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Reading the congressional tea leaves on Syria

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol appeared on "Meet the Press" yesterday and predicted that congressional Republicans would, in fact, authorize the use of
Reading the congressional tea leaves on Syria
Reading the congressional tea leaves on Syria

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol appeared on "Meet the Press" yesterday and predicted that congressional Republicans would, in fact, authorize the use of military force in Syria.

"I think the Republican Party, the party I know a little bit better than the Democrats, will support the president, will do the right thing for the country despite many doubts about the character of the military assault he's about to launch, many doubts about his past decisions as commander in chief."I think the Republican Party will step up and do the right thing and support the president against a chemical weapons using terror sponsoring, Iran-backed dictator."

And when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, Kristol's predictions have a solid track record, right?

The congressional process is really just starting in earnest, and it's likely that momentum will swing more than once before lawmakers return to Capitol Hill and cast a vote next week.

That said, members' comments yesterday suggested President Obama's request for congressional approval faces an uphill climb. For every lawmaker who predicted yesterday that a resolution would pass, at least two predicted it would fail. For every member who said they were inclined to endorse the use of force in Syria, at least two said the opposite.

Also note, the divide on Syria does not fall neatly along partisan lines, making predictions that much more difficult.

Part of the challenge is coming to terms with the fact that no one can say with confidence what the Republican Party's general approach to foreign policy really is in the post-Bush/Cheney era. It's not because it's nuanced or rhetorically complex; it's because the party is divided into factions that are so opposed to one another, there is no such policy. We'd have to go back many, many years to find a time when there was this much ambiguity surrounding the GOP's foreign policy worldview.

And over the next two weeks, these intra-party fissures are about to take center stage in a way we haven't seen in a long while.

There will almost certainly be some Republicans who endorse President Obama's call for limited intervention in Syria. But we'll also see sharp disputes between neocons (who'll oppose the resolution because it's not a full-fledged war), the GOP's libertarian wing (who'll oppose the resolution out of an ideological predisposition again intervention abroad), and the party's knee-jerk partisans (who'll oppose the resolution because they reflexively say no to Obama in all instances).

Democrats don't have a walk in the park ahead of them, either. While the party is generally more united on matters of foreign policy than their Republican counterparts, liberal skepticism about the value of intervention in Syria is deep and broad. Congressional Dems may feel a pull to support their president because he's their president, but while the leadership in both chambers will likely endorse the White House's position, I expect a large number of Democratic defections.

Neither party's leadership, by the way, is likely to "whip" the votes -- whip operations on resolutions like these are quite unusual -- so members in both chambers will be encouraged to simply vote their consciences. If I had to guess, I'd also say House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) fealty to the so-called "Hastert Rule" won't apply in this case, and a resolution will get a floor vote even if a majority of House Republicans are prepared to vote against it.

That doesn't necessarily mean it'll pass the lower chamber, but it does mean the Speaker won't be in a position to tell the nation and the world, "Sorry, I couldn't bring the resolution to the floor because of a made-up procedural standard."