Michelle Obama 'suspicious' of Syria strike

Americans overwhelmingly oppose a US military strike on Syria, and loyal supporters in the president's own party – not to mention Michelle Obama – are wary, too.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
President Obama arrives on Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats and Republicans on Syria in advance of a speech to the nation Tuesday night.

As President Obama makes his case to Congress and the American people for allowing military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he might consider a lobbying effort closer to home. It seems first lady Michelle Obama is “wary” of strikes, the president said on NBC’s “Today.”

“I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously, because if you ask somebody, you know, I read polls like everybody else. And if you ask somebody, if you ask Michelle, ‘Do we want to be involved in another war?’ the answer is no,” Mr. Obama said Monday in an interview with Savannah Guthrie.

“You know, if you – if you talk to my own family members, or Michelle’s,” Obama added, “you know, they’re very wary and suspicious of any action.”

The first lady, often the president’s most effective and beloved surrogate, has not commented publicly about Syria. The administration has trotted her out previously to pitch everything from health-care reform to, well, Obama’s reelection. She has enviable approval ratings, by the standards of anyone holding elected office.

The reticence she is apparently feeling echoes the sentiments of many across the political spectrum. A vast (and growing) majority of Americans surveyed are against military involvement.

And perhaps, as her adopted title of mom-in-chief suggests, her hesitation similarly reflects that of families across the country who, after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, have grown tired of sending America’s young people into harm’s way. Many express an eagerness for renewed focus on the issues, pocketbook and otherwise, affecting citizens here at home.

The first lady is not alone among strong Obama loyalists hoping for another solution, perhaps via diplomacy, as is being discussed Tuesday with greater interest and intensity. Sen. Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who won Secretary of State John Kerry’s old seat, said Tuesday he could not back military action in Syria, despite the apparent use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad’s regime.

Senator Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was the lone “present” vote on the resolution narrowly supporting limited military engagement. He took heat for apparently taking a pass on a tough decision. But Tuesday he described the resolution as “too broad” and suggested he would not back it when the full Senate considers the measure.

“The effects of a strike are too unpredictable,” he said, adding that he wants to “give diplomatic measures that could avoid military action a chance to work.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Ben Cardin (D) of Maryland  is rethinking his decision last week to support the president in committee.

"I voted yes in the committee but I have concerns about action, right now we need to deal with #Syria via diplomacy if possible," Mr. Cardin said on Twitter.

Just a few days ago, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) was leaning toward an endorsement of a resolution giving the president the power to act. He, too, expressed his concern Tuesday that the resolution in the Senate pipeline is too sweeping. He said he worries that while Obama isn’t pushing for boots on the ground now, an initial engagement could expand into a broader conflict.

"I want to know more about the details of that response and its scope before I decide whether to support or oppose this or any resolution in the US Senate," Senator Franken said, according to the Star Tribune.

Franken said that when the president addresses the nation Tuesday night he should explain how “the United States will deal with the risks and unintended consequences of a possible attack.”

These three members are solid progressives from left-leaning states. If they’re taking a pass on the resolution or are on the fence anew, the Obama administration must consider the prospect of a failed vote – in the Democrat-controlled Senate as well as the GOP-controlled House. 

So then it’s no surprise that as hopes for a diplomatic strategy strengthened Tuesday – with the US weighing a Russian proposal to force Syria to give up its chemical weapons – the Senate delayed tomorrow’s scheduled vote on the use of force.

These seeming defections, along with the swirling questions about what the US stands to gain from what Secretary Kerry described as “unbelievably small” action against Assad, could mark a tide-turning moment in this conversation. It's one that gives the president a viable out from his prior commitment to act if Assad crossed a red line and used chemical weapons. When his loyalists are not just asking but many seemingly demanding that he find another way, Obama must consider their caution strongly.

And if these liberals aren’t enough to shift the president off his initial stance, perhaps his wife’s posture might do the trick.

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