The President is Hoping to Drum Up Support for a Possible War
Washington (CNN) — As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver one of the most important addresses of his presidency, the American public remains deeply skeptical and confused about his plan to strike Syria — what it would accomplish, and whether it is even necessary now, given the Russian proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile under international control.
With many Americans saying they are still unclear about what Obama wants to do, here are five questions the president must answer before he can begin to sway the court of public opinion in his favor.
1. Now that there may be a diplomatic alternative — the Russian plan — why does the U.S. still need to attack?
This is the most important question of the day. In a major development, Syria has reportedly accepted the Russian proposal to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile to international control, but the details of what was actually agreed to are still murky. The White House is skeptical, cautioning that it could be a stalling tactic, but said it would take a hard look at the proposal.
The Obama administration has agreed to work with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron, in consultation with Russia and China, to explore the viability of the Russian proposal. These efforts will begin Tuesday at the United Nations and will include a discussion on elements of a potential U.N. Security Council resolution.
Obama told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday that he still needs the threat of military action in order to force a negotiated settlement. If he can win support from Congress for an attack, that threat will be an even more effective tool.
Many members of Congress are pushing a nonmilitary route. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, sent a letter to his constituents, citing other possible options: international coalitions, economic sanctions, war-crime tribunals.
Two senators are drafting a compromise resolution that would hold off on a military strike and give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the option to sign on to the Chemical Weapons Convention within the next 45 days. If he fails to do so, then a U.S. retaliation would be warranted.
The president previously failed to garner meaningful international consensus for a military strike. Russia and China blocked any action at the Security Council. And at the G20 meeting last week, the president did not come away with additional international support, although 14 nations signed on to a letter condemning al-Assad’s tactics in the civil war.
But with the Russian deal on the table, now even Iran has said it would support removing chemical weapons from Syria.
2. Why should the U.S. be worried about what Syria allegedly did? Is it worth going to war?
Obama must make a convincing case that the use of sarin gas in Syria was a moral abomination that the U.S. and the international community simply cannot tolerate, and that allowing it to go unpunished would leave an imminent and continued threat to U.S. national security.
But, simply put, Americans are sick of war.
In a CNN/ORC poll released Monday, six in 10 say the Iraq war was a mistake and about half say the same thing about the war in Afghanistan. Three-quarters say the U.S. shouldn’t play the role of world policeman.
Additionally, nearly seven in 10 say that it’s not in the U.S. national interest to get involved in Syria’s civil war. So the president must provide a really good reason to intervene in another messy conflict in the Middle East, where politics are far more complex than the secular two-party system in the United States. Even more, 72%, say a U.S. airstrike would not achieve significant U.S. goals.
Members of Congress have spoken about the same concern. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said on CNN’s “The Lead” last week that there is “no military intervention at this stage” that could lead to an outcome favorable to America’s national security interests.
As part of the president’s media blitz, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Monday that al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons “threatens the national security of the U.S.” and Israel. She said every time chemical weapons are used, it “raises the likelihood” that terrorists will obtain the chemical weapons, which she said puts U.S. troops and diplomats overseas at risk and opens the door for use of other “weapons of mass destruction.”
Obama will have to make a direct connection to national security and American interests. But after Iraq, the bar to prove a national security threat to the United States seems to be much higher.
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Article Courtesy of CNN
Picture Courtesy of Getty Images and CNN