WASHINGTON - Days before the US Congress is set to vote on resolutions authorizing military strikes in Syria, President Barack Obama on Saturday again assured war-weary Americans that the nation will not become bogged down in another Middle East conflict amid widespread opposition to his move.
"I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. That's why we're not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else's war," Obama said in his weekly address. "But we are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we've seen out of Syria."
Obama's remarks come just hours after he returned from the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was unable to win any significant support from other world leaders on what should be done in Syria.
Political observers noted that the outrage that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry expressed over an Aug. 21 nerve gas attack they blamed on the Syrian regime, an action that crossed the president’s “red line,” hasn’t brought a groundswell of support from lawmakers and the U.S. public. Russia and China say they are unswayed by the US assertions blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the attack that killed more than 1,400 people, many of them women and children, near Damascus.
“It’s really, really difficult to build an international coalition on one track when you have great uncertainty over how Congress will respond,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy group in Washington.
Obama now faces a timeline that may delay until next month -- after the seven-day opening of general debate at the United Nations General Assembly in New York that starts Sept. 24 -- an attack that he has said would be “limited in duration and scope” to punish the Syrian government and to reinforce an international norm against “heinous acts.”
The use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in the country's ongoing civil war has prompted criticism from around the world, but few nations are willing to act militarily.
Agencies add: According to a Washington Post survey, 224 of the current 433 House members were either “no” or “leaning no” on military action as of Friday. A large number, 184, were undecided, with just 25 backing a strike.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has travelled to Europe to bolster support for military action. In France, so far the sole EU nation determined to join a US-led strike, the latest public opinion poll showed 68 percent of people opposed to military action in war-torn Syria, an increase of nine percentage points since late August. In Vilnius, Kerry pressed the case for punitive action against Syria over last month’s deadly gas attack.
The US also evacuated non-essential staff from its Beirut embassy Friday and urged Americans not to travel to Lebanon, Pakistan or southern Turkey, as Washington considers strikes against neighboring Syria.
Catholics worldwide held a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria joined by Jews, Muslims and Orthodox Christians, with Pope Francis set to host a mass vigil on Saturday.