Katie's already previewed the president's big week ahead, as a Congressional vote on intervening in Syria looms. According to NBC's whip count, things are looking dicey on Capitol Hill: As of this writing, 27 Senators are solid/lean "no" votes, 23 are committed or lean in favor of intervention, and 49 are undecided. In the House, the picture is bleaker for the administration. Fully 235 members are strong or likely "no's" at the moment, well past the requisite threshold (217) to defeat the resolution. Twenty-six House members support the resolution, or lean that way, with 172 undecided. The president aims to shift the momentum with a speech tomorrow night at 9pm ET. In the interim, however, the White House is botching politics 101, spurning and ignoring potential allies from across the aisle:
“I don’t even know who my White House liaison is,” a frustrated Representative Adam Kinzinger, who supports military action in Syria, said on This Week this morning. The Illinois Republican told George Stephanopoulos that his office reached out to the White House to help “round up support” for authorization last week. “I haven’t heard back from the White House yet — I haven’t heard back from anyone,” he said. Kinzinger praised President Obama’s assessment of this situation in Syria, but said the “trust deficit” with Congress will prevent it from passing.
Blowing off a young, conservative former fighter pilot as votes slip away? Smooth. Meanwhile, despite more than a week of salesmanship, the public remains unsold on a Syria strike. CNN's latest poll contains some interesting data:
(1) Overall, 59 percent of the public opposes Congress authorizing the use of military force, with 39 percent in support. Perhaps most alarming for the White House is that the question wording included all the caveats the president is likely to employ in his major address (no ground troops, limited action, chemical weapons used by Assad against civilians).
(2) Every political cohort polled opposes action...except for Democrats, who back the war 56/43 (nearly the exact reverse of the general populace's attitude). Political independents are driving the opposition (29/67 opposed). In a deeply ironic shift, backing an unpopular Middle Eastern war is becoming a litmus test of Obama *support* among Democrats.
(3) Even if Congress authorizes the strikes, a majority (43/55) would still oppose them. A massive 71 percent majority would oppose military action if Congress votes down the resolution. The White House has insisted that the president would still have the authority to override Congress and order the bombing anyway, though they've begun to suggest that he won't -- perhaps because of polls like this one.
(4) Eight-two percent of Americans believe it's likely or certain that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against civilians. So people are aware of Assad's atrocities, but still don't want to intervene. Why? A mere 26 percent of respondents say American strikes would effectively "achieve significant goals." Seventy-two percent say it won't. Almost as many have determined that an attack on Syria would not serve the US national interest.
How is the Obama administration brain trust responding to these concerns? Not well. Secretary of State John Kerry is vowing that any potential American action would be "unbelievably small." That's a verbatim quote. He's trying to build support for a war by promising that it won't really accomplish anything. How does this assertion jive with these reports? Plus, one wonders how that statement might impact the super-majority of Americans who don't believe an attack would "achieve significant goals" -- or, say, the military. Speaking of goals, here's how an unnamed US official describes the Obama administration's "objective" (I use the term loosely) in Syria. Again, this is not a parody:
The strike, as envisioned, would be limited in the number of targets and done within a day or two. It could be completed in one fell swoop with missiles, said one senior official familiar with the weapons involved. A smaller, follow-on strike could be launched if targets aren't sufficiently damaged. A second senior official, who has seen the most recent planning, offered this metaphor to describe such a strike: If Assad is eating Cheerios, we're going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he'll still be able to eat Cheerios. The two officers with current and recent service in the Middle East say the term "degrade" is so vague that it could be used to describe the effect of a single cruise missile strike.
The president already has a high bar to clear to rally support for his proposed action; his own team's stumbles have now raised the bar even higher, thanks to rank incompetence. Incidentally, here's another Kerry gaffe, which the State Department is trying to mop up. Smart power. I'll leave you with the Los Angeles Times laying waste to the White House's incoherent case for war in Syria:
The planned military strikes on Syria would be “targeted, limited” and wouldn’t seek to topple the government of President Bashar Assad or even force it to peace talks. They would also be punishing and “consequential” and would so scare Assad that he would never use chemical weapons again. U.S. airstrikes would change the momentum on the battlefield of the Syrian civil war. But the war will grind on, unchanged, perhaps for years. As administration officials lay out their case in favor of a punitive attack on Syria, they have been making all of these seemingly contradictory contentions, confusing supporters and providing rhetorical weapons to their opponents.
I'd add, "we don't need Congress' authorization, but it's also not a show vote" to the list of contradictions.
UPDATE - Pew has released a new poll showing opposition to military force spiking 15 points since last week. The administration's lobbying efforts are going swimmingly: