Obama Lays Everything on the Line for Syria

Tuesday's address on Syria has consequences for Obama's entire agenda.


Tuesday’s address on Syria has consequences for Obama's entire agenda.

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If there's a case to be made to convince the skeptical American public – and therefore Congress – to support an interventionist military strike in Syria, President Barack Obama will have to find a way to make it Tuesday when he addresses the nation or face a debilitating political loss.

[POLL: Proposed Syria Strike Least Popular Military Action in 20 Years]

So far, the self-proclaimed "war weary" commander in chief has failed to make a compelling case to people other than top congressional leaders and those serving on committees, granting them access to classified intelligence and footage of the carnage left by the reported chemical weapons attack perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"The Republicans, it took them two years to sell Iraq and he wants to sell this in two weeks? Given the specter of Iraq?" says Ford O'Connell, a Republican political strategist. "It's highly unlikely and he's going to need one heck of a sales pitch."

Obama test drove a few lines of argument during his news conference at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia Friday – likening the Syrian situation to that of the genocide in Rwanda, where the U.S. turned a blind eye as millions were massacred.

"People decry international inaction in Rwanda and say how terrible it is… and they always look to the United States," he said. "Then if the international community turns around when we're saying 'It's time to take some responsibility' and says, 'Well, hold on a second, we're not sure' - that erodes our ability to maintain the kind of norms that we're looking at."

Obama also emphasized the lives lost in the alleged chemical attack.

[PHOTOS: Alleged Gas Attack Kills Dozens in Syria]

"You know, over 1,400 people were gassed, over 400 of them were children," he said, taking a long pause for effect. "This is not something we've fabricated. This is not something that we are using as an excuse for military action."

Leonard Steinhorn, a public communications professor at American University, says if Obama hopes to lift support for his proposal for intervention, he's got to stop making the legal case and start making the human case.

"He's got to stop talking about enforcement and rules and using legalistic terms," he says. "He has to appeal to the conscience of the country that likes to see itself on the side of justice, on the side of doing right."

Obama's turn in the public eye may represent one of the most important of his presidency, as a full plate of issues – including the budget, immigration and more – await action in the fall. By making a full-throated pitch for action in Syria, where just 36 percent of the public supports his position, the president is setting himself up for failure on other fronts by gambling all his political capital.

"What's he's doing is making this about U.S. prestige by taking up to the level of a presidential address before the nation," says Ron Bonjean, a GOP political consultant. "The challenge for him is that it backfires, this is going to be really impactful upon his legacy and it's going to really hurt his legislative agenda going into the fall."

[READ: U.S. Has Lost Tactical Advantage in Syria, Experts Say]

But Bonjean says playing to Americans emotions will be the best chance the president has.

"He's going to have to basically show pictures of little kids who are dying due to Sarin gas poisoning to say we have to do something about this," he says. "He has to get emotional and get to their heartstrings because right now it's really unconvincing."

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