The United States and the Syrian crisis: The Influence of Public Opinion on the Non-Intervention Policy


The current literature on the influence of public opinion on military interventions typically concludes that pusblic sentiment towards war have little influence on the decision-making process in Western democracies. The U.S. response to the Syrian crisis, however, calls into question these findings. After three years of civil war between the government of Bashar al-Assad and various rebel groups and in spite of a previous intervention in the Libyan civil war, the United States persists in ruling out a direct involvement, allowing the conflict to worsen and broaden to the entire region. The leadership void is filled by nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose financing of rebel groups affiliated to Al Qaeda threatens U.S. strategic interests1. This lack of resolve to get involved in the region also weakens U.S. negotiations regarding the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. In addition, with more than one hundred and twenty thousand casualties and 2.3 million refugees potentially destabilizing allied countries such as Jordan and Turkey, the humanitarian crisis certainly calls for the superpower's attention. These costs of inaction, however, seem to be outweighed by the perception that the American people would never tolerate another involvement in the Middle East, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq having generated extensive and long-lasting war-weariness in the United States. What is the influence of public opinion on the U.S. president's decision not to get involved in the Syrian civil war? In which conditions would the Obama administration consider getting directly involved in the conflict? A few weeks before the Geneva Peace conference, this possibility appears less and less likely.

According to Talcott Parsons, "an actor has influence when he orients the opinion of others in a way or a direction that he or she chose beforehand2". Influence is conceived as one way to change somebody else's behavior or thoughts. Another way an actor can prevail is by having legitimate power to impose a certain behavior. In order to influence another actor, one can use persuasion through relevant facts or logical information. Trust between the two actors is a condition for this attempt to be successful. There are different types of influence. When researching which actors have influence in the city of New Haven, Robert Dahl distinguished between direct and indirect influence3. People have direct influence when "they successfully initiate or veto proposals for policies4". On the contrary, elections have indirect influence on leaders' policy choices because it provides them with information about what the constituents want. As we shall see in this paper, public opinion can have indirect influence over the president's policy on the use of force not only through presidential elections, but also through evaluating his overall job performance and through members of Congress. Indeed, presidents and their advisers understand that Congress can make it more difficult to wage a war when the public does not support it. Also, an unpopular war can harm the political capital needed to carry out other items on the president's agenda.

After reviewing the literature on public opinion and military interventions, I will scrutinize the public sentiment towards the Syrian crisis. Then I will look at the motivations for a possible U.S. intervention in Syria, before looking at the political struggle to stay out of the Syrian civil war.

The influence of public opinion on war: Theoretical limits and possible responses

Current literature regularly concludes that a president willing to use force abroad enjoys substantial leeway with public opinion5. Presidents often intervened despite public opposition; yet a more detailed analysis will allow me to conclude that the anticipation of the public's reaction to an intervention in Syria has considerably limited the president's margin for maneuver.
I will argue that looking at the decision to use force alone misrepresents the impact of public opinion on military interventions. Indeed, this decision is not made at a single moment in time without any consideration of its implementation, but after a careful review and selection of different military options. This process is also impacted by concerns with maintaining support throughout the intervention and beyond.

Taking into account solely the decision to intervene in a given conflict does not explain the entire impact of public opinion on military interventions. Indeed, most of the time, presidents try to design an operation based on their reading of what the public is ready to tolerate. However, current literature oftentimes omits to portray the impact of public opinion on the decided strategy. This back-and-forth decision-making process between the perception of anticipated public opinion and military options put on the table can lead to the decision not to use force, yet is not present in the current literature.

