Obama’s full-court press on Syria: Confidence or desperation?

Pushing his case for a US military response to chemical weapons in Syria, President Obama will do six TV interviews Monday. Other senior administration officials are flooding the airwaves as well.

Chris Usher/CBS News/AP
White House Chief-of-Staff Denis McDonough speaks on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday. McDonough said that a "common-sense test" dictates the Syrian government is responsible for a chemical weapons attack that President Barack Obama says demands a U.S. military response.

On Syria and chemical weapons, President Obama has launched a full-court political press rarely seen in Washington.

Top administration officials are granting on-air interviews to every broadcast outlet this side of Dubuque. Secretary of State John Kerry is criss-crossing time zones and borders in search of support. Vice president Joe Biden is working the phones in Congress. We’ve been told that first pets Bo and Sunny are lobbying their friends at the dog park.

On Monday, the President himself will do six – count ‘em, six – TV interviews, hitting all major networks and cable news channels.

Meanwhile, a couple of administration veterans – former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former CIA director David Petraeus – have come out of political retirement to voice support for Obama’s plan to attack Syrian targets in response to Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against a dozen neighborhoods around Damascus.

If it seems a massive and unique effort, it’s because the stakes are so high – both for Obama and for US credibility in a region torn by political unrest and violent conflict.

Obama isn’t the only president taking his message on Syria to the airwaves.

On Sunday, President Assad sat down in Damascus with Charlie Rose of CBS. The network is teasing out bits of the conversation, which will be broadcast in full Monday night on "The Charlie Rose Show" on PBS.

"He does accept some of the responsibility" for the Aug. 21 attack that US officials say killed 1,429 people, including 426 children, Mr. Rose said.

"I asked that very question: 'Do you feel any remorse?' He said, 'Of course I do,' but it did not come in a way that was sort of deeply felt inside," Rose told Bob Schieffer, host of “Face the Nation.” "It was much more of a calm recitation of anybody who's a leader of a country would feel terrible about what's happened to its citizens."

"He had a message to the American people that it had not been a good experience for them to get involved in the Middle East in wars and conflicts … that the results had not been good," Rose said.

In a quick statement responding to the Assad interview, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said, "It doesn’t surprise us that someone who would kill thousands of his own people, including hundreds of children with poison gas, would also lie about it,"

That leaves it to Obama and his appointees to illustrate the horrific side of chemical weapons, which don’t discriminate between enemy combatants and civilians, between adults and children. And to make the case for attacking Syrian military targets, even if that’s without congressional authorization or any active allied participation.

That effort accelerated over the weekend with the leaking of gruesome videos showing Syrians who’d been gassed.

"I hope every member of Congress before he or she decides how to cast a vote will look at the videos,” White House Chief-of-Staff Denis McDonough told “Fox News Sunday.” “It´s unbelievably horrendous.”

On CBS's "Face the Nation" Mr. McDonough said that a "common-sense test" dictates the Syrian government is responsible for a chemical weapons attack that President Barack Obama says demands a US military response.

But McDonough also conceded that the administration lacks "irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence" that skeptical Americans, including lawmakers who will start voting on military action this week, are seeking.

"This is not a court of law. And intelligence does not work that way," he said.

Assuming that US intelligence – and the results of a United Nations investigation expected later this month – don’t show anything more concrete linking Assad directly to the chemical attack, McDonough’s statement could make Obama’s job tougher when he goes before the American people Tuesday night.

And before that, it doesn’t help with skeptical lawmakers, including many of the President’s fellow Democrats.

“Look, I’m a big supporter of Barack Obama,” Rep. Jim McGovern, (D) of Massachusetts, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But sometimes friends can disagree.”

“I’m very disappointed that the administration has given up – they have given up – on the United Nations and rallying the world,” Sen. Tom Udall, (D) of New Mexico, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The American people don’t want to be embroiled in a Middle Eastern civil war,” Sen. Udall said. “We haven’t exhausted all of our political, economic and diplomatic alternatives. That’s where I want to be focusing on.”

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