrong unexpected consequences of the attack. He has already blamed the country and the international community for taking action for Syria's crossing the "red line." Too cool.
on September 5,2013 | 09:05AM
cojef wrote:
The President speaks from both sides of his mouth. When the first account that gas was being used by Assad against his own citizen, more than year ago, the President made the ill-advised bold statement, warning Assad about the "red line". Since then, he has indicated that it is the world's "red line" and thus we must "tomahawk" Assad. Although he may unilaterally call for the strike, he is currently asking Congress to support him. Only, France for their own economic interests is willing to use limited military strikes against Assad, the rest of the NATO coalitions has abandoned any desire to take any action, not even sanctions of any sort. France was the former colonial power inside the old Syrian Government, before the Assad regime came to power. The President's arrogance has placed our Nation, into a no win position. Congress should stop this maddness, it is not in the best interest of our Nation.
on September 5,2013 | 08:41AM
Poplm wrote:
Senators McCain and Kerry are both suffering from permanent PTSD. I hate to think we have to follow the advice of these two flakes. Lets destabilize world politics and put the final screws into our economy to help people who hate us. Yes mr. President bring on the pain. The hell pres? Didn't you win the Nobel peace prize? Why the blood thirsty foreign policy?
on September 5,2013 | 08:51AM
Charliegrunt wrote:
Once again, we fail to learn from past mistakes, and turn a deaf ear towards our forefathers' warning against becoming involved in foreign entanglements. This is a CIVIL WAR. There are no good guys. As Iraq's civil war was between Shiite and Sunni, Syria's is between Al Queda and the Taliban. Which foreign entanglement has been successful? Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan? When are we going to learn that a country's people must fight and die for their freedom? We can't give it to them. Obama blew the only viable alternative that he had by telling the Syrians he would take out their launch sites, so they moved them and moved prisoners into the target areas. Why is this administration so concerned about what Syria does to it's own people, when the President walked away and went to bed, and Hillary asked, "What's the difference?" whether those who attacked the consulate and killed four Americans in Benghazi were rioters or terrorists? They failed to grasp that an "act of war" was perpetrated against the US, which is a violation of International Law. Sovereign US territory was attacked.
on September 5,2013 | 09:07AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
The latest poll says 70% of Americans don't want o get military involved in Syria.
on September 5,2013 | 09:19AM
geralddeheer wrote:
on September 5,2013 | 12:02PM
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