As a matter of fact, every administration has a certain sense of what type of intervention the public might tolerate, or which elements of a potential intervention might raise concern amongst the public. In order to respond to the latent public's concerns, the administration can adjust some elements of its strategy to increase the public's tolerance for an intervention. Indeed, the particularity of a military intervention is the uncertainty and risks associated with the implementation of the decision. Political leaders always try to minimize the risks associated with an intervention, particularly through adjusting the strategy. However, current literature on public opinion and foreign policy does not address how concerns with public support impacts the selection of a certain strategy. Yet, selecting a strategy entails defining military and civilian means which will in turn contribute to reach the political objectives of the use of force. Strategy is often considered as something that the president can not have sway over, or that does not impact his final decision to intervene. This literature often assumes that only military experts can adopt a strategy, based on circumstances on the ground. Yet this view is not complete for several reasons. First, since strategy depends on political objectives set by political leaders, they can adjust their objectives to the level of resources they are prepared to invest. Second, some leaders do not hesitate to question the strategy created by the military often demanding revisions. Overall, a president and his advisers try to anticipate whether or not they will be able to sustain the level of public support necessary to reach their political objectives, keeping in mind the risks involved in a military operation. As a result, military options are selected partly based on the level of risk they are prepared to take.

No public pressure to intervene

From the beginning of the civil war, the Obama administration publically announced its intention not to send U.S. troops on the ground6. According to Senator John McCain, a ground troop option would not gather sufficient public support7. With this option ruled out, the U.S. could still put limited military options on the table. However, the lack of proponents of an intervention in the United States and the lack of interest in general for the fate of Syria makes any talk of involvement politically risky for the president. 

In contrast with other international crises, the Syrian civil war stands out as a case where traditionally interventionist groups fell silent. For instance, prominent intellectuals from the left, also referred to as "liberal hawks", who supported the intervention in Iraq in 2003, have not called for an intervention in Syria8.
In the absence of pressure, the National Security Council is led by those who believe that a U.S. intervention would only make things worse and lead to a full-fledged operation9. These advocates of a non-intervention can easily raise the potential costs of an intervention in Syria by mentioning the Iraq intervention, which unleashed sectarian violence and cost the lives of more than four thousand American soldiers. This comparison with Iraq raises the potential public opposition to any military option, as modest as it may be. For instance, President Obama's Chief-of-Staff, Denis McDonough, in May 2013, explained the absence of U.S. involvement by "the president's humility in recognizing the challenges of intervention on this region of the world, which is shown, I think, in stark relief, with the situation in its neighbor -- namely, Iraq10". The Pentagon opposed any military action, pointing to the risk of direct confrontation11. According to Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, ending the civil war would require a full-fledged, long term commitment of troops which would doom the president politically12.

The president himself recognized the role the Iraq and Afghanistan precedents played in his decision not to intervene, publically stating: "I have resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan". Later, he also worried about a "certain weariness, given Afghanistan13". Secretary of State John Kerry also acknowledged that "we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war14".

A small but vocal group of think tanks and academics advocated for limited actions to shift the balance of power against Assad15. Leon Wieseltier at the New Republic, Anne-Marie Slaughter at the New America Foundation, and Vali Nasr, the dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, tried to rally other liberal hawks and push for a limited intervention. The use of force would aim to downgrade Assad's capabilities by targeting his aircraft and other heavy weapons, arm the rebels, and protect some areas through no-fly-zones. Beyond Syria, these liberal hawks try to advocate the idea that the United States is sending the wrong message to other brutal dictatorships around the world and to other potential users of weapons of mass destruction such as Iran and North Korea16.

These advocates of an intervention can find a sympathetic ear in the Obama administration, as two members of his Cabinet are strong proponents of humanitarian intervention. Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the UN, is well-known for her work on the United States' lack of response to genocide and the necessity to implement prevention mechanisms, including through the use of force. Susan Rice, the National Security Adviser, is renowned for her regrets of not having pleaded for limited military options during the Rwandan genocide, working at the National Security Council under the Clinton administration at the time. Denis McDonough, President Obama's Chief of Staff, recognized the debate over Syria was very intense in the administration, and that the voice of the elite was also influential in this debate.

