Obama Ends Longest Week at Crossroads on Syria

PHOTO: Barack Obama

If you thought this week has been one of the more precarious of President Obama's second term, you're not alone.

It's not hard to find recriminations of Obama's handling of the crisis in Syria, even among his supporters.

After deciding to go to Congress for authorization to strike Syria for a brazen chemical weapons attack on its own people, Obama has since failed to get even close to the amount of support he needs among lawmakers.

"I think this is an extraordinarily difficult moment," said Kathleen Hall Jameson, a professor of presidential communication at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

"You've got a public that is very skeptical and an international community that is very reluctant to get involved and a country that is keenly aware that you have to make tradeoffs because we don't have enough money to fund all the things we have to fund in government. It's a tough sell."

Kerry Spars With Russia in Syria Talks

On domestic policy, Obama's choice to pursue military intervention has essentially frozen his domestic agenda.

It might be the beginning of a second-term slump for a president who has in the past always seemed to escape, relatively unscathed, from even the most intractable conflicts at home and abroad.

The White House insists that they have had a great week because the Russians and Syrians are on board with a diplomatic resolution because of Obama's relentless push for military action.

And he might yet escape from this one. In the meantime, however, it appears he has staked everything -- his reputation at home and abroad -- on the success of diplomacy with Russia.

Here are five reasons this might have been Obama's longest week:


He has pulled nearly every media lever available to him, saturating the airwaves with appearances on every TV network -- two nights in a row -- to make his case for action against Syria. But President Obama and his administration have seemed unable to get a coherent message campaign off the ground. It has appeared at times as though the administration has even been flying by the seat of its pants through an international crisis.

Syria, Airstrikes and the News of the Week

After a tense few days with his finger on the trigger, Obama took an unexpected turn toward diplomacy thanks to a reportedly "unscripted" line from Secretary of State John Kerry. The nation's top diplomat suggested at a London news conference that Syria's Bashar al-Assad could avoid a military strike if he turned over all of his chemical weapons.

His aides downplayed the offer as "rhetorical," if off-the-cuff; Kerry said the next day he "didn't misspeak."

Russia pounced on the statement and sparked this latest round of last-ditch talks. But then there's the practical issue of whether the administration believes Syria's chemical weapons can even be removed.

Kerry himself said it "can't be done, obviously." Days later, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said "certainly, it's possible," to get the job done. "No one would suggest that because it's difficult, we shouldn't pursue it," he said.

And then there's the lingering fact that Obama finds himself under pressure to act against Assad because of the off-the-cuff "red line" he laid down one year ago. While Assad had used chemical weapons many times before the Aug. 21 attack, Obama never felt compelled to act. It might be his own promise of "enormous consequences" that now have him in a corner, forced to put the legitimacy of his entire presidency on the line to corral support among lawmakers and a skeptical U.S. public for a military response.


President Obama and senior White House staff made direct, personal appeals to more than 450 members of Congress on Syria action, more outreach to Congress since the push for the Affordable Care Act. But if the vote were held today, it would certainly fail.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...