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September 07. 2013 7:02PM

NH expert says Syria strike has big risks politically

The potential for U.S. strikes against Syria following reports that the Middle Eastern country's government carried out chemical attacks against insurgent forces and civilians could have long-term political ramifications in the United States, especially for Democrats, according to a New Hampshire expert in political science monitoring the situation in Syria.
President Barack Obama has asked for support from Congress for targeted cruise missile strikes on Syrian regime targets, rather than taking unilateral action. Congress is nearly split on the issue and still has many members who have not indicated whether they will support the strikes.

Obama is a Democrat. And while the Syria debate is a rare case of an issue that is not divided along party lines in Washington - Republicans and Democrats alike have indicated either support or disapproval of strikes - Obama is still the leader of his party, which could take a political hit if the strikes are ordered and especially if things do not go as planned and military forces end up in the country, said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

"If we go in and we end up staying there awhile, it may have a bad effect on the President's party," Scala said.

A Gallup poll released Friday showed that 51 percent of Americans oppose U.S. intervention in Syria.

Scala said he believed that Obama may be able to find support in the Senate, but the House of Representatives "would be a heavy lift" despite the support of House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. A recent Washington Post poll of Congress showed that 226 members of the House were either against military action or leaning against it. Just 25 are in favor and 182 are undecided.

In the Senate, 23 support intervention, while 27 are either opposed or leaning against and 50 are undecided.

New Hampshire's congressional delegation is similar. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, supports the strikes. Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte hasn't decided, but two of her closest allies in the Senate, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have already indicated their support.

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is against the strikes, and U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster is leaning against supporting intervention. They are both Democrats.

Scala said Obama could cause political calamity for himself should Congress not provide its support and he proceeded with strikes anyway.

"Decisions like that would have some negative effects on his presidency going forward," Scala said. "He would really be out on a limb. I think there would be clamor and outcry from Republicans and even some Democrats."

But Scala said he doubts Obama would strike Syria without congressional support.

"It would surprise me if he goes ahead without the approval of Congress after going to the trouble of consulting with them in the first place," he said.


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