United States motivations

Intervening militarily could serve many purposes. First of all, it could help topple the Assad regime. However, the Obama administration worries that a new Syrian government would be led by Islamists17. Second, it could end the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Here again, President Obama has already indicated that a humanitarian crisis is not a good reason for an intervention18. Another reason is the enforcement of international law, especially the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction. This motivation is particularly important, given the negotiations with Iran and North Korea. But since the false evidence used to go to war against Iraq and until the August attack in Damascus, evidence was not strong enough. In addition, a U.S. intervention could prevent destabilizing the entire region, which already begun: the refugees are destabilizing neighboring countries and the civil war is fueling sectarian tensions in the Middle East.
Contrary to the Libya intervention, however, a U.S. military action in Syria would not have the legitimacy of a UN Security Council mandate because of Russia's and China's veto power19. It also would not have the burden sharing which made the toppling of Kaddafi easier, since David Cameroun lost a vote in Parliament to authorize British participation. So far, only France has indicated its willingness to get involved. Furthermore, a U.S. military intervention could further destabilize Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel20. And indeed, Iran and Syria threatened to target Israel if Assad was attacked21. Also, recent history has taught Americans that military interventions in the midst of somebody else's civil war can be long, risky, and costly. Finally, experts worry that a U.S. intervention would create a surge of anti-Americanism in the region22.
After more than two years of war, the situation gravely worsened in May 2013. Hezbollah sent additional troops to aid government forces and Russia reaffirmed its intention to provide the regime with weapons23.

From the rebel side, the year-old debate over Syria within the administration leads to the pledge to covertly train and send rebels to fight in Syria24. Although this military option seems rather limited, the president worries that American military hardware might fall into the hands of extremists, who represent ten percent of the seventy thousand soldier rebel force25. Furthermore, the war has increased sectarian tensions in neighboring countries such as Kuwait, Iraq, and Lebanon26. This is particularly the case between Sunnis and Shiites.

A major turning point in American policy towards Syria occurred on August 21st, 2013, when the world was shown videos and pictures of a chemical attack on Syrian rebels near Damascus. In order to impact the debate in the United States regarding the appropriate response, Mr. Assad publically stated that these accusations were false and that any U.S. involvement in Syria would lead to "failure just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to the present day27". This statement was certainly meant to instigate fear amongst the American public. U.S. intelligence estimated that 1,429 people were killed, including 426 children28. This assault was the deadliest chemical attack since Saddam Hussein used sarin gas against Iraqi Kurds in 1988. It took place in Eastern Ghouta, an area northeast of Damascus mostly comprised of Sunni Muslims who migrated from the countryside29. These rebels are moderate and threaten Assad's power over the capital region. By targeting civilians, the regime wanted to terrify civilians in a region it was unable to control30. On September 10, a U.S. intervention seemed finally on the table. After ruling out a prolonged air campaign31, President Obama addressed the nation from the White House to prepare the American people for a limited air campaign in Syria . This campaign against Syrian capabilities was meant to deter the Assad regime from using its chemical weapons again, without impacting the balance of power with the rebels.

The lack of support for limited airstrikes among the public and Congress

At first, some lawmakers seemed willing to support the Obama administration's decision to act militarily. Representative Adam B. Schiff (Democrat, California), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, who opposed arming the rebels, supported military action because the United States could not let the Syrian government go unpunished after the repeated use of chemical weapons32. Senator Bob Corker, a prominent Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, also supported limited airstrikes, but nothing more, stating: "I do not want us to get involved in such a way that we change the dynamic on the ground33". Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also voiced her support, declaring: "I agree with Secretary Kerry that the world cannot let such a heinous attack pass without a meaningful response34". Senator Bob Casey (Democrat, Pennsylvania) also called for a military response35. Some Republicans criticized the president for not having responded earlier to the smaller attacks which occurred36. Most of Congress, however, refrained from voicing an opinion, limiting their comments to a call for a vote authorizing force. Nevertheless, President Obama and his advisers did not feel the need for such a consultation37

Once the idea of limited airstrikes was put on the table, Obama started a public relations campaign to rally the country behind his policy. He sought to reassure the American people through a speech stating that "We can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about38". That same day, 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats in Congress addressed a letter to the president to ask for their authorization to use force39. Representative Howard (Buck) McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called on Barack Obama to make a better case to both Congress and a "war weary40" public, adding that "if he does not, I think he could have a real problem with the Congress and the American public. He's got a big sell41". Indeed, a poll found that only 42 percent of the American people supported military action and 50 percent believed no action should be taken42. Moreover, the Syrian crisis was only followed very closely by one in five Americans43.

