Obama’s All-In Political Strategy On Syria Could Cost Him

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Win McNamee / Getty Images

President Obama during a press conference in the East Room of the White House, Aug. 9, 2013 in Washington, DC.

President Obama is holding nothing back in his effort to sell the country on military strikes in Syria.

It’s all there: Plans for a prime time address to the nation Tuesday. One-on-one interviews Monday with each of the six major television networks. Hundreds of phone calls from himself and staff. Trips to Capitol Hill. The deployment of all his major surrogates. Calling up his former advisors for support. A special dinner at the Vice President’s mansion. Social media engagement, including a John Kerry Google Hangout. Even a sparkly White House website laying out the case.

“They have put every chip on the table and this is as robust as effort on a policy as I’ve seen in four and a half years,” says Tommy Vietor, the former National Security Spokesman. “They’ve gone all in.”

Former aides compare the effort’s scale to the campaign to sell ObamaCare in 2009 and 2010. But given the compressed timeframe, the effort is actually even more aggressive and all encompassing, with a closer resemblance to the final days of a presidential campaign. Should he fail to persuade Congress and the country—an increasing possibility given the polling trends—he will have, in the football metaphor favored by Mitt Romney, “left everything on the field.”

The political damage could also resemble an election loss, Democrats fear, with reverberations that could stretch on for years. Campaign strategists are already trying to calculate how a loss would impact the 2014 election, while Congress watchers have begun to speculate that Obama will have a harder time getting difficult votes on immigration, deficit reduction and the budget after the Syria dust has settled. “If Obama loses the vote, it will feed the narrative of a presidency dealing with some real challenges in terms of its ability to move a second term agenda, which could then lead to an inability to effectively deal with the budget/sequester and some other issues the country needs to address in order to support the recovery,” says Democratic consultant Chris Lehane, a former aide to Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Chief of Staff Denis McDonough performed the “full Ginsberg” this weekend, appearing on all five Sunday major morning political shows, and Secretary of State John Kerry has been omnipresent, with forceful statements on Capitol Hill and abroad calling on Congress to approve a strike. On Sunday evening, when Vice President Joe Biden hosted a half-dozen Republican Senators for dinner at the Naval Observatory to discuss the upcoming vote, Obama made an unscheduled 80-minute drop-by.

Obama has also called in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help sell the case for intervention. One of the most popular figures in American political life and the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination if she decides to run, Clinton has maintained a low profile since leaving office earlier this year. Clinton will address Syria from the White House Monday at a previously scheduled visit for a forum on wildlife trafficking, POLITICO first reported.

Last week, the White House summoned former top aides, including former Senior Adviser and political guru David Plouffe, former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, former Communications Director Anita Dunn, former speechwriter Jon Favreau, and Vietor, to discuss the effort to build support for Syria intervention as part of a regular series of meetings held with outside allies. The group met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and senior members of the communications team. “I think this speaks to how important the president believes this vote is to America’s credibility around the world,” said Vietor

White House officials distributed a detailed list of actions taken by Obama and his staff to influence the vote, including individual phone calls, conference calls, in person briefings and meetings. By the White House’s count, they have spoken with more than 85 Senators and 165 House members.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power have each made detailed and substantive arguments for a U.S. bombing campaign at two Washington think tanks. And this week, Kerry, Rice, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and other administration officials will hold a call for all members of the House and the Senate. Rice is meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, a must-win group for Obama that has thus far remained staunchly opposed to intervention.

So far, the effort is not succeeding, at least according to public polls. The Pew poll finds that the share of the country supporting a military strike in Syria is unchanged over the last week, at 28%. But the share opposing intervention has increased, from 48% to 63%.

29 comments
anti-government
anti-government

Please keep our troops at home (or better yet, disband the army and help them get real jobs).

