Obama′s persuasion offensive on Syria | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 03.09.2013
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Middle East

Obama's persuasion offensive on Syria

Until recently, it looked like a military strike against the regime in Syria was imminent. Now, Barack Obama is seeking the approval of Congress, and that is by no means certain.

U.S. President Barack Obama looks up during a meeting with Baltic leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington August 30, 2013. During the meeting, Obama spoke with reporters about the crisis in Syria. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

Barack Obama äußert sich zu Syrien

The US government is firing on all cylinders trying to drum up support among lawmakers and the general public for an intervention in Syria. Some in the administration have called it a "flood the zone" strategy, the New York Times called it a "lobbying blitz."

Obama needs a majority for an intervention by September 9, when Congress's summer recess ends. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is one of the most vocal supporters of punitive action against Assad, appeared in no fewer than five talk shows on Sunday (01.09.2013)

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough were on the phone trying to win over dozens of members of Congress.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talks to reporters

McCain supports military action to get rid of Assad

Wary and tired of war

Whether it's left-leaning Democrats or arch-conservative Tea Party Republicans, there is a large group in Congress opposed to yet another US military mission.

But there are also those who think Obama's strategy does not go far enough. "We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield," Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said at the weekend.

Both senators called for a comprehensive strategy in Syria, but Obama has already said that regime change is not the main objective of a strike.

"In the end, Congress will rise to the occasion," Mike Rogers, Republican and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, believes. Not everybody is so sure, though. Fellow Republican Senator Rand Paul thinks there is a 50-50 chance for approval.

"I think the Senate will rubberstamp what [Obama] wants but I think the House [of Representatives] will be a much closer vote," he said.

Although Kerry has pointed out that Obama has the authority to launch a strike, a Congress "no" vote would be highly embarrassing for Obama.

"Obama has gone very far on this publicly," German historian and writer Michael Stürmer said. "If nothing comes of it, the US can kiss goodbye its status as world power."

But Stürmer, too, is cautious about the effectiveness of a military strike. "We're lacking a clear strategy as to what intervention is supposed to achieve."

Russiasays 'nyet'

While Obama is busy rallying support for an intervention, Russia is doing the opposite, denouncing claims by the US, Britain and France that Assad used chemical weapons in the conflict as "absolute nonsense."

"We're not convinced at all," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The pictures produced by the West showed "nothing concrete, no maps, no names, but numerous inconsistencies."

A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, inspects one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus' suburb of Zamalka August 29, 2013. A team of U.N. experts left their Damascus hotel for a third day of on-site investigations into apparent chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of the capital. Activists and doctors in rebel-held areas said the six-car U.N. convoy was scheduled to visit the scene of strikes in the eastern Ghouta suburbs. REUTERS/Mohammad Abdullah (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

UN inspectors are yet to report on chemical weapons in Syria

If Obama decided in favor of military action; Lavrov warned, hopes of a political solution could be "put off for a long time, possibly forever."

Russiaand China, who both have veto rights in the UN Security Council, are blocking efforts for more decisive action in Syria. Their stance is unlikely to change, which is why Obama wants to proceed without a UN mandate if necessary.

Meager support from western allies

But US allies in the West are also skeptical. After British Prime Minister David Cameron's motion on intervention in Syria was voted down by parliament, France is the only major western nation standing by the US on this issue. The French parliament is due to discuss the conflict in Syria on Wednesday.

A Free Syrian Army fighter walks with his weapon in front of a damaged building in Aleppo's Al-Ezaa neighbourhood, September 1, 2013. REUTERS/Malek Alshemali (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)

While the world talks, the war in Syria continues

Germanyhas made it clear that it will not take part in a military strike - be it under Chancellor Angela Merkel or her challenger in forthcoming elections, Peer Steinbrück. Both insist on a UN mandate for intervention.

Hopes pinned on diplomacy

Merkel is putting her hopes on an international solution once Obama has abandoned the idea of a short and sharp military strike. The G20 summit that takes place in Saint Petersburg from Thursday (05.09.2013) could be a platform for such an approach, as both Obama and Putin will attend.

Markus Kaim, Middle East specialist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, also favors a political solution. "The basic parameters are there already, there are efforts under way to get all the parties together and launch the Geneva II conference," Kaim told DW.

In May, Moscow and Washington agreed to organize the conference, but no date has been scheduled - not least because of the lack of communication among the parties involved. But Kaim believes the very real chance of a military strike which would change the military situation could prompt a rethink among those involved in the conflict.

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