President Barack Obama met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus Monday in a critical effort to gain their support for his plan to attack Syria.
Obama joined National Security Advisor Susan Rice who was already meeting black lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It’s unclear whether all members of the Congressional Black Caucus are on board – and it’s certainly a hard sell for Obama.
What we do know is this: Black Americans want Obama – and the United States – to stay out of Syria’s civil war.
As Obama prepares to address the nation Tuesday to bolster support for his plan to attack Syria, many African Americans – the president’s most loyal constituents — are vehemently opposed to a military strike and want Obama to stand down.
A national survey conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News found 40 percent of African Americans supporting airstrikes against Syria and 56 percent opposed. And a separate survey by the Pew Research Center reported similar results.
The survey asked: “Would you favor or oppose the U.S. conducting military airstrikes against Syria in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons?” Only 22 percent of black non-Hispanics said they were in favor, 53 percent said they were opposed and 25 percent said they did not know.
“We can’t afford to always be the world’s watchdog; we have enough problems here at home,” said one black professional in a Washington, D.C. barber shop. “We can’t rescue everybody.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) – a member of the Congressional Black Caucus – convinced nearly 60 congressional leaders to sign a letter to Obama asking him to seek formal authorization from Congress for military action against Syria.
“We must learn the lessons of the past,” Lee said. “Lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and others. We must recognize that what happens in Syria does not stay in Syria; the implications for the region are dire.”
Obama is trying to convince Americans – and the world – that Syria’s civil war could have dangerous consequences for America.
The president says Syria’s recent use of chemical weapons killed 1,000 innocent civilians, including more than 400 children who died in agony, convulsing and foaming at the mouth.
The slaughter – the worst atrocity of the nation’s brutal civil war – was carried out with sarin nerve gas, Obama says, even though Syrian President Bashar al Assad denies the allegations.
Obama is facing an uphill battle. Most Americans say they do not want a war with Syria and Congress is lukewarm on the idea of military intervention. The president would like approval from Congress to move forward – but he doesn’t need it.
Meanwhile, Susan Rice, who is African American, told the New America Foundation Monday that Obama has enough solid evidence to strike Syria and it’s the right course of action.
“There is no denying what happened on August 21. Around 2:30 in the morning, while most of Damascus was still asleep, Assad’s forces loaded warheads filled with deadly chemicals onto rockets and launched them into suburbs controlled or contested by opposition forces,” Rice said. “They unleashed hellish chaos and terror on a massive scale. Innocent civilians were jolted awake, choking on poison. Some never woke up at all. In the end, more than 1,400 were dead—more than 400 of them children.”
“In recent days, we’ve been shocked by the videos from Ghouta and other neighborhoods near Damascus,” Rice added. “As a parent, I cannot look at those pictures—those little children laying on the ground, their eyes glassy, their bodies twitching—and not think of my own two kids. I can only imagine the agony of those parents in Damascus.”
Rice, who also met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Monday, said Assad’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens the national security of the United States.
“Every time chemical weapons are moved, unloaded, and used on the battlefield, it raises the likelihood that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists active in Syria, including Assad’s ally Hezbollah and al Qaeda affiliates,” Rice said. “That prospect puts Americans at risk of chemical attacks targeted at our soldiers and diplomats in the region and even potentially our citizens at home.”
Rice added that Obama has exhausted all diplomatic options and has no choice but to order a military strike against Syria.
“Failing to respond to this outrage also threatens our national security,” Rice said. “Failing to respond means more and more Syrians will die from Assad’s poisonous stockpiles. Failing to respond makes our allies and partners in the region tempting targets of Assad’s future attacks.”
“Failing to respond increases the risk of violence and instability as citizens across the Middle East and North Africa continue to struggle for their universal rights,” she added. “Failing to respond brings us closer to the day when terrorists might gain and use chemical weapons against Americans abroad and at home.”
On Tuesday, Obama will speak from the White House and take his case for attacking Syria directly to the American people.