Printed on: July 24, 2013

Divisions deep on foreign policy


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's limited attempt to end more than two years of bloodshed in Syria and his insistence on U.S. assistance to a strife-riven Egypt have exposed deep divisions in Congress, with pockets of grudging support countered by fierce opposition toward greater American military and financial involvement among Democrats and Republicans alike.

The uneven reaction is partly a reflection of the Obama administration's own uncertain foreign policy path as it sorts out America's role in an increasing sectarian conflict in Syria that threatens the entire Middle East. The ouster of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, also created a web of considerations related to advocating democracy or U.S. national security goals. Lawmakers too are grappling with these questions.

Options for the U.S. military in Syria, from arming groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad to establishing a no-fly zone, carry risks and billion-dollar price tags, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a sober assessment this week that gave some lawmakers pause.

And such guidance has created an unusual crisscrossing of positions among liberals and conservatives in Congress and fiscal hawks and military hawks. The tea party's libertarian leanings have split the once firmly internationalist Republicans; some Democrats formerly averse to intervention are more amenable to forceful action under Obama.

Congressional efforts to cut off funds for Syria and Egypt were expected to be put to a vote today as the House debates a $598.3 billion defense spending bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. On Tuesday, a Senate panel approved aid for Egypt, with conditions.

Obama opposed providing any lethal assistance to Syria's rebels until last month. His administration is now moving ahead with sending weapons to vetted rebels after securing the approval of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, which had initially balked at the plan to use covert funds.