Syria looming, Biden visits anti-war Iowa crowd

AP News
Posted: Sep 14, 2013 2:03 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Joe Biden is heading straight into the belly of Democratic anti-war opposition Sunday, making the first steps by the vice president or the president outside Washington or the diplomatic bubble since President Obama endorsed a possible military strike on Syria.

Biden Sunday is scheduled to headline a fundraiser in Iowa for Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, an annual steak picnic for the senator who is popular with anti-war Democrats.

Even if Biden sidesteps talk of Syria, the issue will be as much a part of the backdrop as the bales of hay and smoke from the grilling steaks, and in a place where he will have to plant his flag should he seek the presidency in 2016.

"That's going to be a little sensitive," said eastern Iowa Democrat Richard Machacek, an Obama delegate in 2008. "It flies in the face of what the president campaigned on here."

President Barack Obama, who rode an anti-war wave to victory in Iowa's 2008 presidential caucuses, announced Tuesday he was planning a military strike on Syria if a proposal from Russia to secure Syria's chemical weapons failed.

Obama has proposed limited air strikes in Syria in response to what the administration said was the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's gassing of more than 1,400 people in a Damascus suburb last month.

The White House heralded the development Saturday Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's foreign minister had reached an agreement on a non-military process to rid Syria of its chemical stockpile.

Obama has struggled to win support from members of Congress whose constituents have endured more than a decade of war. Obama said in a statement the agreement was welcome news, "if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act."

His own party remains cool at best to a military strike.

An Associated Press poll taken Sept. 6-8 showed 34 percent of Democrats said they wanted Congress to back military action. And more than three-fourths of Democrats said they thought any military action in Syria was at least somewhat likely to turn into a long-term commitment of forces, including 44 percent who said it was extremely likely.

The poll was taken before Obama pledged not to deploy ground troops in Syria.

Cedar Falls Democrat David Kabel, an early and devout Obama supporter, is skeptical, even after Obama's speech. "I just don't know that you can reel it in once you get started," he said.

The reaction to anything Biden says about Syria will be closely watched, and noted. He is weighing a 2016 presidential candidacy, and the crowd he mingles with Sunday -- many of them familiar with the two-time presidential candidate -- will have the opening say.

Including Harkin.

Harkin has said that he was leaning against supporting a military strike, though a vote has been postponed to allow the non-military option to develop.

"Harkin has always been the anti-war candidate," said longtime Iowa Democratic activist Paulee Lipsman. "His strongest supporters agree with that position."

While Harkin supported limited strikes in Kosovo in 1997 and Libya in 2012 under Democratic presidents, Harkin has largely opposed recent wars under Republican presidents, endearing him to his party's left.

He voted against the 1991 Gulf War resolution under President George Bush. And while he voted for the 2002 resolution ahead of the 2003 Iraq war under George W. Bush, he later called the vote a mistake and endorsed anti-war candidate Howard Dean in Iowa's 2004 presidential caucuses.

Obama made a special appeal during the speech to "my friends on the left," asking them to consider the images of the hundreds of children who died in the August gas attack. "Sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

He may as well have been speaking directly to those Iowa Democrats who were drawn to his vocal opposition to the war in Iraq, which set him apart from chief rival Hillary Clinton and on the path to winning the White House.

Harkin aides and supporters play down any possible outward hostility toward Biden, as he strolls the Warren County fairgrounds south of Des Moines, flips a few steaks for the cameras and speaks Sunday afternoon.

"People will be polite," Lipsman said.


Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed from Washington.

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