Americans respond to Obama pitch for Syria strike
As President Barack Obama made the case Tuesday night for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, he addressed a public hardened by the lessons of past wars, murky on the details of the current crisis and fearful of what another conflict abroad would mean for America.
The Associated Press spoke with a sampling of viewers from around the country to gauge whether the president succeeded in nudging the opinion needle in favor of action, how rumblings of a diplomatic solution brokered by Russia are being received and what it would take to build greater support for a strike.
Few Americans considered Syria a likely target for U.S. intervention until the Obama administration started preparing two weeks ago for a military response to the desert nation government’s use of deadly chemical weapons on its people. While Obama worked hard to explain “why it matters and where we go from here,” many who tuned into his White House address said he faced a daunting – if impossible – job.
“It was a coherent speech about a convoluted problem,” Don Merry, 68, a retired middle-school math teacher from Denver, who watched the speech at McP’s Irish Pub, a popular hangout for active-duty and retired military in Coronado, Calif. “He didn’t score any points with me.”
BIG PULPIT, NO BULLYING:
In Atlanta, the Braves game was put on mute as patrons of Manuel’s Tavern turned toward a television broadcasting Obama’s speech. Some who listened said that while the president made a compelling argument, they were interested in seeing how Russian diplomacy efforts might pan out.
Wynne Patterson, a 38-year-old speech pathologist, said the images of children lying dead on cold hospital floors and Obama’s assurance that any engagement in Syria would be precise and short-lived were not enough to persuade her there would not be unintended consequences from more U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
“It just seems like every time we like stick our toe in those waters it’s protracted and messy and, you know, whatever outcome we think we wanted isn’t usually the outcome that happens,” Patterson said, adding that the situation reminded her of the discussions surrounding Afghanistan and Iraq a decade ago.
DOUBTING THE BENEFIT:
Despite the president’s efforts to persuade the American people they have a vested interest in Syria, that country’s problems nonetheless struck some viewers as remote and intractable.
“We can’t take care of poverty in West Virginia right now. We can’t take care of North America as a continent,” elementary school teacher Elizabeth Hall, 38, said after watching Obama’s remarks at a New Orleans restaurant. “The issues that are going on in that area, that sect of the world, they were there way before we were a country. They will continue to be there. They’ll be there after.”
IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
As the president spoke, three former Marines who served in Afghanistan were at McP’s in Coronado, holding their annual gathering to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Each year they meet in a different city — last year in Baltimore, this year in San Diego and next year in Omaha, Neb.
Brian Tammaro, a Republican who left the Marines as a gunnery sergeant, said it was “disgusting” that major powers haven’t intervened militarily in Syria already. But he is skeptical about both the value of limited airstrikes on Syria’s chemical weapon supply and Obama’s commitment not to put U.S. soldiers on the ground.
“You can’t say no ground troops, you can’t predict what’s going to happen (once airstrikes are launched),” said Tammaro, 41, of Washington, D.C.
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