CAPITOL HILL — Debate on Syria has shifted away from the U.S. Congress and to the international diplomatic stage, and many lawmakers are hoping they will not have to vote on an unpopular resolution sought by President Barack Obama to authorize military force because of Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Recent opinion polls show that more than 60 percent of Americans oppose U.S. military strikes on Syria, and a surprising number are making their anti-war sentiment known to their elected officials, holding rallies across the country and flooding congressional offices with phone calls.
On Capitol Hill, the peace group CODEPINK lobbied members of Congress and staffers. Co-founder Medea Benjamin said the level of support is a real change from what she experienced before the Iraq War.
"We get an overwhelmingly positive response from everybody, from the cars that go by, from the tourists who are walking by, from the joggers, from the policemen who are here, and the congressional staffers," she said.
This time around, the rallies have been much smaller and less combative than the protests against the Vietnam War, but liberal Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson said the public outcry has been decisive.
“This is the biggest victory for the peace movement in United States since the end of the Vietnam War," he said. Grayson said nearly 100,000 people have organized through his website 'Don’t attack Syria.'"
Bipartisan opposition to strikes
Conservative Republican Congressman Trey Radel is on the other side of the political spectrum, but on the same side on Syria.
“It is not that we are anti-war, or even war-weary. What we are demanding from our leaders in the country today is to show us. Show us the direct threat, or even indirect threat, and then show us a plan,” he said.
Radel said his party is not turning inwards after the recent wars.
“Me personally, I am not an isolationist, and I sure as heck am not a, quote unquote, dove. I am none of these things,” he said.
Professor Allan Lichtman of American University said he does not believe the Syria debate reflects a real anti-war shift among Republicans.
“I think it is a continuation of what we have seen for many years now: Republicans don’t want to give Obama anything. They want to paste any defeat upon him that they possibly can," he said.
Political analyst Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal disagrees. He said he believes the Syria debate reflects a real shift in attitude among the American public and among their elected representatives in both parties.
"We are seeing the results of a decade of growing disillusionment about our ability to achieve our ends through military force in other nations, particularly in the Middle East," he said.
Surprise to President Obama?
Brownstein said the wall of resistance must have surprised the president.
"You have to think that part of the reason President Obama went to Congress was because Congress had never said 'no' to a president in a request like this in modern times," he said.
Brownstein said the thought that Congress could say "no" was probably not as prominent in the president's thinking as it might have been.
He said he hopes the war fatigue will not prevent the United States from taking action when it should.
"I mean, you could imagine this sort of cycle taking us into staying on the sidelines when something else really bad happens around the world, like a Rwanda, and then the tide beginning to go back in the other direction," he said.
For now, the president has decided to give international diplomacy a chance to find a solution to Syria's chemical weapons.