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Washington’s Road Map to Syria Strike

After back-to-back hearings on Capitol Hill and an ongoing White House PR blitz, U.S. President Barack Obama’s push for military intervention in Syria is gaining traction. .

Written by Susannah George Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed a revised resolution authorizing a U.S. strike on Syria, taking a preliminary step towards intervention (you can read the full text of the resolution here). Final approval in both the House and Senate, and beyond that, a signature from the president, are still days or weeks away.

The draft passed by a divided vote of 10 to seven with one senator voting present (refraining from taking a side). The resolution placed limits on the proposed military action, limiting any operation to 60 days with the possibility of a one-time extension for a period of 30 days. The draft also explicitly banned the use of U.S. forces on the ground.

Next Up: A Senate Vote

The next step is for the full Senate to vote on the resolution sometime early next week. In order for Congress to to authorize the use of force in Syria, the House and Senate must pass a “joint resolution”: each chamber needs to pass resolutions with identical language that would then go to the president for his signature. If the chambers pass resolutions with different language, the documents need to be reconciled and voted on again before making their way to the president.

The Other Half of the Equation 

On the other side of the Capitol the House is lagging behind the Senate. On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee just wrapped up a hearing on Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey took questions from Committee members. This is the trio’s second multihour hearing in as many days. On Tuesday Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey sat before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The back-and-forth between committees and full consideration in each chamber could drag on. Full Senate and House votes aren’t expected until next week, when Congress officially returns from summer recess.

Challenges Ahead in the House

Regardless of timing, the resolution is expected to have a more difficult time in the House than in the Senate. During Wednesday’s Syria hearing, Committee members appeared skeptical of the administration’s Intervention plan in Syria. Representative Ed Royce, the Committee chairman and a Republican from California, opened with a critical opening statement:

“There are concerns. The president promises a military operation in Syria of limited scope and duration. But the Assad regime would have a say in what happens next.” Royce continued: “What are the chances of escalation? Are different scenarios accounted for?  If our credibility is on the line now, as is argued, what about if Assad retaliates? Americans are skeptical of getting near a conflict that, as one witness has noted, is fueled by ‘historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues’.”

Royce summed up his take on the Obama administration’s foreign policy: “For over two years, U.S. policy has been adrift.”

Politics Defy Predictions

The Obama administration says it is quite confident Congress will approve a Syria strike. But James Lindsay, a congressional expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, concedes: “It’s not outside the realm of possibility that this could not come to a vote.” Lindsay says if a majority begins to look uncertain, the Obama administration could ask the House not to vote on the resolution, to save itself the rejection.

“Or the president pulls the proverbial rabbit out of the hat,” Lindsay says, if the administration is somehow able to secure broad international backing for action against Syria. Lindsay suspects that in such a scenario, the Obama administration would abandon efforts to move a resolution through Congress.

With polls showing 59% of Americans saying they’re against a strike, and upcoming elections weighing on lawmakers, it’s yet unclear where U.S. politics will land its policy on a Syria strike.

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