Analysts: Congressional Vote on Syria Could Prove Short-Term Domestic Boon for Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to seek authorization from Congress for a strike on Syria may be part of a more comprehensive short-term strategy meant to alleviate the pressure facing him at home, including tackling the budget ceiling issue on the domestic front, experts say.
Approaching a contentious budget battle this month, any time set aside for debate in Congress will now be eaten up by the pressing issue of launching a military operation in Syria, in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military, analysts told Reuters.
The vote in Congress on Syria has increased the likelihood that U.S. lawmakers will agree to a short-term government funding measure, as they wouldn’t otherwise be able to pass legislation in time to avoid a federal shutdown by October 1st, the start of the new fiscal year.
But the long-term questions still remain, though they may be answered in the coming days as the outline of a potential military operation in Syria becomes clearer.
“How are they going to pay for this operation? Are they going to use a war supplement or pay for it out of existing funds? Too much is unknown,” Boris Zilberman, deputy director of Congressional relations at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told The Algemeiner. “If they need a war supplement to fund it, then does it make a [budget] deal more likely? Probably. But I think there are more questions than answers right now.”
Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research in Washington, told Reuters: “Ironically, this crisis over Syria could give everyone a little cover because we’re not close to a deal to kill sequester or to raise the debt ceiling. Lawmakers could claim, with justification, that they’ve been preoccupied with Syria.”
Obama also stands to gain from a possibly weakened GOP if the vote fails. He has made clear that he still has the power to approve a strike without congressional approval, which he could well do. But if the vote fails, the GOP, which is currently struggling between torpedoing the Democratic president’s move or upsetting a base whose majority advocates intervention in Syria, would have no such fallback plan.
Obama also benefits from a GOP whose debate on the Syria issue has become a microcosm of larger internal divisions. Some Republicans close to the Tea Party have warned that such intervention doesn’t suit American interests—believing they have their finger on the pulse of the current Republican zeitgeist wary of another war—and have come out against military action in Syria.
“I think all of the bad things you can imagine are all more likely if we get involved in the Syrian civil war,” said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, in an interview with NBC’s Meet The Press.
However, Dan Senor, an advisor to the Romney/Ryan presidential campaign, says Rand is misguided and mistaken.
“Tea Party critics of America’s current military operations should look at how well served congressional Republicans were in the 1990s by opposing intervention in the Balkans. Is there any evidence that this opposition helped conservatives?” Senor asks.
Other commentators see a wider, internationalist view. “Right now, the easy Republican vote looks like the vote against Obama,” Michael Goldfarb, a neoconservative lobbyist and writer, told the New York Times. “Ten days from now, a vote against Obama could look like a vote for Assad, especially if Republicans succeed in blocking U.S. action, and Assad goes on to prevail, having used chemical weapons, with Iran at his side.”
Mr. Goldfarb’s message to Congressional Republicans is this: “Voting to let an Iranian proxy keep killing his own people with weapons of mass destruction may be as risky as it sounds.”
Speaking to a Times reporter, Senor added, “Isolationist tendencies don’t do well in American politics over the long run.”
For Obama, when facing Assad and the budget vote, it may be the short-term that matters.