The lack of support from Congress, the public, and traditional allies eventually led the American president to ask for a congressional authorization to use force, holding off on what was perceived as a definite plan to strike Syria44. Although the Obama administration publically announced in 2012 that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a "red line" and amount to crossing the Rubicon, he sought political cover by insisting on having Congress's authorization before using force. However, the absence of authorization never stopped Bill Clinton from intervening. Barack Obama himself justified to Congress not seeking its approval before striking the Kaddafi regime in 201145. Even so, the president conveyed his decision to his advisers on August 30th. The meeting included his Chief of Staff, his National Security Adviser and her deputies, a senior adviser, and several legal advisers46. According to an aide, the main reason was that "he cannot make these decisions divorced from the American public and from Congress47". Indeed, the president needed to make sure that if there was a need to use force in the Middle East during the remainder of his presidency, he could count on congressional support. The example of the "no" vote in Great Britain convinced him that it was important to have this support, adding: "we similarly have a war-weary public48".

At the time the president made this decision, the outcome of the vote was uncertain. The Republicans, who hold the majority in the House of Representatives, have opposed him on every issue, and the Democrats have purposely kept silent on the issue. According to the analysis of a leading Republican in the House, Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, "Obama has not got a chance to win this vote if he cannot with the majority of his own party, and I doubt he can. Democrats have been conspicuously silent. Just about his only support is coming from Republicans. He is a war president without a war party49". Even Senator McCain opposed the airstrike option because it was not aimed to change the balance of power on the ground50. Senator Bob Casey believed that his constituents would not support airstrikes51. In the House, Tea Party members, liberal Democrats and libertarians were preparing their "no" vote52.
The administration began another public relations campaign to influence the vote. John Kerry, for instance, appeared on five Sunday talk shows53.

The National Security Council organized a conference call with 127 House Democrats and 83 lawmakers attended a classified briefing54. Meetings were organized with the president in the Oval Office. During committee hearings, John Kerry reassured lawmakers that there would be no boots on the ground55. Following these briefings, Speaker John A. Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi called for a "yeah" vote56. However, Nancy Pelosi also recognized that her constituents were not "convinced that military action is necessary57". The Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally voted for the resolution 10 to 758. Democrats supported the president, with the exception of two liberal Democrats who voted against it. Three Republicans voted for it. This vote reflects the wider reservations amongst congressional Democrats, who were torn between supporting a Democratic president and following their constituents who mainly oppose using force in Syria59. For instance, Representative Elijah E. Cummings recognized that it would be hard to go against what he believed to be the opinion of "95 percent" of his constituents60. Even in districts held by Republicans, lawmakers anticipated a strong opposition. In South Carolina, Representative Mick Mulvaney stated that "to say it's 99 percent against would be overstating the support61". This assessment was based on the 1000 phone calls and e-mails he received, out of which only 3 supported some kind of response. Another fellow Republican, Representative Tom Cole, confessed that public opinion in his district might determine his vote: "If I break with my district, I better have an awfully compelling reason. I'm going to listen to that kind of expert opinion. But I'm sure going to listen to opinion at the Starbucks62". However, lawmakers were also lobbied by groups supporting the airstrikes, such as Syrian-Americans and the Israeli lobby, although the Syrian-Americans lobbied in both directions63.

A new survey released September 9th showed that 60 percent of Americans opposed the airstrikes and believed taking limited military action would drag the United States into a longer commitment in the Middle East64. The same day, Senate Democrats revealed they did not have the votes to pass the authorization of force65. The prospect of losing the vote became more and more certain and both parties were already predicting that this defeat would shamble Obama's presidency, when the Russians proposed a way out of this foreseen downfall66. The Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sergey V. Lavrov, sized John Kerry's comment that the Assad regime could give up its weapons to avoid the airstrikes67. Although the American Secretary of State dismissed the idea right away, saying it was not possible; the Obama administration agreed to the idea and asked Congress to postpone the vote. After three days of intense negotiations in Geneva, an agreement was reached to destroy Syrian chemical weapons68.

