The small margin by which U.S. President Barack Obama's proposal to attack Syria passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- 10 in favor, seven against, one abstention -- testifies to the tough road ahead for the president this week in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
While a preliminary vote count among Senators showed that more were in favor than against, the margin was narrow and a large camp is still on the fence. At the moment it appears that a majority is not a certainty, which is why Obama, in his speech to the nation this week, will focus on convincing those who are either against his proposal or undecided.
The recent vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the frantic activity aimed at securing the deciding votes in the two houses of Congress is a reflection of the growing chaos, surprisingly, within the Republican Party. This situation could frustrate their hopes of winning the next elections to both houses. Some of the party's senators in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted for Obama's proposal while some voted against -- a telltale sign of a divided party.
The Democrats are also showing cracks, primarily from the "dovish" leftist camp, which is torn between not wanting to undermine its president and being fundamentally opposed to any military action.
Among the Republicans, meanwhile, the vote will serve as a litmus test for the differing and contradictory positions on matters of diplomacy and security. This can be seen in the differences between the "hawkish" security-oriented camp associated with Sen. John McCain and the populist isolationists who oppose American interventionism. In the first camp, known for its staunch support of Israel, there is concern that significant opposition to an attack in Syria will determine the party's direction on matters of diplomacy and security for years to come. Moreover, they believe that no less than the very future of the Republican Party is at stake.
There is a reason for the disarray among the Republicans -- and it is called the Tea Party. The goal of this grassroots movement is to "return America to its basic historical values," which have been lost, according to its members, due to senior politicians from both parties diverting from the path set by the country's founding fathers. The Tea Party's various branches do not have a structured diplomatic and security doctrine, but can all be characterized by their extremism and hatred for they deem to be "the elites." The result: Tea Party candidates are increasingly winning important congressional appointments in inner-party elections, despite their considerably lower chances of winning the deciding general elections.
As the Democratic Tip O'Neill once said: "All politics is local." This is liable to gain expression during the vote on whether to attack Syria. Israel does not have a firm position, here or there, on the matter, aside from its essential and immediate need to neutralize Syria's chemical weapons and missile stockpiles.
But Jerusalem cannot be indifferent to the prospect of Obama losing the vote in Congress, after which elected officials in countries around the globe will conclude that there will be no repercussions for following the lead of their American counterparts. The main consequence could be a nuclear Iran, because the vote in Congress will also influence Tehran's response to American attempts, whether through diplomatic measures or threats of military action, to put an end to its nuclear ambitions.