Before he fires a single missile against Syria, President Obama is first launching a public relations offensive, making a last-minute and, perhaps, last-ditch effort to sell a military strike to members of Congress and the American people.
Obama has characterized the sale of an unpopular military intervention to a war-weary public and confrontational Congress as a "heavy lift." But with his reputation on the line, the president has few options but to expend valuable political capital and press his case.
- Obama to give interviews to six television networks tonight, followed by Oval Office speech on Tuesday.
- Senior Obama administration officials are engaged in 48-hour media blitz.
- Most members of Congress and the public do not support the president's plan to attack Syria.
"Usually, when someone is in a hole, the advice is 'stop digging,' but the president has no choice but to continue pushing forward," said Torie Clarke, a former Pentagon spokeswoman who served in the George W. Bush administration.
"He is in bad shape from a political perspective and a national security perspective, but he has to prove he is credible in terms of both."
The next 48 hours will be an all-out blitz, as the president and his most senior advisers take to the airwaves.
Obama will give interviews to six television networks today before giving a televised address from the Oval Office Tuesday in prime time. Obama's chief of staff, Dennis McDonough, appeared on all five of the morning political talk shows Sunday, arguing that there is ample evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people.
The first salvo in the administration's media war got off to a shaky start this morning when Secretary of State John Kerry characterized any attack on Syria as "unbelievably small."
The remarks, made during a news conference in London, were met with criticism by some supporters of an intervention who blamed the administration for muddling its case.
“”[Obama] is in bad shape from a political perspective and a national security perspective, but he has to prove he is credible in terms of both. -- Torie Clarke, former Pentagon spokeswoman
"I am worried, though, the administration has done such a bad job of making its case," Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said this morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"Now we have the secretary of state saying, 'Well, we went to Congress, it was so important to go to Congress, for an unbelievably small limited strike.' Even I can see why reasonable people on the Hill ... can say, 'Is that really better than nothing?'" Kristol said.
A spokeswoman for the State Department later qualified Kerry's comments, calling them a "rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used."
The president has an uphill battle in making his case both with the U.S. people and members of Congress. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found six in 10 Americans oppose the United States' conducting a unilateral strike against Syria.
Yet President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has prided himself on extricating U.S. forces from two foreign wars and has argued against unilateral military action, is staking his credibility and authority on leading the country into war with virtually no support from its closest allies.
In many ways, intervention in Syria comes down to credibility, Clarke, the former Pentagon spokeswoman said, the global credibility of the United States and Obama's personal credibility.
"He has to do something to demonstrate to our allies, to our enemies and to Assad that his word here is good," Clarke said.
Obama failed to convince members of the G-20 last week at a conference in Russia of the need to take military action and many believe he will fail to get congressional approval. Many members remain undecided, but more have come out to oppose a strike than support it.
"He has received a lot of criticism, from both Republicans and Democrats on issues large and small that he never puts skin in the game," Clarke said. "It's clear this time that he means business."