Obama plans Syria TV address, hints he may not strike

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

President Barack Barack Obama will address the nation Tuesday as he tries to reverse popular and congressional opposition to a strike in Syria.

He also suggested that he might fail to persuade Americans to support a strike.

“It is conceivable at the end of the day I’m not going to be able to persuade a majority of the American people,” he told reporters at a Friday morning press conference held in St Petersburg, Russia. “I knew this was going to be a heavy lift,” he said.

But congressional legislators are still required to do “the right thing,” even in the face of public opposition, he said.

He also declined to say what he would do if Congress rejected the authorization. “I’m not going to play parlor games,” he told a reporter.

But he did not say that he would strike Syria’s military even if Congress decline to give it authorization, and suggested he would consider non-military options to stop the future use of chemical weapons.

“If there are good ideas that are worth pursuing, I’m open to them,” he said.

“My goal is to maintain the international norm banning the use of chemical weapons… I want people to understand that gassing innocent people, you know, [that delivering chemical weapons against children, is not something we do.”

Obama suggested that the public is opposed to a strike because it is tired or war, and reluctant to get involved in far-away places.

“Our polling operations are pretty good, I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current popular opinion is,” he said, adding that Americans are worried that any strike could lead to a greater role in the bloody and confusing Syrian civil war.

“People are struggling with jobs and bills to pay. They don’t want their sons and daughters put in harms war [and that] these entanglements far away are dangerous and difficult,” he said.

Americans are worried about “a slippery slope,” he said.

“We can have a response that is limited and proportional… but that is meaningful, that degrades Assad’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons,” and that also deters future use of chemical weapons, especially against children, he said.

“Any hint” of an extended war raises public concerns after “a decade of war, with enormous sacrifice of blood and treasure,” he said.

On Saturday, Obama announced he would seek congress’ approval for a strike, after he and his deputies strongly hinted they would launch a quick strike to punish Syria’s government for launching a Aug. 21. nerve gas attack on a rebel-held neighborhood.

That nerve gas attack killed roughly 1,400 people, including 400 children, White House officials say.

Polls show the public generally opposes an involvement in the complex and brutal Syrian civil war. Swing voters are especially opposed, and phone calls to legislators from politically active people are overwhelmingly against the strike.

The measure will likely pass in the Senate, but seems set to fail in the House.

A third of House legislators have announced their opposition, while only a tenth of of the legislators have announced their support. Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders are pushing their members to support the planned strike.

“I expected this. This is hard. I was under no illusions when I embarked on this path,” he insisted Friday.

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