Updated at 5;50 pm EDT
This is the stuff of which speechwriters are made:
West Wing, get me rewrite (Ben Rhodes).
President Barack Obama has reserved time on national television at 9 pm EDT tonight to make his case for a military strike against Syria, a case that he has been forcefully making in public forums here and abroad for a week and a half. Whatever the White House had ready for tonight, however, has been overtaken by dizzying events.
An off-the-cuff remark by a traveling secretary of state — which the administration is now casting as great diplomacy — has prompted Syria and Russia to conspire on the eve of Obama’s speech on a plan to relinquish chemical weapons whose mere existence Syria had denied until now, offering a seat-of-pants solution to the off-the-cuff remark the president made last year about Syria crossing a red line.
Senate leaders, who were preparing for a hard-fought vote on a Foreign Relations Committee resolution authorizing military force this week, now are working on an alternative: Setting benchmarks for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to make good on a hand-off of his chemical arsenal and waiting for a United Nations resolution acknowledging that Syria killed more than 1,400 of its own people with poisonous gas on Aug. 21. And they’ll delay their vote.
The president met privately with senators at the Capitol, where lawmakers say Obama asked them to delay the vote on the resolution offering time for a diplomatic solution to play out.
“I was sorry we had to do this while we were having lunch,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after lunch today. “A lot of appetites were stymied.”
Reid repeated the line that the White House and State Department have taken today: That the threat of military action is responsible for the apparent diplomatic opening for a resolution of the chemical conflict.
“The president’s credible threat has opened up the possibility that this goal can be met by diplomatic means,” said Reid (D-Nevada). But “we have to be sure that the credible threat of military action remains.”
And a lot of Democrats have been evoking the words of Ronald Reagan today: “Trust but verify.”
So the White House is reiterating the imperative of keeping pressure on Syria with a “credible threat” of military action if it doesn’t meet the obligation of a “verifiable” chemical stand-down.
All in the midst of dwindling American public support for any military strike — opposition mounting in the past week alone. All of which leaves the president with the challenge of pressing his case for the importance of U.S. military action while it appears that an albeit dubious diplomatic solution could be at hand.
All this in 15 minutes:
Obama’s #syria speech tonight will be just 15 minutes.
— mark seibel (@markseibel) September 10, 2013
Tonight’s surely is a speech with untold numbers of drafts.
While Obama is known to put his own pen to TelePrompTer, he relies heavily on Rhodes, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, on matters such as tonight’s address. Before enrolling in Obama for America, Rhodes served for years as an assistant to Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, at the Wilson Center, where he helped draft the report of the Iraq Study Group that Hamilton co-chaired and the recommendations of the 911/Commission. That Iraq report in December 2006 concluded that the situation there was “grave and deteriorating.” President George W. Bush’s response: A surge.
It’s no accident that Rhodes’ Twitter signature is a text-reviewing seat with the president aboard Air Force One. He is Rhodes44, voice of the 44th president on military matters.
Yesterday, Rhodes was channeling the words of the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who had some words about the need for action in Syria at an unrelated event at the White House.
— Ben Rhodes (@rhodes44) September 10, 2013
In Syria, the White House sees no choice but to hold Assad accountable for chemical weapons attacks. Yet Rhodes has been on record for some time on the possibility of diplomacy.
…”We are committed to a political solution which will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.”
— Ben Rhodes (@rhodes44) September 6, 2013
Rhodes will be calling out for coffee tonight.