Despite President Obama's declaration that the Geneva agreement was a diplomatic success because the destruction of the Syrian chemical program was underway , the civilian death toll is still rising. In Aleppo, the Syrian government is now using "barrel bombs", oil drums filled with explosives sent from helicopters and killing indifferently rebels and civilians69. So far, the White House only responded through a statement condemning these air assaults on civilians. However, the Syrian government was responsible for the same number of deaths in one week as the Damascus attack which prompted the American government to put limited military options on the table. Spreading terror amongst the population, the intensification of these attacks serves the purposes of arriving at the Geneva peace conference on January 22nd, 2014 with a better advantage70. Ahead of the conference, and despite the increased number of exactions against civilians, the United States does not seem to be willing to put military options on the table again. On the contrary, the country backed out from furnishing nonlethal equipment to the rebels when extremists seized warehouses of American-supplied equipment in December.

American reluctance to get involved in a three-year civil war with no end in sight can largely be explained by the lack of public pressure to intervene. However, current literature on public opinion does not account for the influence of public opinion on the decision not to intervene. The Syrian crisis showed that public opinion can prevent the U.S. administration from using even limited airstrikes. Indeed, the anticipation of public opposition to an intervention largely perceived as another potential Iraq not only constrained the options put on the table but also the final decision not to use force altogether.

