The clock is ticking for U.S. President Barack Obama: He does not want to launch a military strike in Syria without the authorization of Congress so he must wait for a vote, but he doesn't have too much time because of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month. Obama is now stepping up efforts to convince American lawmakers and citizens that an attack against Syrian President Bashar Assad is justified, and necessary at this time.
The pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee is also in the picture. Prominent figures in the U.S. Jewish community have declared their support for an American attack in Syria, having understood from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he approves of the lobby helping Obama drum up support for the operation on Capitol Hill. Officials confirmed on Sunday that Jerusalem and Washington had been in contact over the issue. The Prime Minister's Office refused to confirm or deny reports that Netanyahu promised Obama AIPAC's assistance in lobbying in favor of an attack ahead of the congressional vote. But Netanyahu's cooperation with AIPAC sparked the criticism of several Israeli ministers, who accused Obama of "dragging us into war."
Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman told Army Radio on Monday that White House officials had also asked the ADL and other organizations to lend their support in the campaign. "In the same way that Secretary Kerry and senior Obama administration officials asked for our help in advancing the peace process, so they asked for support about a strike on Syria -- by means of a phone call and direct requests," Foxman said.
"Congressmen have been calling our people in the last few days and we have told them what our position is," Foxman went on to say. "In the course of Rosh Hashana, and as Yom Kippur approaches, too, rabbis in several synagogues will urge the congregation to put pressure on members of Congress."
Foxman added that he was not aware of Netanyahu's direct involvement in the campaign, but explained that he would understand the Israeli prime minister's motives for doing so. He argued that Israel was concerned, that failing to respond to a Syrian chemical attack would be more dangerous than the perils of a strike against Syria. He warned that a U.S. strike, or the absence of one, would have far reaching implications for Israel both in the immediate and the distant future, especially in the context of the Iranian threat.
Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers concluded their summer recess and reconvened on Capitol Hill on Monday to debate a possible attack. The U.S. president was expected to give interviews to six different networks in efforts to assuage American people's fears and explain that an attack in Syria will not devolve into what the kind of conflicts they saw in Iraq or Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Obama was set to address the nation from the White House.
Obama personally called members of Congress on Sunday from both parties to try and convince them to vote in favor of the attack. He argued that in addition to the moral obligation to act, the issue was a matter of American national security. In addition, members of Congress will be presented with evidence that, according to American intelligence officials, proves that Assad's regime used chemical weapons.
Obama's media blitz is not a coincidence. Polls suggest that the American public largely opposes a strike, and the White House understands that Congress could very well vote in line with the will of the people, against a strike.
The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on the issue on Wednesday, and the administration is trying to enlist a majority of 60 senators to prevent a possible filibuster. Despite the Democrat majority, Obama still has his work cut out for him in the Senate. A Washington Post poll Sunday found that in the Senate, 23 members are in favor, 17 are opposed, 10 are leaning no and 50 are undecided. Among the 17 opposed to the strike, five are Democrats.
In the House of Representatives, where the majority is Republican, the debate is expected to be even longer and tougher. According to The Washington Post, in the House, 25 are in favor, 111 are against, 116 are leaning no and 181 are undecided. Members of the House told the paper that they found a ratio of up to 1 to 10 against a strike among their constituents.
Although constitutionally, Obama can order a strike without the approval of Congress, the assessment is that making such a move, now that he has already sought Congress's authorization, would come at a high political cost.
Alongside the bid to recruit support at home, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued efforts in the international arena, suggesting that the U.S. might still appeal to the U.N. Security Council for a decision on the Syria issue after U.N. inspectors present evidence they collected in Syria following the August 21 attack, believed to have been involving sarin gas. Kerry's remarks came after French President Francois Hollande was pressured to propose taking action against Syria only with the backing of the Security Council.
During a press conference in Paris following a meeting with a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers, Kerry remarked that the Arab nations expected a tough response, and that a number of Arab countries were willing to sign a statement agreed upon by 12 countries at the G-20 summit last week that called for a strong international reaction against Assad's regime.
Referring to videos depicting the victims of the August 21 attack in Damascus, Kerry said that "this is not fantasy land. This is not some sort of conjecture. Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons at least 11 times or so, according to our best judgments. ... He has one of the largest stocks of chemical weapons in the world and at the moment he has no intention of really negotiating. So it is certain that if he is threatened he will use them again. All of us involved are unwilling to live with the conscious decision of saying we are going to turn our backs on that."
Meanwhile, Russia continued to evacuate Russian nationals from Syria, after having evacuated some 90 nationals last month.