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Possible Syria strike: 5 things to pay attention to today

Obama's approval rating on foreign policy is down, and a poll shows U.S. war weariness

Ed Payne | 9/10/2013, 10:07 a.m.
President Barack Obama's war drums continue to beat, but an offhand comment from Secretary of State John Kerry has set ...
A mortar is launched in Aleppo. Syria Crisis: Ammar Abd Rabbo is a photographer that just returned from Aleppo. This was his third trip from Aleppo, Syria. Ammar Abd Rabbo

— The House Armed Services Committee hosts three of the administration's big guns beginning Tuesday morning: Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All of them will get important face time with the influential committee.

Although no longer a member of the administration, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will speak on Syria at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday evening, just ahead of the president's national address.

3. Whether the lobbying efforts pay off in votes

For the time being, the tide is against the White House. On Monday, six senators notched their votes in the "no" column, with just one, Democrat Barbara Mikulski, saying she would favor military intervention against Syria. In the House, chalk up 13 new "no" votes.

That brings the total of "no" votes to 29 in the Senate and 161 in the House.

Still, there are a lot of undecided members -- 46 in the Senate and at least 229 in the House. The numbers could still work out for the president.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a procedural vote that had been scheduled for Wednesday. The Senate's in no hurry to vote on Syria.

4. If Obama fares better in the court of public opinion

The president's approval rating on foreign policy is at an all-time low of 40%, a steady slide from 54% in January, according to a CNN/ORC International survey.

Just three in 10 approve of how he's handling Syria.

The public is split right down the middle on whether Obama is a strong leader, whether he is honest and trustworthy, and whether he inspires confidence.

Then there's the whole "war weariness" issue in play. Six in 10 say the war in Iraq was a mistake, and 50% say the same thing about Afghanistan. Three-quarters say the United States doesn't need to be the "world policeman."

Also hurting the president's cause, more than seven in 10 say a strike would not achieve significant goals for the United States, and a similar amount say it's not in the national interest for the country to get involved in Syria's civil war, a separate CNN/ORC International poll shows.

The sentiments come despite survey results that show 80% of Americans believe al-Assad's regime gassed its own people.

5. How the international community reacts

The next move appears to be Russia's in this diplomatic chess match. Can Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov deliver on the offer to have Syria hand its chemical arsenal over to international control, or is it just an effort to buy time for the Assad regime?

Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia's working on a "workable, clear, specific plan" that it'll present soon.

The White House is willing to listen and, perhaps, wait a bit -- but not too long.

"It's certainly a positive development when the Russians and Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons," Obama told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday. But he said the threat of American force would remain.