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Congress mired in Obama's foreign morass

| Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 9:18 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President 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 Mohamed Morsy, Egypt's first freely elected president, caused a web of considerations related to advocating democracy or 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 established 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 on Wednesday 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.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he still believes the United States should arm Syria's rebels but expressed reservations about a no-fly zone or any other military action.

“I don't want to get into a situation where escalation is very easy,” Corker said. “When you start a no-fly zone, you're flying overhead and you're seeing tanks on the ground killing people, what then do you start doing? For me, moving to that point easily takes us to a place where escalation can occur.”

Corker was scathing in his criticism of the administration for refusing to outline publicly its plans for arming Syrian opposition fighters. He said he requested a private briefing from the White House earlier this week, only to be denied.

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