Dems divided on Obama’s Syria plan


by Manu Raju

The deep divisions among Democrats over President Barack Obama’s plan to attack Islamic State militants foreshadow fights ahead within the party over how aggressively to assert itself on foreign policy.

A growing number of rank-and-file Democrats are worried that the president’s plans would commit the United States to an open-ended conflict against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, costing the country blood and treasure in another unpredictable Mideast war. Yet party leaders and senior Democrats believe now is the time to stand behind the commander in chief, given the lack of viable options and the deepening crisis threatening to plunge the region into further turmoil.

The vigorous debate took shape Tuesday behind closed doors, over a private Senate Democratic lunch and multiple closed-door meetings of anxious House Democrats. And it comes as the first part of the president’s war strategy – to give Obama new authority to train and equip Syrian rebels – heads to a critical House vote Wednesday.

While that measure is expected to pass with the support of many House and Senate Democrats, the backing within the ranks remains tepid, according to numerous lawmakers. That means that when the time comes for the White House to seek a full-blown authorization to use military force in the region later in the year, it is certain to be an even heavier lift for the president, who already has personally reached out to lawmakers and dispatched his senior aides to cool nerves on Capitol Hill – not to mention delivered a prime-time address to the nation last week.

“I know he talks about a 40-country coalition – is it a papier-mâché coalition, or is it for real?” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said Tuesday. “Are these guys putting the same kinds of resources that we are? … I asked those questions; I did not get an answer.”

When asked about the plan to aid the Syrian rebels, Tester added: “If we’re talking about throwing additional dollars, we need to know where it’s going, we need to know who is paying for it, we need to know if it’s just flat going on the debt.”

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