Americans Respond to Obama Pitch for Syria Strike

As President Barack Obama made the case Tuesday night for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, he addressed a public hardened by the lessons of past wars, murky on the details of the current crisis and fearful of what another conflict abroad would mean for America. The Associated Press spoke with a sampling of viewers from around the country to gauge whether the president succeeded in nudging the opinion needle in favor of action, how rumblings of a diplomatic solution brokered by Russia are being received and what it would take to build greater support for a strike.

TOP TAKEWAY

Until the Obama administration started preparing two weeks ago for a military response to the Syrian government's use of deadly chemical weapons on its people, few Americans considered the desert nation that borders Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey a likely target for U.S. intervention. While the president worked hard to explain "why it matters and where we go from here," many of those who tuned into his White House address said the president faced a daunting - if impossible - job.

"It was a coherent speech about a convoluted problem," Don Merry, 68, a retired middle-school math teacher from Denver, who watched the speech at McP's Irish Pub, a popular hangout for active-duty and retired military in Coronado, Calif. where the president's words competed for attention with a baseball game and a soccer match. "He didn't score any points with me."

Mike Corrao, a pharmaceutical drug rep from Milwaukee, said Obama's speech left him confused about the next steps. He said he was conflicted by the overall situation — upset about the use of chemical weapons, but unable to fathom how a U.S. missile strike would make things better. He said all Obama's speech did was cloud the issue, especially in regard to how an attack would accomplish any meaningful goal.

"I'm against any attack but if you're going to do it the purpose should be to punish or disarm" the Syrian leader, said Corrao, 35. "Even in his stated goals he used the word 'deter.' If you're going to do a strike make it mean something."

BIG PULPIT, NO BULLYING

In Atlanta, the Braves game was put on mute as patrons of Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta turned toward a television broadcasting Obama's speech. Some who listened to the address said the president made a compelling argument, but they were more interested in seeing how Russian diplomacy efforts might pan out than they were in supporting a potential military strike.

Wynne Patterson, a 38-year-old speech pathologist, said the images of children lying dead on cold hospital floors and Obama's assurance that any engagement in Syria would be precise and short-lived were not enough to persuade her there would not be unintended consequences such as collateral damage and further weakening of the region's stability.

"It just seems like every time we like stick our toe in those waters it's protracted and messy and, you know, whatever outcome we think we wanted isn't usually the outcome that happens," Patterson said, adding that she was unsure of how the conflict in Syria even originated, and the situation reminds her of the beginnings of America's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Alaska, where the president's speech aired at 5 p.m., both the televisions at a downtown Juneau restaurant and bar called Rockwell's were turned to the address. Three tourists from a cruise ship stopped by long enough to debate the merits of intervention throughout, catching little of what Obama was saying.

One part that captured the attention of Justin Bryant, an entertainer from Atlanta, was Obama's promise not to put any U.S. troops on the ground in Syria. Bryant, who said he wasn't affiliated with any political party and declined to give his age, said he found an option short of "completely forceful" compelling.

"You can make a statement without being harmful," he said of Obama's proposed strategy.

DOUBTING THE BENEFIT

Despite the president's efforts to persuade the American people they have a vested interest in Syria, that country's problems nonetheless struck some viewers as remote and intractable.

"We can't take care of poverty in West Virginia right now. We can't take care of North America as a continent," elementary school teacher Elizabeth Hall said after watching Obama's remarks at a New Orleans restaurant. "The issues that are going on in that area, that sect of the world, they were there way before we were a country. They will continue to be there. They'll be there after. And it's not our place to police the world. I agree with him on that."

Matt Harr, a 38-year-old information technology professional in Atlanta, said he thinks the potential for additional casualties in Syria is unavoidable with or without an American military strike.

"A lot of people are gonna end up getting slaughtered either way, it just depends on the means. A lot of horrible things happened before," Harr said. "It doesn't mean that they're not gonna shell people and kill them in all kinds of conventional ways."

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Associated Press Writers Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, Raquel Dillon in Los Angeles, Lisa Leff in San Francisco, Phillip Lucas in Atlanta, Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Pensacola, Fla., Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans, Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee, and Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Calif. contributed to this story.

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