Obama, Advisers Go All Out to Make Syria Points

The president takes to TV, as does Syria’s Assad.

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President Obama is pulling out all the stops as he makes his final arguments for attacking the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad as punishment for allegedly using chemical weapons last month in Syria's ongoing civil war.

Obama has agreed to give interviews Monday to six television networks – ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, NBC and PBS – and is planning to meet with Senate Democrats Tuesday only hours before he delivers an address to the nation on Tuesday evening.

It's questionable how much impact this will have. "There's a bully pulpit but it doesn't work so readily any more," says presidential historian Robert Dallek. Dallek told me that the media are so fractured and social media such as Facebook and Twitter have gotten so important that blitzes in the traditional media don't reach nearly as many people as they used to. It's harder for a president to break through all the clutter and rise above the endless flow of information. "There's so much that the people are besieged with," Dallek says.

[READ: Obama Blitzes Press to Make Case for Syria]

But Obama and his advisers remain in a full-court press as the president seeks authorization from Congress for the military strikes. Surrogates including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, all former U.S. senators, are aggressively courting legislators and trying to persuade the public of the president's case.

In this Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, photo provided by CBS News, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough speaks on CBS's "Face the Nation" in Washington.
 

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough made the rounds of five TV talk shows Sunday. "This is not Iraq or Afghanistan," McDonough told CNN. "This is not Libya. This is not an extended air campaign. This is something that's targeted, limited and effective so as to underscore that [Assad] should not think that he can get away with this again."

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on Syria]

Videos of victims of the Aug. 21 chemical attack outside Damascus have been shown to members of Congress in classified briefings, giving them a look at the horrors of chemical warfare. The videos were eventually posted on the web site of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And Secretary of State Kerry announced Sunday that Saudi Arabia has decided to back a U.S.-led strike on Syria, although it's unclear exactly what the Saudis would do to support it.

Meanwhile, Assad gave his response. He told Charlie Rose of CBS that his forces didn't use chemical weapons last month and suggested that rebels were behind the attack. Assad also indicated that he would retaliate if Obama launched strikes against his regime.

Obama has been making his case for more than a week, and so far he hasn't been able to persuade a majority of Americans to support strikes in Syria, according to public opinion polls.

[READ: Obama Counting on Democratic Loyalty on Syria]

The Senate, controlled by Democrats, is expected to narrowly approve the use-of-force resolution being sought by Obama later this week, although approval is not assured. If it passes, the Republican-controlled House will take a vote, and so far prospects for passage there seem bleak.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.