Obama secures Congressional leadership support for Syria strike

September 4, 2013

Key lawmakers back Obama’s call for action in Syria, troubled cities vie to host 2020 Olympics, and dissident’s mayor race rattles Moscow. Today is Wednesday, September 4, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin E. Dempsey (L), John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State (C), and Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, present the administration’s case for U.S. military action against Syria to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

No boots on the ground. Republican and Democratic leaders lent support to President Obama’s call for a limited military strike on Syria Tuesday, agreeing on a draft resolution that rules out the deployment of American troops and sets a 60-day limit on military action in Syria, with a possibility of one 30-day extension:

John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor both pledged their support for military action after the meeting. Votes are expected to be held in the Senate and House next week, with the Republican-led House presenting the tougher challenge for Obama. The House leadership has indicated the votes will be “conscience votes,” meaning they will not seek to influence members’ votes on party lines. All the same, it would have been a blow to Obama if he had not secured the backing of the top two Republicans.

Secretary of State John Kerry said he wouldn’t take the option of ground troops off the table, but quickly walked back the statement when pressed by Republican Senator Bob Corker, saying he was merely “thinking out loud.” Members of Congress appear to be divided based on experience rather than party affiliation, with veteran lawmakers siding with Obama and newcomers taking a stance against intervention. Russia said it sent a warship to the eastern Mediterranean, however President Putin showed a sliver of willingness to compromise by saying he has not ruled out involvement in a strike if given more proof the regime carried out a chemical attack. Tensions between Moscow and Washington have been especially strained this year, due in part to Russia granting asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Putin’s unwavering support for the Syrian government. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that U.S. action against Syria without support from the U.N. could be illegal. He added that samples collected by the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors are expected to reach European labs on Wednesday.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures as he speaks during Tokyo 2020 kick-off rally in Tokyo, August 23, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Let the games begin. On Saturday, the International Olympic Committee will decide whether Madrid, Istanbul, or Tokyo gets to host the 2020 Olympics. Each of the candidates, however, has issues that could hamper its chances. Spain continues to suffer from the country’s economic crisis, and faces opposition from its citizens:

Struggling Spanish taxpayers, and particularly residents of the capital, must be persuaded that the long-term benefits of hosting the Olympics outweigh the economic cost. At the same time, IOC members must be convinced that a Madrid Olympics will be a resounding success — something like the Barcelona Games in 1992 — despite the drive to keep a lid on spending.

Meanwhile, instability in the region stemming from the conflict in Syria could pose a safety risk in Istanbul:

The possibility of a U.S. military strike against the Syrian government has prompted questions about whether Istanbul could be a risky choice… Istanbul is vying to be the first Muslim country to stage the Olympics and Arat said the Games would be a boon for the Middle East.

Tokyo, for its part, must argue that fallout from Fukushima – the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years – won’t pose a health hazard for players or spectators:

The leader of Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics has written to IOC members, trying to reassure them that the city is “completely unaffected” by the leak of radiation-contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Tsunekazu Takeda says in the letter that life is “completely normal and safe” in Tokyo and the city’s air and water are not affected by the leak from the crippled plant.

On Wednesday, radiation readings hit record levels near crippled tanks at Fukushima.

Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny (L) addresses his supporters after arriving from Kirov, with his wife Yulia standing nearby, at a railway station in Moscow, July 20, 2013. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Navalny needles Moscow. Anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny is standing his ground against Kremlin candidate Sergei Sobyanin in Moscow’s mayoral race, shaking up a historically staid campaign up ahead of the weekend election:

Navalny’s campaign, based on working crowds, mobilizing thousands of volunteers and pressing the flesh, is still a novelty in Russia more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The stakes in Sunday’s election are high – both for the opposition, which is struggling to revive the momentum of its challenge to Putin, and for the Kremlin. After a trial that he and his supporters say was politically motivated, Navalny was convicted in July of stealing timber from a state firm and sentenced to five years in prison. In a highly unusual ruling, a judge released him on bail the following day. Many political observers say the Kremlin wanted Navalny to run in Moscow because it expected him to be humiliated, and believed this would remove him as a political threat.

Navalny’s ambitions were nearly quashed earlier this summer, when he faced jail time and possible expulsion from Russia’s political sphere.

Nota Bene: A top Palestinian aide says peace talks with Israel are going nowhere.


Wishful thinking – Reuters columnist David Rohde discusses the fallacy of a quick-fix for Syria. (Reuters)

Party in Pyongyang – A night out in North Korea features artisanal beer. (The Atlantic)

Soil reveals – Richard III suffered from a roundworm infection. (BBC)

Putin points – Ten interesting things Putin said during his interview with the AP. (Associated Press)

Moscow Shield – An isolationist Russian youth group targets illegal immigrants. (New York Times)

From the File:

  • Iran’s Rouhani to speak at yearly U.N. session in New York.
  • British soldier fired at twitching bodies in Iraq, ex-private testifies.
  • Muslim Brotherhood newspaper soldiers on despite crackdown.
  • Head of Xinhua says Western media pushing revolution in China.
  • Gunmen kill 16 members of Shi’ite family in Iraq.
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