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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Syria, Solarz, and Support

Syria grows as a political problem for the president. At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Green notes that George H.W. Bush won congressional approval of the Gulf War because he was able to build an alliance with Stephen J. Solarz (D-NY).  President Obama, he says, has not even tried to find Solarz's House GOP doppelganger.
In early January 1991, Solarz penned a piece in The New Republic titled “The Stakes in the Gulf.” His influential essay combined idealism with realpolitik. As he wrote, “There is, for a start, the question of oil. If Saddam succeeds in incorporating Kuwait into Iraq, he will be in a position to control, by intimidation or invasion, the oil resources of the entire Gulf.”
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Meanwhile, Obama is constitutionally incapable of doing serious outreach to the House GOP. For the record, he has taunted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, publicly embarrassed Congressman Paul Ryan, and pulled the rug out from under the Speaker Boehner.
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Obama’s quest for congressional support is also hobbled by the public’s widespread opposition to the war, a fact Obama now acknowledges. According to a Washington Post-ABC poll, Americans say “no” to U.S. involvement in Syria by a 2:1 margin. Scott Clement of the Post writes, "There is no political or demographic group in which a majority supports military action in Syria." According to a CNN poll, more than 30 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a congressman who opposed the war, while a bare 11 percent would reward a congressman who backed a war resolution. Apparently, the only constituencies for war are policy elites, as Peggy Noonan observed, and a few foreign governments. Interestingly, members of Congress who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are strongly opposed to U.S. intervention.

All told, Obama faces a challenge stiffer than passing health care. The public is even more opposed, the House is controlled by the GOP, and there are no goodies to ladle out to large swaths of the electorate. The touted gains of attack are intangible, while its downside is real and grave. Going to war simply to keep a campaign promise doesn’t cut it, and the cry of “Do it for Obama!” is trivially self-referential. When Nancy Pelosi’s discussion with her grandson is offered as a rationale for war, Obama is clearly in trouble.