05 September 2013

Striking at Syria -- the politics

Last week I looked at Obama's proposed Syrian intervention from the viewpoint of the situation in Syria itself.  Today I want to look at the domestic political implications.

That discussion must start with the fact that the American people overwhelmingly oppose intervention.  A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed 19% in favor, 56% opposed, with Obama's efforts at persuasion having had no effect.  Other polls show similar results.  The public also doesn't believe the proposed strikes will have much impact on Asad's future willingness to use chemical weapons (and in fact they probably wouldn't); further, voters believe the strikes are very likely to get the US bogged down in wider intervention with no clear end in sight, ending up like the Iraq quagmire.

In short, this proposal is a massive political negative, and if it goes forward, it's going to be attached primarily to Obama in the public mind.  Primarily to Obama, and secondarily to Democrats in general.  Some bloggers have claimed that, by asking for authorization, Obama has cleverly implicated Congress in the decision to strike, so that blame will be diffused.  However, what information we have about voting intentions shows that Democrats are more supportive of intervention than Republicans are.  See for yourself -- by every analysis, in both the Senate and the House, Democrats outnumber Republicans among "yes" votes, while Republicans outnumber Democrats among "no" votes.  In the one vote that has actually been held so far, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 7 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted yes, while 2 Democrats and 5 Republicans voted no.

If the intervention goes forward, Republicans will have no difficulty pinning it on the Democratic party as a whole in 2014 and 2016.  If the intervention begins and ends with limited missile strikes and has no effect on the Syrian civil war, the impact on the US elections will be small, but still not good for us.  If it escalates into larger-scale US involvement and/or leads to retaliation against US targets and/or succeeds and brings a Sunni-extremist / al-Qâ'idah-affiliated regime to power in Syria in Asad's place, the effect on the election outcomes could be disastrous.  Hillary Clinton, our most likely Presidential nominee, favors intervention; if it goes ahead and the outcome is bad enough, that could cripple her in the general election, or even enable a damaging primary struggle.

Speaking of retaliation against US targets, Andrew Sullivan has an overview of how all this is playing in Iran, the Asad regime's main patron.  Moderates within the regime there seem willing to act behind the scenes to curb Asad's atrocities, but the extremists are quite likely to lash out at the US if we strike Syria -- in part, with the aim of undermining those moderates in their own country.  If we get dragged into a conflict with Iran -- a far larger and more powerful state than Syria (or Iraq or Afghanistan) -- then there's no way this can fail to become the dominant issue in the coming US elections.

Finally, Bernie Sanders has some worthwhile insights.

From a domestic political viewpoint (and, really, from the viewpoint of events in Syria), the only way to salvage the situation is to prevent the intervention from starting in the first place.  Fortunately, there is time before the full Senate and House vote.  Look again at those preliminary counts of votes -- the Senate is leaning in favor of intervention, but the House is leaning against it.  We have a real chance to stop this.  Contact your Senators and Representative, regardless of party, and urge them to vote no.  The best outcome for the Democrats is that the intervention be stopped, even if it's Republicans who stop it.  If it is stopped, the issue will be mostly forgotten by November next year.  If it goes ahead, Democrats will be blamed for anything from a serious mistake to an epic-scale disaster.

(If you harbor hopes that the intervention will somehow turn into a success and thus a political positive for the Democrats, forget it.  That won't happen.)

With enough of a public outcry, we can stop this.  Do it for the Syrians, and do it for ourselves.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish times were sane and the issue can just be talked about without worrying about electoral consequences. When it comes to that it doesn't matter what you do. Every answer is the wrong one when dealing with the GOP. If you don't attack you're weak. If you attack you're being reckless and it's possible grounds for impeachment. I don't know what to do about Syria. I'm all for hitting the targets they said they were going to hit. I believe Obama's going to have enough votes to get his wishes. It looks to me from my standpoint that the U.S. will have to play referee.

I believe the world will be better off without Assad. It also seems like the rebels are a special lot. And I think a lot of them need killing. I'm visualizing the situation and all scenarios I've come up with are terrible.

Vic78

05 September, 2013 16:19  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

I agree with Vic78. I can't think of any choice that isn't going to be a disaster. Including doing nothing.

06 September, 2013 13:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

At least staying out will not actively make the situation worse. It seems clear now that the rebels are even worse than Asad, and there's no alternative Jeffersonian moderate group waiting in the wings to take over instead. Luckily it looks like the House will not vote to authorize a strike.

07 September, 2013 07:00  

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