I’ve been at meetings today, and am just getting home to see that President Obama is returning from Russia without having won over any world leaders to his bomb Syria plan. As the NYT reports, only France, Canada, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have rallied to America’s side — but they were on board before the St. Petersburg summit. More:
The failure to forge a stronger coalition here in the face of opposition from the Russian host, President Vladimir V. Putin, raised the risks even further for Mr. Obama as he headed home to lobby Congress to give him the backing his international peers would not. It also left Mr. Obama in the awkward position of defending his right to take action largely alone if necessary after campaigning against what he portrayed as the unilateralist foreign policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that he had a “hard sell” with Congress and announced that he would deliver a televised address to the nation Tuesday evening from the White House.
“Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations that they can use W.M.D. and not pay a consequence,” he said at a news conference, using the initials for weapons of mass destruction. “And that’s not a world we want to live in.”
But much of the world, at least as represented at the Group of 20 meeting here in this St. Petersburg suburb, did not favor Mr. Obama’s proposed course of action. Mr. Putin said a majority of the leaders joined him in opposing a military strike independent of United Nations approval, including those from Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy and South Africa.
Citing remarks by Jacob Zuma, the South African president, Mr. Putin said: “ ’Small countries in today’s world in general are feeling increasingly vulnerable and unprotected. There is an impression any superpower at any moment at its discretion may use force.’ And he’s right.”
While I don’t think Vladimir Putin personally has the least concern with the feelings of small countries in today’s world, I think he has a point. Meanwhile, Obama returns to his own country to face an increasingly hostile Congress, reports the Times:
[Oklahoma Congressman Tom] Cole would seem a potential candidate to support President Obama on Syria. A pragmatic Congressional veteran, he has been open to compromise with the White House in the past and is not afraid to break with House conservatives. But after portraying himself as leaning against the strike, Mr. Cole on Thursday afternoon came down firmly in the opposition when his office issued a statement announcing that he will vote no.
Given the intensity of opposition in his district, he said it would take a “road to Damascus experience” to change his mind now.
“I literally cannot walk across the parking lot without being stopped to talk about this issue,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything quite like this.”
He is hardly alone. Fewer than a dozen House Republicans, a total that includes the top two leaders, have publicly said they would back the president on a military strike, making the White House climb to a House majority exceedingly steep given significant Democratic resistance as well. Not only is the administration not winning over Republicans, it lost at least one it had. Representative Michael G. Grimm, Republican of New York, said Thursday that he was reversing his support. “The moment to show our strength has passed,” he said.
I believe it. In the past week, I’ve been having conversations about Syria with people who never have talked with me about foreign policy before. And every single one of these people oppose the president’s policy. Actually, that’s not strictly true: today I spoke to a friend who is divided over the issue. He’s the first person I’ve personally talked to who is anything but strongly opposed. What’s interesting to me is that nobody in my personal conversations has framed it as a bash-Obama opportunity, but rather as a “we can’t afford to risk going down this road again” sort of thing. In my lunch conversation today, we talked about the Libya example as something that worked out without the US becoming more deeply involved. The difference there is that Libya had no allies. Syria has Russia. Besides, Syria is a battleground between Sunni and Shia Islam, with regional powers — especially Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran — betting heavily on the outcome.
Anyway, Louisiana folks are not known for their antiwar sympathies, which is what makes the kind of things I’m hearing on the street so striking to me. We are just flat-out fed up with fighting in the Middle East. If Obama orders a strike on Syria, and anything goes the least bit wrong in the event or its aftermath, I suspect that any member of Congress who voted with the president is going to have hell to pay with the voters in 2014. One of our state’s senators, Republican David Vitter, has come out against bombing Syria; we’re waiting to hear from Mary Landrieu, but I think she will be very hard pressed to vote with the president on this.
If President Obama is addressing the nation on this policy Tuesday night, I hope the networks will give Sen. Rand Paul time for a nationally-broadcast response.