Obama appeals for US to back his Syria bid

The US president has appealed to his country to back his bid to use military force in Syria.

US President Barack Obama speaks during his Town Hall with Young African Leaders at the University of Johannesburg's Soweto campus on June 29, 2013. Picture: Christa van der Walt/EWN.

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama appealed on Saturday to a dubious American public to back his bid to use military force in Syria while supporters scrambled to persuade lawmakers to authorize the move.

Fresh from a European trip in which he failed to forge a consensus among global leaders on the need for a military strike on Syria, Obama told his war-weary country that America needs to use force to deter future chemical weapons attacks there.

But the president, clearly still the reluctant warrior who rose to political prominence on his opposition to the Iraq war, said he did not want another costly and protracted conflict.

"This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan," Obama declared in his weekly radio address, previewing arguments he will make in a nationally televised address on Tuesday.

"I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. That's why we're not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else's war," Obama said.

Lawmakers returning to Washington after a summer break say many of their constituents have told them they do not think the United States should respond militarily to the August 21 chemical weapons attack that Washington blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week said 56 percent of Americans believed the United States should not intervene in Syria; only 19 percent supported action.

Obama said last week he would seek congressional approval for a strike, but early vote counts in do not look encouraging for the president, with scores of lawmakers still undecided. The US Senate is expected to take action this week; the House of Representatives will vote later.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Saturday sent her fifth letter to Democratic lawmakers urging them to back Obama, noting that Congress had voted overwhelmingly to condemn Syria's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction a decade ago.

The influential pro-Israel group AIPAC said it planned a major lobbying effort this week to try to round up support for military action, with about 250 activists in Washington to meet senators and representatives.

In his radio address, Obama said failing to respond to the attack would threaten US national security by increasing the chance of future chemical attacks from the Syrian government, terrorist groups, or other nations. The United States said more than 1,400 people were killed, including hundreds of children.

"We are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we've seen out of Syria," he said.

But it was unclear whether the wheedling was working.

Senator Mark Pryor, a member of the president's Democratic Party who is running for re-election next year, said on Saturday that he would not support action against Syria at this time.

Pryor said that before US military action is taken, the administration must prove a compelling national security interest, define the mission and build a "true" coalition of participating allies - criteria he said had not been met.