Obama Faces Go-It (Almost) -Alone Decision On Syria

President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama receives his medal and diploma from Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland, at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at City Hall in Oslo, Dec. 10, 2009 Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • MAN IN THE MIDDLE: White House aides say President Obama's drawn-out decision making process on military action against Syria is evidence of a thoughtful, responsible leader, ABC's DEVIN DWYER writes. But it could also be the sign of a president who never wanted to find himself in this position in the first place. While Obama has long spoken out against Bashar al-Assad and the use of chemical weapons, it was the president's apparent off-the-cuff comments one year ago that may now be most responsible for putting the U.S. in a bind. Obama's warning in August 2012 that use of a "whole bunch" of chemical weapons would cross a "red line," triggering "enormous consequences," went much further than aides had planned, several told The New York Times earlier this year. Now Obama faces the prospect of acting without a robust international coalition. He twice campaigned on a vow to restore an American policy of multilateralism and hailed the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya as a new model for coordinated military action. The Libya mission, in which the U.S. participated, involved contributions from at least nine countries. Some Republicans criticized Obama at the time for allegedly "leading from behind." http://abcn.ws/173APfL
  • IS OBAMA'S PEACE PRIZE LOSING ITS LUSTER? When President Obama traveled to Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, even he wasn't sure what he had done to deserve it, ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes. "Perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the commander-in-chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars," Obama said in his acceptance speech. On the bring of a military strike on Syria, Obama is also dogged by the irony that his allure to liberals in the Democratic primary when he ran for president in 2008 stemmed largely from his opposition to the Iraq war. Obama never gave his peace prize back but some of his critics say Obama probably should. "There's a growing sense that the Nobel Peace Prize has been tarnished by the award to Obama," said Norman Solomon, whose website RootAction.org launched a petition earlier this year for Obama to give back the award. "You might compare it to extreme grade inflation at this point." http://abcn.ws/17nRgI5
  • THIS WEEK ON "THIS WEEK": As the U.S. prepares for a potential military strike on Syria, we have full analysis and breaking details from throughout the region, including from ABC News Chief Foreign Correspondent TERRY MORAN, Chief Global Affairs Correspondent MARTHA RADDATZ, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chair Gen. James Cartwright USMC (Ret.), and Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Vali Nasr. And our powerhouse political roundtable looks at the political fallout of a strike on Syria, with political strategists James Carville and Mary Matalin, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, and television and radio host Tavis Smiley. Check the "This Week" page for full guest listings. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. Tune in Sunday: http://abcnews.go.com/thisweek
  • "THIS WEEK" QUIZ: REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO. We asked Democratic Rep. Joaquín Castro of Texas to fill out our show quiz. See his handwritten answers (including his answer to the question, "What's the one thing you can't live without?") and be sure to tweet us @ThisWeekABC and tell us who you'd like to be our next participant. http://abcn.ws/1402QKq


ABC's RICK KLEIN: And now the choice is more clear, if not more difficult, than ever: President Obama will be alone should he choose to act militarily against Syria, for nearly all intents and purposes. He won't have the public behind him; nearly 8 in 10 Americans say they won't support military action without congressional approval, in a new NBC poll out this morning. He won't have Congress; even if lawmakers were called back into session, does anyone think the White House would risk a vote on this topic, now? He won't have the United Nations; too-simply put, if Tim Kaine is skeptical, forget getting Vladamir Putin on board. The vote in Parliament yesterday means he won't even have Great Britain. The historical ironies run deep. "Just words," it turns out, matter. And a man who would not be president except for his harsh critique of "dumb wars" and go-it-alone foreign policies is poised to engage in new military action virtually alone.

ABC's JEFF ZELENY: No matter how loud the skepticism in Congress becomes over Syria, President Obama is surely relieved he isn't facing the same devastating headlines as British Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of a historic and humiliating vote by Parliament. A sampling of today's dispatches from London: "We Don't Want Your War," screamed the Daily Mirror. "CAM DOWN," declared The Sun. "The Humbling of Cameron," exclaimed the Daily Mail. Still, the setback for President Obama cannot be underestimated as he works to forge ahead without our most critical ally. The historic Special Relationship between the United States and Great Britain - for now, at least - is frayed. But the White House knows it must move forward quickly on a limited military operation against Syria - before the British skepticism spreads.

