President Obama's planned address to the nation next Tuesday could be the most important of his presidency. His challenge will be making a clear, concise case for why Congress and the American people should back his plans for a military strike against Syria.
Up to this point the administration has been sending confused and conflicting messages about its Syrian policy in the wake of President Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians. First President Obama indicated he would act under his authority as commander in chief, and with the backing of those allies the United States could find, to launch an attack and send the message to Mr. Assad that such conduct was unacceptable, while diminishing his regime's ability to act again.
Then the president announced that though he had the authority to act, he would seek the support of Congress to do so. In soliciting that support the mixed messages continued. To senators seeking a more aggressive Syrian policy the administration has signaled a willingness to funnel support to moderate rebel forces fighting to otherthrow Assad . War weary progressive Democrats, meanwhile, received assurances that any attack would be as limited as possible.
This approach, and the failure to articulate the national security interests, is not working. Many congressmen, after hearing from war weary constituents, are wavering. Some have made up their minds to oppose the president's plans. If a vote were held now the president could well lose. This would be a major political defeat for President Obama, but more critically undermine U.S. credibility abroad.
His message Tuesday should go something like this.
If the world tolerates the use of chemical weapons to stop rebellions and further military goals, it will set a dangerous precedent endangering global security, and so U.S. security.
That while the attack is not intended to topple Mr. Assad this despot will, in time, fall. The United States has a plan, working with allies, to support the moderate rebel forces in Syria. Failing to have such a strategy would increase the chances that Syria, or great parts of it, will fall into the control of jihadist extremists, further destabilizing that region and providing a safe haven for enemies of the United States and its Mideast allies.
The intangible factor will be most important. Will Americans feel confident that the president knows what he is doing and the full implications of his proposed actions? Until Tuesday, the nation will not have that answer.