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Syria crisis: Dovish Democrats urge Obama to consult Congress

In a letter, 54 Democratic lawmakers urged Obama Thursday to 'seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any US military engagement to this complex crisis.'

By Correspondent / August 29, 2013

President Obama pauses while speaking at Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y., Aug. 22, 2013. Lawmakers sent a letter to the White House Thursday 'expressing unequivocal condemnation over the news that chemical weapons were reportedly used by the government of Syria' but also cautioning against bypassing Congress.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Washington

With Washington focused on the prospect of military action in Syria as retaliation for the apparent use of chemical weapons by its government, whither Congress’s more liberal members?

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It seems the doves have a dilemma. To support their Democratic president in the quest to right a humanitarian wrong? Or to back the institutional protections that require congressional approval before a White House can engage in anything resembling war?

“There’s a certain wing in the Democratic Party that’s pacifist that doesn’t support the use of force in most instances, except in the case of an attack on the US,” says Brian Katulis, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress. “I don’t think they’re going to move.”

These and other Democrats are also concerned that public opinion isn’t yet in favor of military intervention in Syria. Mr. Obama should not move forward with military action, they say, without a full congressional review and members’ approval.

Spearheaded by Rep. Barbara Lee (D) of California, 54 Democratic members, many of whom made up the coalition of those opposed to the last Iraq war, sent a letter to the White House Thursday “expressing unequivocal condemnation over the news that chemical weapons were reportedly used by the government of Syria” but also cautioning against bypassing Congress. The apparent human rights violations there “should not draw us into an unwise war,” they write.

“While we understand that as Commander in Chief you have a constitutional obligation to protect our national interests from direct attack, Congress has the constitutional obligation and power to approve military force, even if the United States or its direct interests (such as its embassies) have not been attacked or threatened with an attack.”

These lawmakers urge Obama to “seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any US military engagement to this complex crisis.”

Polls are an issue for members of Congress, regardless of party identification, and on the Syria matter, they’re showing the public to be war weary following years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Reuters-Ipsos survey released recently indicated that most Americans want nothing to do with military action in Syria – some 60 percent are opposed, while 9 percent are in favor. The number in support of intervention only modestly increases – to 25 percent – when the variable of a chemical weapons attack is introduced.

Iraq fatigue is of particular note where Syria is concerned. After all, the evidence presented by the administration of President George W. Bush as he made his case for war there turned out not to be accurate.

Democrats, and Republicans, reflecting on the Iraq intervention, which dragged on for years, are proving they’re once bitten and twice shy.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) of California, who opposed the Iraq intervention and Thursday signed onto Lee’s letter, wants a congressional vote, not just a briefing. The president, she says, needs to make an appeal to Congress. It is, after all, she reminds him, the people’s house.

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