We are not authorized by international law or welcome in the world community in our on-going role as prosecutor, judge, executioner and moralizer regarding the failings of other governments. Our government has violated international law whenever it wanted to do so. When we use WMDs, it is somehow okay. For example, do you know that we Americans have killed far more babies and other civilians with WMDs (e.g., bombs) than all other countries and terrorist groups in world history?). Why is it okay for us to use WMDs to kill babies but something that warrants immediate punitive action when the Syrians allegedly do it ?

We Americans need to stop trying to impose our hypocritical "morality" on the rest of the world!

Americans Stay Home!

DumbNiggero3
DumbNiggero3

The sooner we get this clown impeached, and then charged with treason and if found guilty, executed live on TV, the happier and better off this world will be. He is as bad as they come. No morals, no ethics, lie for lies sake.. illegal and phony and a war criminal

JacquelineEl-Nil
JacquelineEl-Nil

It's called the ART of compromise. Americans have become so self centered and non compromising.

that they can no longer recognize the ART form.

It appears that only a few can see that Putin and Barack had already worked it out.
You want to talk about the Chiefs...but what about the indians? 

Silly...

turbovega
turbovega

The flip side of this, politically, is that he can say he made a move, which was defeated by political opposition .. and then if things really go bad he can say that the opposition tied his hands.  Then the blame is on them because he could claim that military action could have made a positive difference.  His political opposition (which includes house GOP and antiwar Democrats both) shouldn't gloat too much if they stop him since it may backfire on them down the road.  An immediate victory, or one that looks like it, could become a political albatross around their necks down the road. 

united_we_stand
united_we_stand

What would it cost him? Reelection to a 3rd term? His wife couldn't run for senator in the state of her choice? All it would cost is the karma of the fallout would be more on his shoulders. When the rebels slaughter the christian syrians who have existed since antiquity, when they kill people for homosexuality, Obama and the other usual suspects must admit its all their doing. 

small_axe
small_axe

Yeah, it must have been accidental. Or maybe Putin had an epiphany. LOL.


We don't (and won't) know the inner workings of the closed door meetings, but you can be sure that this is the result of having a leader and administration who are capable of deep thinking and sophisticated, nuanced diplomacy. I'm inclined to believe that the face to face time between our leaders and Russia's this past weekend is not an incidental coincidence.


God help us all if we ever put the knee-jerk GOP back into the white house.


HenryMassingale
HenryMassingale

I followed all the news reports on this issue...I am forced to agree with the others, President Obama out smarted all again...he saw into this, and to put it simple he said hell no, he wants to bail out from under of this issue by himself  because he all ready saw all of the same issues that is now being stated...

 All of the political punts against him...he just smiles because...he all ready knew....

something else is up...thats why our Military has been drawn in.......you see someone wanted the US to strike......it is as if to bait the hounds in a chase, while the real fox moved its forces and weapons to another area...

 The killing of the 1400 or so people was a sacrifice, that is connected also to this  rebel forces....you see Obama all ready knew about the 100,000 or so killed, so to move in enough fire power that would take out Syria and Iran and the same time puzzles me to a input that is shared.....

a large amount of chemical weapons were moved....and from my understanding.... still within striking distance to Israel....

Stinger
Stinger

No one doubts Obama’s political acumen, his brilliance as a political strategist and in true Machiavellian tradition having no compunctions about employing truth, lies and every moral or immoral ploy as suits his objective to enhance his or his party’s image in the eyes of the American people and to sully the image of his political opponents.

Such thinking is behind Obama’s calculation in suddenly and shockingly reversing his position on attacking Syria. While again asserting he has an absolute constitutional right to order such attack, he suddenly expresses caring and concern for what Americans want and will put the decision of whether to attack or not in the hands of Congress, the peoples’ duly elected representatives.

By punting this highly controversial and politically risky and problematical question into Congress’s hands, Obama figures he can absolve himself of any responsibility for the decision to attack or not and any domestic political fall out for whatever Congress decides when they get around to it, will fall only on Congress that he constantly demonizes.

To be sure, Obama’s decision will only further rob him of credibility and further tarnish his image on the world stage. No doubt that troubles Obama, but his eye is mostly on politics at home. In particular his primary focus is on his and the Democratic fortunes in the upcoming November, 2014 election, when if he plays his cards right, will see Democrats winning majorities in both Houses of Congress and he can then advance his agenda virtually unimpeded by the Republicans.