  • 1. Karen DeYoung and Bob Woodward, "Syrian conflict: Persian Gulf officials, tired of waiting for U.S., move to boost aid to rebels", The Washington Post, November 3, 2013; Joby Warrick and Tik Root, "Islamic charity officials gave millions to al-Qaeda, U.S. says", The Washington Post, December 23, 2013.
  • 2. François Chazel, "Réflexions sur la conception parsonienne du pouvoir et de l'influence", Revue française de sociologie, n°4, oct-déc. 1964, pp. 387-401; Talcott Parsons, "On the Concept of Influence", The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 27, n°1, Spring 1963, pp. 37-62.
  • 3. Robert A. Dahl, Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2nd ed, 2005, 355p, pp. 163-165.
  • 4. Ibid, p. 163.
  • 5. William A. Gamson and Andre Modigliani, "Knowledge and Foreign Policy Opinions: Some Models for Consideration", Public Opinion Quarterly, n°30, 1966, pp. 187-199; Sidney Verba, Richard A. Brody, Edwin B. Parker, Norman H. Nie, Nelson W. Polsby, Paul Ekman, and Gordon S. Black, "Public Opinion and the War in Vietnam", American Political Science Review, n°61, 1967, pp. 317-333; John E. Mueller, War, Presidents, and Public Opinion, New York, Wiley, 1973; James N. Rosenau, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: an Operational Formulation, New York: Random House, 1961. According to James N. Rosenau, among the general public, only opinion-makers had some influence over the formulation of foreign policy.
  • 6. Zachary Goldfarb, "Obama virtually rules out sending troops to Syria", The Washington Post, May 4, 2013.
  • 7. Rachel Weiner, "McCain: Boots on the ground in Syria 'the worst thing the United States could do'", The Washington Post, April 28, 2013. According to Senator McCain, in order to avoid turning the American people against the intervention, the president should intervene without sending troops on the ground.
  • 8. Jason Horowitz, "Liberal Hawks were vocal on involvement in Iraq but have been quiet on Syria", The Washington Post, May 29, 2013.
  • 9. Scott Clement, "Majority of Americans say Afghan war has not been worth fighting, Post-ABC News poll finds", The Washington Post, December 19, 2013.
  • 10. Cited in Jason Horowitz, "Liberal Hawks were vocal on involvement in Iraq but have been quiet on Syria", The Washington Post, May 29, 2013.
  • 11. Karen DeYoung, Anne Gearan and Scott Wilson, "Decision to arm Syrian rebels was reached weeks ago, U.S. officials say", The Washington Post, June 15, 2013.
  • 12. Jason Horowitz, "Liberal Hawks were vocal on involvement in Iraq but have been quiet on Syria", The Washington Post, May 29, 2013.
  • 13. Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, "U.S. officials' strong words on Syria signal that attack is near", The Washington Post, August 30, 2013.
  • 14. Peter Baker and Michael R. Gordon, "Kerry Becomes Chief Advocate for U.S. Attack", The New York Times, August 30, 2013.
  • 15. Jason Horowitz, "Liberal Hawks were vocal on involvement in Iraq but have been quiet on Syria", The Washington Post, May 29, 2013.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. The rebellion comprises two powerful groups affiliated with Al Qaeda: the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In addition, the rebel forces also include several other strongly Islamist formations, including Ahrar al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sharq, Liwaa al-Islam and Liwaa al-Tawheed, in William J. Brand and C. J. Chivers, "Chemical Disarmament Hard Even in Peacetime", The New York Times, September 10, 2013.
  • 18. Jason Horowitz, "Liberal Hawks were vocal on involvement in Iraq but have been quiet on Syria", The Washington Post, May 29, 2013.
  • 19. However, the Kosovo intervention was perceived as a precedent which would allow the country to use force without the UN Security Council authorization, Mark Lander and Michael R. Gordon, "Air War in Kosovo Seen as Precedent in Possible Response to Syria Chemical Attack", The New York Times, August 23, 2013.
  • 20. Mark Lander and Michael R. Gordon, "Air War in Kosovo Seen as Precedent in Possible Response to Syria Chemical Attack", The New York Times, August 23, 2013; Anne Barnard and Alissa J. Rubin, "Experts Fear That U.S. Plan to Strike Syria Overlooks Risks", The New York Times, August 30, 2013.
  • 21. Anne Barnard and Alissa J. Rubin, "Experts Fear That U.S. Plan to Strike Syria Overlooks Risks", The New York Times, August 30, 2013.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Jason Horowitz, "Liberal Hawks were vocal on involvement in Iraq but have been quiet on Syria", The Washington Post, May 29, 2013.
  • 24. Karen DeYoung, Anne Gearan and Scott Wilson, "Decision to arm Syrian rebels was reached weeks ago, U.S. officials say", The Washington Post, June 15, 2013.
  • 25. This proportion, however, is increasing, with most estimates talking about 20 percent of Islamists among the rebel force.
  • 26. John Calabrese, "The Regional Implications of the Syria Crisis", Middle East Institute, December 21, 2012; Joby Warrick, "Syrian conflict said to fuel sectarian tensions in Persian Gulf", The Washington Post, December 19, 2013.
  • 27. Cited in Michael R. Gordon and Mark Lander, "Kerry Cites Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use in Syria", The New York Times, August 26, 2013.
