President Barack Obama can’t convince his own wife that the United States should punish Syria’s dictator for poisoning more than 1,000 men, women and children.
“If you ask Michelle, ‘Do we do we want to be involved in another war?’ The answer is no,” he told a NBC interviewer Monday afternoon, just a few days after declaring that the nation’s security depended on a firm response to Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad’s alleged chemical weapon attack on a Damascus suburb last month.
Obama’s confession of weakness is not likely to help him win his life-or-death standoff with Assad, who has rallied his troops in a brutal war against murderous al-Qaida affiliated jihadis and prisoner-killing “moderate” rebels. In the male-dominated Middle East, women are widely regarded as weak, have a minimal role in politics, and are expected to be dominated by their husbands and fathers.
It also won’t help Obama face down Syria’s chief ally, Russian president Vladimir Putin. Putin is a former KGB secret-police agent who divorced his wife of 30 years in June. The couple had two children, and the marriage was reportedly strained by Putin’s affairs with several women.
Obama has already failed to persuade a majority of his political allies in Congress to back the strike plan. He has had even less success in persuading skeptical Republicans to trust his determination and judgement.
In the NBC interview, Obama also sent more signals to Putin and Assad that he may fold if Congress won’t back his plan.
“It’s my belief that for me, the president, to act without consensus in a situation where there’s not a direct, imminent threat to the homeland or our interests around the world, that that’s not the kind of precedent I want to set,” he said.
Obama also underlined his own reluctance to continue the high-stakes clash by welcoming a Monday proposal from Putin that would cancel the planned U.S. strike in exchange for placing Syria’s chemical-weapons under international supervision to prevent their further use.
“I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way,” Obama told a Fox News interviewer on Monday.
“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.