Obama's surprising ally on Syria: Republicans

The GOP is a reliable thorn in Obama's side, but has been noticeably quiet on Syria

Boehner and Obama
(Image credit: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the case for war against Syria, and most observers now believe an attack of some magnitude is on the way.

As President Obama weighs his options, polls have shown the public near-unanimously opposed to a military strike. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found that just nine percent of Americans favored a strike — even should it be definitively proven that Syria used chemical weapons.

While the American public is largely against the idea of attacking Syria, another group stands, for the most part, with the president on the issue: Republicans.

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Influential members of the GOP, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), have been pushing the president to act for months, and now that he's come around to their way of looking at things, they're noticeably agreeable.

Still, the lack of strong GOP criticism is a marked changed from two years ago, when Republican lawmakers lined up to whack the president over seemingly every decision he made regarding the Libyan intervention.

In 2011, Republicans repeatedly hammered the president for, they said, failing to clarify what the U.S. planned to do in Libya, and why Obama felt it necessary to intervene in the first place.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned that Obama risked violating the War Powers Resolution, and demanded that he "outline to the American people why we are there, what the mission is, and what our goals are, and how do we exit this."

McCain and Graham complained that Obama moved too slow on Libya, with Graham saying Obama had taken a "back seat rather than a leadership role." When the president delivered a speech outlining the rationale for a broader Libyan intervention, they found a new way to criticize his action, with McCain calling his remarks "puzzling."

This time around, Republicans are far more willing to side with the president, or to at least refrain from blasting his leadership.

Boehner asked Monday that the president merely "consult" with Congress before taking action; later in the day, Boehner went to the White House to receive his consultation. McCain and Graham said in a joint statement Sunday that the U.S. should "take limited military actions in Syria" with the help of American allies, basically endorsing the same action the president is reportedly considering.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking GOP member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took no shots at the president, while calling for a "surgical" operation and saying "it's always good to be cautious." Several other prominent Republican lawmakers have likewise endorsed a limited military strike that involves the U.S. lobbing cruise missiles at targets within Syria, but not putting "boots on the ground."

Again, that's exactly what Obama is expected to do.

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Even Karl Rove and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol are on the president's side.

Both the timing and nature of the Syrian conflict have helped foster the bipartisan response.

The U.S. and international community are strongly convinced Syria used chemical weapons. That has made it easier to frame this conflict as a humanitarian crisis, and to cast Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a war criminal who must be punished.

On a purely political level, Obama is no longer up for re-election, as he was two years ago. In 2011, Republicans were hesitant to give him credit for anything for fear that it would boost his approval rating and help him glide back into the White House. That's why Newt Gingrich, when still a GOP presidential candidate, comically flip-flopped from demanding Obama establish a no-fly zone, to criticizing the president for establishing a no-fly zone.

Even when Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was killed, Republicans found ways to avoid crediting Obama, with some instead heaping praise on French and British forces.

This time around, Obama probably won't have to worry so much about his GOP counterparts second-guessing him.

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