  • 28. Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, "U.S. officials' strong words on Syria signal that attack is near", The Washington Post, August 30, 2013.
  • 29. Mark Mazzetti, "Blasts in the Night, a Smell, and a Flood of Syrian Victims", The New York Times, August 26, 2013.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. This option was on the table during a meeting at the White House the day after the chemical attacks, Marl Lander, Mark Mazzetti and Alissa J. Rubin, "Obama Officials Weigh Response to Syria Assault", The New York Times, August 22, 2013.
  • 32. Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, "After Syria chemical allegations, Obama considering limited military strike", The Washington Post, August 26, 2013.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Cited in Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, "U.S. officials' strong words on Syria signal that attack is near", The Washington Post, August 30, 2013.
  • 35. Michael R. Gordon and Mark Lander, "Kerry Cites Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use in Syria", The New York Times, August 26, 2013.
  • 36. Scott Shane, "Confident Syria Used Chemicals, U.S. Mulls Action", The New York Times, August 25, 2013.
  • 37. Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, "U.S. officials' strong words on Syria signal that attack is near", The Washington Post, August 30, 2013.
  • 38. Mark Mazetti and Marl Lander, "U.S. Facing Test on Data to Back Action on Syria", The New York Times, August 28, 2013.
  • 39. Ashley Parker, "Legislators Push for Vote Before Strike", The New York Times, August 28, 2013.
  • 40. Cited in Marl Lander, David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, "Obama Set for Limited Strike on Syria as British Vote No", The New York Times, August 29, 2013.
  • 41. Ibid.
  • 42. NBC News Poll, cited in Charles M. Blow, "War-Weariness", The New York Times, August 30, 2013.
  • 43. Pew Research for the People and the Press, cited in Charles M. Blow, "War-Weariness", The New York Times, August 30, 2013.
  • 44. Peter Baker and Jonathan Weisman, "Obama Seeks Approval by Congress for Strike in Syria", The New York Times, August 31st, 2013.
  • 45. Office of the Press Secretary, Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, The White House, March 21, 2011.
  • 46. Mark Lander, "President Pulls Lawmakers Into Box He Made", The New York Times, August 31, 2013.
  • 47. Ibid.
  • 48. ffice of the Press Secretary, Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, The White House, March 21, 2011.
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. Ibid. He later supported the bill after spending one hour with the president, in Jonathan Martin, "Vote on Syria Sets Up Foreign Policy Clash Between 2 Wings of G.O.P.", The New York Times, September 2, 2013.
  • 51. Mark Lander, "President Pulls Lawmakers Into Box He Made", The New York Times, August 31, 2013.
  • 52. Michael D. Shear, "History Aside, Obama Bets on Congress", The New York Times, September 1, 2013.
  • 53. Michael R. Gordon and Jackie Calmes, "President Seeks to Rally Support for Syria Strike", The New York Times, September 1, 2013.
  • 54. Jackie Calmes, Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, "President Gains McCain's Backing on Syria Attack", The New York Times, September 2, 2013.
  • 55. Mark Lander, Michael R. Gordon and Thom Shanker, "House Leaders Express Their Support for Syria Strike", The New York Times, September 3, 2013.
  • 56. Ibid.
  • 57. Ibid.
  • 58. Mark Lander, Jonathan Weisman and Michael R. Gordon, "Split Senate Panel Approves Giving Obama Limited Authority on Syria", The New York Times, September 4, 2013.
  • 59. Jeremy W. Peters, "Obama Faces Barrier in His Own Party on Syria", The New York Times, September 4, 2013.
  • 60. Ibid.
  • 61. John Harwood and Jonathan Weisman, "House Republicans Say Voters OpposeIntervention", The New York Times, September 6, 2013.
  • 62. Ibid.
  • 63. Anne Barnard, "On Both Sides, Syrians Make Pleas to U.S.", The New York Times, September 8, 2013; Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kernshner, "Lobbying Group for Isreal to Press Congress on Syria", The New York Times, September 9, 2013.
  • 64. New York Times/CBS News poll, cited in Mark Landler and Megan Thee Brenan, "Survey Reveals Scant Backing for Syria Strike", The New York Times, September 9, 2013.
  • 65. Michael D. Shear, Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers, "Obama Backs Idea for Syria to Cede Control of Arms", The New York Times, September 9, 2013.
  • 66. Peter Baker, "Russian Proposal Could Offer Obama Escape From Bind", The New York Times, September 9, 2013.
  • 67. Michael D. Shear, Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers, "Obama Backs Idea for Syria to Cede Control of Arms", The New York Times, September 9, 2013. This idea was first mentioned in a private conversation between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama a week before, in Mark Lander and Jonathan Weisman, "Obama Delays Syria Strike to Focus on a Russian Plan", The New York Times, September 10, 2013.
  • 68. Michael R. Gordon, "U.S. and Russia Reach Deal to Destroy Syria's Chemical Arms", The New York Times, September 14, 2013.
  • 69. Abigail Hauslohner and Ahmed Ramadan, "In Syria, 'barrel bombs' bring more terror and death to Aleppo", The Washington Post, December 24, 2013.
  • 70. Ibid.
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