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Syria: Why Obama needs to give two speeches in one

Obama's address on Syria was meant to build support for votes in Congress authorizing force. But with diplomacy now front and center, Obama has to explain his reasons for embracing both.

By Staff writer / September 10, 2013

President Barack Obama walks along the West Wing Colonnade toward the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, ahead of his daily briefing. Obama will deliver a speech on Syria from the East Room in an address to the national this evening.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP



If President Obama could have a do-over, he probably would not be giving an address to the nation Tuesday night on Syria.

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After all, the head-snapping news of the last 24 hours – a shift in the action to the United Nations, to hash out a Russian proposal to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control – has put the possibility of US military strikes in Syria on hold. Presidents like to save major addresses for rare occasions.

Mr. Obama’s speech was meant to build public support for congressional votes – in the Senate this week, the House next week – authorizing military action aimed at degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities, after the Assad regime’s alleged sarin gas attack Aug. 21 on its own people. Now those congressional votes are on hold.

Obama, too, may well have dodged a bullet: Support both in the public and in Congress was heading south. Public opinion against the strikes now runs 2-to-1 against. Obama himself acknowledged in his spate of network TV interviews Monday that he wasn’t confident he had the votes in Congress.

Suddenly, the heat is off. The president is no longer on the verge of being rebuffed by Congress, including by many members of his own party. But Obama’s 9 p.m. Eastern speech is still on. What does he say?

“I think he gives two speeches in one,” says Peter Fenn, a Democratic communications specialist. “One would be, ‘Here’s why [what Syria did] is so horrendous and why the international community can’t stand for it, and why we’re calling for military action.’ The next would be, ‘We’re always ready to sit down around a table and see if we can find another alternative.’ ”

But, Mr. Fenn adds, Obama has to make clear he’s got his eyes wide open in dealing with his adversaries, Syria and its patron Russia. Part of his message has to be, “We’re not going to be played by these guys,” Fenn says.


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