As President Obama weighs military options against Syria, he's trying to assure Americans that it won't be a repeat of what happened in Iraq.
But some rank-and-file Democrats say if Obama goes ahead with a military strike, he'll anger many of those who supported him for opposing the Iraq war. The situation also poses potential political problems for members of Congress who support military action against Syria, including DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken.
At the DFL State Fair booth this week, many didn't want to talk about Syria or whether Obama administration air strikes against Syria might alienate some Democrats.
Those willing to talk were torn between their loyalties to the president and their fears about the collateral damage of striking Syria.
"Military intervention is not going to solve anything," said 66-year-old Jerry Markey of Maple Grove. "We need less intervention in the world, not more."
The comparisons to Iraq and the run-up to invasion aren't valid, said Franken, who faced a skeptical audience during an appearance on MPR News Friday at the State Fair. The president has demonstrated "absolute reluctance" at attacking and hasn't looked for excuses to take military action, he added.
Audience members weren't persuaded.
Rick Cardenas, 70, of St. Paul likened strikes against Syria to the invasion of Iraq. "It puts our foot into a war," he told Franken. Even with a limited strike, "We will also be killing civilians."
Franken is up for re-election next year after his razor-thin 312 vote victory in 2008. He initially supported the Iraq war but became a vocal opponent and campaigned against the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
Franken now says Obama has authority to launch air strikes without congressional approval, and he supports a military strike to punish Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons on its own people.
"There aren't good choices here," Franken said. "Presidents and members of Congress serve in real time and we have to respond to this and prove there are consequences to using chemical weapons in this inhuman way."
For some Democrats, their loyalties to the president are stronger than their worries over war.
"I love everything that Obama does and says," said 22-year-old Molly Seim. She's opposed to a Syria attack but has unequivocal faith in the president. It's not clear how many Democrats share that loyalty.
Some observers believe the DFL divisions over war and the president may make their way to the polls this year and next.
Franken and other Democrats will lose support for not opposing military action against Syria, said Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, justice and peace studies professor at the University of St. Thomas.
Nelson-Pallmeyer lost the DFL endorsement to Franken in 2008 and does not plan to run again. But he predicts Franken's Syria position could draw a DFL challenger into his 2014 re-election campaign.
Franken's position will "alienate a significant number of Minnesota voters," he said. "They may vote for him, but they won't work hard for him."
Washington University political science professor Steven Smith agrees many Democrats will not be happy if Obama attacks Syria. However, faced with the prospect of conservative Republicans winning elections, Democrats, he said, are still likely to vote for their own.
In the end, Smith says, Democrats might end up attracting more support.
"Since this move would kind of run counter to Democrats' reputation on military matters, there's a chance that the net effect will be to actually help Democrats," said Smith. "Patriotism is real. The rally around the flag, rally around the president effects are real. At least in the short term I'd expect the president and most Democrats to actually benefit from that."
Smith acknowledged that scenario would only have a chance of playing out if limited strikes go off without a hitch and do not end up dragging the U.S. into another war.