No matter what Obama says about caring about and working hard for the welfare of all Americans and caring deeply for the suffering of innocent Syrians, the fact is that he cares only about himself and how history – at least American history, will view him.

Stinger
Stinger

Mr. "red line in the sand" is the only one looking like a fool in all this. First he looks like a chest-thumping warmonger calling for action before all the facts are known (typical Obama). Then he backtracks and asks someone else to make the decision for him. Then, in order to win approval from Congress and the public, he says the military action he's going to take will be really, really, really small in scope. As Bugs Bunny used to say....What a maroon!

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

So it's bad politics for the will of the populace to be followed? Interesting.

It would be nice to see this amount of effort on an issue that actually helps the country. Employment, maybe?

jason024
jason024

But but what if he loses....

Then he does and the hawks in the Senate GOP look weak (assuming they block it). The House GOP gets away scot free since they will not bring anything to a vote until after the Senate takes it up.

In the end it it will not hurt him. Unless you think a President should not take this kind of thing to Congress in the first place.


Lets be honest, the American electorate doesn't care as much about a failed Syria vote than whether or not they perceive their economic prospects are getting better. Any presidential contender or congressional candidate can easily avoid looking bad by distancing themselves from the President's policies (esp. in the House if they avoid taking a vote)....just look at Obama in 08....he was able to exploit Hilary's support for the Iraq war b/c he wasn't even in office.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Losing the vote in Congress will do absolutely nothing but get him out of a sticky situation of his own creation. Any interpretation beyond that is Journalistic malpractice. 


Potemkin
Potemkin

I love how the press including TIME were at the head of the "let's attack Syria" parade, constantly beating the drums and agitating for war, and now you say the president is out there alone on Syria? Really?  Really.  And the press had nothing to do with whipping up the war cries?  Seriously?

drudown
drudown

Give us a break. Literally.

From whence comes this unfounded notion that THIS particular Administration is somehow "vicariously liable" for the wrongs, problems or conflicts of interests that seem to cloud the People's clear thinking on how to proceed in the Middle East? Taken to its illogical conclusion, the very title of this article parrots many others that naively imply President Obama's legacy is going to be shaped or "determined" by some foreign sovereign falling into an inevitable civil war? Sure, right. In what way exactly is President Obama "responsible" for the actions of fighting factions within ANY foreign sovereigns? Give us a break. The entire distribution of wealth in Middle East will engender conflict until poor young men have jobs and something better than what they have right now...which is nothing to live for. It isn't anything President Obama "says" that matters to any of them or even the world. 

"It is [their] economy, stupid."

Just this: it is beyond disingenuous for ANY member of the GOP Congress to vote for military strikes against Syria- much less occupation- and then play dumb in Benghazi hearings wondering "why" people in the Arab homeland would kill Americans.

Let the Arabs kill each other if they are so inclined. By getting our troops out of the way, we won't be blamed for their civil war- and we won't allow the War Profiteers from looting our Treasury under the auspices that (what else) "it is the right thing to do"....

Get real. We are a government of LIMITED POWERS.

Preventing Arabs from killing each other is not our Congress'  job. Start RAISING revenue to rebuild our own crumbling State.

"Thy love afar is spite at home." - Emerson


SpikeLee
SpikeLee

Journalists have been saying this since Jan 2011.  How this different from any other Obama plan dead on arrival due to the Ta Party-run House?

ChrisWyman
ChrisWyman

Worst President in the history of the world

HenryMassingale
HenryMassingale

@anti-government Well my friend, you asked something that most American have been asking fir years,,,the great why....

 I have been fight against this Afghan War for so long....sometimes I grow tired...but I have caused this Government a pin prick into the system at best. You see they do not like it when I share at News Networks....I turn the world upside down within the net and they know it...

hack 2 of my 9 systems...I know it was them because of the security programs I built within..

