If there's a presidential lesson to be learned in September it's never draw a red line unless you're certain the nation sees red as well — and is standing with you.
At the moment, polls show President Barack Obama and the vast majority of Americans are standing sideways on the issue of a military strike against Syria. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center and USA Today in fact shows the number of adults opposed to Syrian air strikes is growing quickly — from 48 percent to 63 percent since the beginning of the month.
Meanwhile, those who support an attack in retaliation for the gassing of Syrian civilians has remained unchanged at about 28 percent.
The president will have an opportunity to win public — and Congressional — support tonight during his nationally televised address. (6 p.m. PST.) But he has his work cut out for him.
First, he needs to present clear and convincing evidence that not only were hundreds of innocent Syrian civilians gassed on Aug. 21 but that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, without a doubt, was directly behind the attack. Americans have been misled before and are understandably wary of claims that clear evidence exists but cannot be produced for security reasons. If Obama has any hope of building public support, he and Secretary of State John Kerry need to bring something more than “trust us.”
Second, the president needs to explain how America can launch a surgical strike that will achieve the dual objectives of punishing Assad for crossing the proverbial line in using chemical weapons without sucking the United States into another full-scale military confrontation in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, claims by Assad last weekend during a Charlie Rose interview that his regime was not to blame for the chemical weapons attack — and his warning that America should “expect everything” in the way of retaliatory action — has only fueled public uncertainty.