“We are going to be immediately talking to the Russians and looking for some actual language they might be proposing,” Obama said.
If Obama accepted a deal, the apparent diplomatic success would come at the cost of undermining his own goal of removing Assad from power, and of deterring future uses of chemical weapons.
“This kind of attack is a challenge to the world… the world has an obligation to make sure we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons,” he declared a week after Syria’s nerve-gas attack on civilians in a rebel-held neighborhood.
But the Putin plan could save Obama from self-imposed political disaster, which began in August 2012 when he announced that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line.” There’s little public support for enforcing Obama’s “red line,” so Putin, Assad and other warring groups can ignore Obama with modest risk.
Multiple polls show that roughly 60 percent of Americans oppose any strike, while only about 25 percent support a strike.
On Monday, Obama suggested that he will lose the congressional votes.
“I knew by bringing this to Congress that there was a risk that the American people, you know, just could not arrive at a consensus around even a limited strike,” Obama told NBC.
“I read polls like everybody else,” he said, just before admitting that he could not persuade his wife to back the attack.
To sway the polls, Obama’s team have been ramping up an emotional pitch to Americans.
“In recent days we’ve been shocked by videos… As a parent, I cannot look at those pictures, those little children laying on the ground, their eyes glassy, their bodies twitching, and not think of my own two kids,” his national security advisor, Susan Rice, said Monday at a speech at the New America Foundation.
People are killed by many types of weapons, but “this most recent tragedy is particularly gut-wrenching,” she said at the end of her midday speech.
“Children lined up in shrouds, their voices forever silenced, devastated mothers and fathers kissing their children goodbye… as if tucking them in for the last time,” said Rice.
This argument hasn’t moved the poll numbers, and on Tuesday, Obama admitted it had not changed the opinion of his own wife.