ABC's DANA HUGHES and MARY BRUCE: Obama administration officials denied yesterday that the shadow of Iraq looms over the decision about what to do about Syria. Administration officials have rejected comparisons between the buildup to the 2003 Iraq war and the military strikes in Syria the administration is currently contemplating. "What we saw in that circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country, with the final goal being regime change," White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said of Iraq to reporters on Wednesday. On Syria Earnest said President Obama "has been very clear that he is not contemplating an open-ended military action," and again drew a distinction between the two scenarios. State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf also flat out rejected any comparisons between the debate over intervention in Syria and the Iraq war. "I do not think there are any legitimate comparisons between what we were talking about in Iraq and what we're talking about today," Harf told reporters. http://abcn.ws/17q1mX1 More analysis from me and, ABC's MOLLY HUNTER and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: http://abcn.ws/14dFSdG


OBAMA 'STILL WEIGHING OPTIONS'. Following a teleconference call last night involving President Obama's top advisers and an expanded group of senior lawmakers to provide an update on Syria, several members of Congress maintained support for U.S. military action in response to a purported Syrian chemical weapons attack last week, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON and ARLETTE SAENZ report. House Foreign Affairs Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., revealed that the president's national security team "said that [Obama] is still weighing his options" as consultations with Congress continue. "The White House made very clear that it is beyond a doubt that chemical weapons were used, and used intentionally by the Assad regime," Engel said. "I agree with the president that the use of these weapons not only violates international norms, but is a national security threat to the United States. The president's team agrees that this type of action cannot go without consequences." The call, which did not include President Obama, lasted approximately 90 minutes and included 26 lawmakers comprised of senior congressional leadership and the chairmen and ranking members of key national security committees. White House officials participating in the call included National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld. http://abcn.ws/15Cq33I

-WHITE HOUSE READOUT: "The views of Congress are important to the president's decision-making process," the White House wrote in a readout of the briefing. "We will continue to engage with members [of Congress] as the president reaches a decision on the appropriate U.S. response to the Syrian government's violation of international norms against the use of chemical weapons."

-LAWMAKERS RESPOND: Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration "failed to lay out a single option" or provide a timeline or strategy to deal with Syria. Still, other lawmakers called on the president to go forward with a military strike. "While I'm opposed to American boots on the ground in Syria, I would support surgical, proportional military strikes given the strong evidence of the Assad regime's continued use of chemical warfare," Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a statement after the briefing. "Whatever limited action is taken should not further commit the U.S. in Syria beyond the current strategy to strengthen the vetted, moderate opposition." "The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime requires a decisive response," said Sen. Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. "This is not a moment to look the other way, to blind ourselves to the horrifying images in Syria, and to send the dangerous message to the global community that we would allow the use of a chemical weapons attack to take place with impunity." http://abcn.ws/15Cq33I

HOW OBAMA CAN BYPASS CONGRESS . History has shown that presidents - including President Obama - have been willing to forgo formal approval of lawmakers on Capitol Hill before taking military action, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. The constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but Congress has not formally declared war since World War II. The U.S. operations in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all conducted without any formal declaration of war. The decision to bypass Congress on military action started with President Harry Truman in 1950 when he sent U.S. forces into Korea. Truman defended his decision by saying it aligned with the recommendations of the United Nations. When the U.S. intervened in Libya in 2011, the Obama administration justified its decision to not request congressional approval beforehand by citing the 1973 War Powers Act, which allows the administration to conduct military activities for 60 days without first seeking a declaration of war from Congress. Obama informed Congress of his actions two days later in a letter, saying the decision was "pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive" and that he wanted "to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution." President Obama has not indicated whether he will ask for Congress' approval before a potential military strike, but the White House has said the administration is consulting with Congress on the situation. http://abcn.ws/15jTfPL

