The president departed Russia Friday night, bound for Washington where he also faces tough going in rallying support for military action, including from fellow Democrats. Force-authorization resolutions face an uncertain future in Congress, and a significant segment of the American public opposes a strike.
In addition to Obama’s Tuesday night speech, administration officials scheduled new classified briefings for lawmakers and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough was making the rounds on all five Sunday talk shows.
The president admitted his campaign may not succeed.
“It’s conceivable at the end of the day I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “And then each member of Congress is going to have to decide.”
The options facing the U.S. and the international community are neither convenient nor appetizing, Obama said. But he appealed for action on moral grounds, citing U.S. estimates that the chemical weapons attack killed more than 1,400 people, including 426 children. Other estimates are somewhat lower.
“There are times where we have to make hard choices if we’re going to stand up for the things that we care about,” he said. “And I believe that this is one of those times.”
Two recent polls show Americans oppose airstrikes, with a Pew Research Center survey showing 48 percent opposed to 29 percent in favor and a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing 59 percent opposed and 36 in support. Both surveys were taken over the recent Labor Day holiday weekend as the U.S. released its assessment of whether the Syrian government used chemical weapons and Obama announced he would seek congressional approval.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the public sentiment might be different if Americans could see the evidence from the chemical weapons attack, including the convulsions and other side effects of the nerve gases.