 You can all ways find where I have been, my Name is Henry Massingale..

founder and director of the..

International Boycott Of The Arabic Drug Empire

Remembering 9/11- byMassingale

 I will never forget or forgive this Government...

Barry_Contrary
Barry_Contrary

@small_axe

Sure, obviously this is what B.O. had in mind when he made the "red line" comment so long ago...

Chuckle...

Here's B.O.'s master plan discussion with Putin (his sidekick):

1) I'll make a "red line" comment on chemical weapons.

2) Assad crosses the line.

3) I'll put on a show dragging the world towards an attack on Syria to retaliate while trying to get other nations to approve of my attack.

4) I'll throw it to Congress.

5) I'll publicly back off my "red line" comment.

6) Then you, Putin, suggest Assad gives up the chemical weapons in exchange for my not attacking.

7) I reluctantly agree.

8) Assad gives up the chemical weapons, I don't attack, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Stinger
Stinger

@HenryMassingale HaHaHa! yea, keep thinking "outsmarted everybody" he is a bumbling dithering idiot who is laughed at worldwide. It truly is amateur hour at the whitehouse, his foreign policy handling is embarrassing, just look at Benghazi and the people that died as a result. The liberal MSM has done a pretty good job running interference for him lately as new devastating bombshells about what happenned and the whistleblower statements which have been been suppressed by ABC, NBC, ABC. Everybody knows if this was Bush, it would be 24/7 coverage. as Hillary states " what difference does it make". Pathetic

jason024
jason024

@Stinger"To be sure, Obama’s decision will only further rob him of credibility and further tarnish his image on the world stage."


When most of the world is against the plan, it is hard to "tarnish his image." If you want to talk about tarnishing your image, try invading a country with limited international support under false pretenses and then not having a plan to get out.

What would have been worse is going through with the strike w/o Congressional approval and getting sucked into the hell hole that is the Syrian Civil War because the Administration never articulated their plan for after the "limited strike"

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@Stinger Your analysis would carry more credibility if it included the fact that the Constitution specifically REQUIRES that Congress determines whether or not to wage war. Calculating? Perhaps. Undeniably correct? Absolutely.

Barry_Contrary
Barry_Contrary

@Paul,nnto 

It looks like we just lost a lot of those "shovel-ready" jobs...

Building more Tomahawk cruise missiles.

carotexas
carotexas

@PaulDirks Paul I keep thinking that he does not do or say anything about serious issues without a lot of thought and all the information he can get.  I think he has his reasons for everything he says and does even if I do not always agree with him.  I am very interested in what he will say on Tuesday and in the final results of  chemical weapons usage.

small_axe
small_axe

@Barry_Contrary @small_axe "Secret" back channel negotiations is how diplomacy has been done for millenia. But if you're brain can't handle it, and you prefer to believe Obama is a secret muslim smuggled into the country to act as a manchurian candidate and turn the usa over to al queda, then have at it hoss.

HenryMassingale
HenryMassingale

@Stinger @HenryMassingale Well my friend, he seems to be very smart, 8 years as President.

Crammed a Health Care Bill down or throats using a Tax  Law.

Ducked the issue on going it alone against Syria...a matter a fact any one who has half a brain would take a second look at the issue before you jump into it with both feet.

 As for Bush....11 years in Afghan, what was it 11 Nations...and the war is no closer of being over then it was 10 years ago.

 As long as Americans and other countries buy  Afghan Heroin, for this Health Care Concept for pain....America will grow weaker and our enemy grows stronger.

 But I have a need to know...why is our Military Protecting Poppy Fields, run by Terrorist , Drug Lords...

And why is Afghan Heroin growing in Mexico...?

Why did the Cartel Unite with the Afghan Heroin Empire to form a United Drug Empire...

Oh I am sorry you may not of known...

NaveedXVO
NaveedXVO

@PaulDirks @Stinger  

It requires congress determine whether or not to wage war unless it's politically popular ala Libya. This time it's unpopular so let congress take the blame for whatever.