HOUSE INTEL CHAIRMAN MIKE ROGERS: SYRIA 'AS SERIOUS AS IT GETS'. House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, who told ABC's JOHN PARKINSON yesterday that "our national security interests do lie in Syria right now," is nevertheless disappointed by a perceived lack of engagement between the White House and Congress. He implored President Obama to undertake a heavy dose of congressional consultation before launching a potential strike on Syria. Rogers is scheduled to participate in a White House briefing this evening. "The president should get buy-in from members of Congress. He needs buy-in from the American people and the best way to do that is consult, the way the law requires for the president, especially when something this serious as a military strike is in the discussion realm," Rogers, R-Mich., told ABC News in an interview at the Capitol yesterday. "The president will not do himself or the American people well if he decides to act without trying to get that buy-in." "Candidly, I haven't seen a strategy here, I think the American people haven't seen a strategy here, and I know Congress hasn't," he added. http://abcn.ws/188c5oR


GOP OFFICIAL: MARCH ON WASHINGTON ORGANIZERS IGNORED SUGGESTIONS. Republican Party officials reached out to organizers of this week's March on Washington commemoration with a series of suggestions for possible GOP speakers, but several of the people they recommended were never contacted with invitations to speak, according to Republican National Committee officials, reports ABC's RICK KLEIN. Miscommunication and lack of coordination appear to have played a role in at least some of the invites not going out to Republican office-holders. Event organizers say they assumed Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., couldn't attend, based on a failure to RSVP to an earlier, more general invitation. But his office says he was never actually invited to speak, and he may have been able to attend if he was formally invited. More than half a dozen different prominent Republicans were invited to speak, but several of the invitations went out quite late in the planning. All sent their regrets. Regardless of the motivations, the result was that an ostensibly non-partisan program on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial took on a political edge. Heated comments on affirmative action, gun rights, and racial discrimination in law enforcement echoed from the podium, with none of the 30-plus speakers - a list that included all three living Democratic presidents - representing a Republican point of view. After it became clear that big-name Republicans like the Bushes were not going to be able to attend, RNC officials offered help in finding one or more appropriate Republican speakers, according to Sean Spicer, the RNC's communications director. "We were very proud of our efforts to commemorate this historic event, which we did in several ways over the last few days," Spicer said. "Furthermore, we offered up assistance to the organizers of the event - our assistance in facilitating any Republican speakers that they would be interested in having." http://abcn.ws/17nQ0Gz


CRACKING THE 'WAFFLE HOUSE INDEX': HOW BREAKFAST MAY DETERMINE THE SEVERITY OF THIS HURRICANE SEASON. If disaster strikes this hurricane season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will use an unconventional system to evaluate damage: the 'Waffle House Index.' FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told "The Fine Print's" JEFF ZELENYthat he started using Waffle Houses as an informal metric of measuring the severity of a storm in its aftermath. He first started using the method in his previous post overseeing emergency management in Florida. "If the Waffle House was open and had a full menu, it was green because that meant they hadn't lost power." "If [it] was open but had a limited menu, it meant that there were more problems, so they were yellow. And if the store was closed, it was red." Fugate, who is responsible for briefing President Obama after natural disasters strike, said he hasn't shared the 'Waffle House Index' with the President, but that the two have enough experience responding to disaster sites. http://yhoo.it/173hafK


@AriFleischer: England is not with us. France is. I think the last time that happened was in 1776.

@JohnJHarwood: After leaving office, GWB said he wasn't going to publicly second-guess Obama and he hasn't - including today on Syria. It's admirable.

@DavidMDrucker: Signers of #dontfundit petition to defund #Obamacare have added 1M names to fundraising database of PAC running it: http://washingtonexaminer.com/petition-against-obamacare-helps-conservatives-expand-grassroots-network/article/2534916 …

@mikiebarb: Why doesn't NYT poll the GOP mayor's race in NYC? Sample size requirements too challenging. Numbers too fuzzy. We'd rather not mislead

@ChelseaClinton: Very sad to read of Seamus Heaney's passing. My thoughts are with his family &friends-no doubt I am among many grateful for his life & words