The White House is attempting to straighten out what has become a muddled message out of the Obama administration on Syria.
Administration officials this week gave competing statements on the scope of a possible military intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, accused of using chemical weapons on its own people. On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said any American strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.” Yet later that night, the president touted the American military’s expansive capabilities, telling NBC News that “the U.S. does not do pinpricks. Our military is the greatest the world has ever known.”
Spokesman Jay Carney said the White House needed to make President Obama’s case more clear to the American public.
“We’re trying to make clear what we believe ought to happen,” Carney said on Morning Joe Tuesday. “I accept that we need to get out there and make the case and make clear why this is important and why there is a threat to the United States.”
Carney continued: “If we and the rest of the world say it’s OK for a dictator to gas his own people, to gas children in their bed, it’s a horrible thing. I think it’s important that adults, anyway, look at the videos, look at the evidence that’s out there of what happened in Syria on Aug. 21.”
After spending over a week of lobbying the international community, Congress, and the American public to support military action, President Obama’s message was further complicated Monday. In response to what appeared to be an off-hand comment from Kerry, Syrian officials said they would consider a diplomatic route for the conflict, and accepted an offer from the Russians to turn over the country’s stockpiles of chemical weapons.
Carney credited the U.S. for this.
“It is the credible threat of action by the United States that has brought about this potential diplomatic breakthrough,” he said.
Nicolle Wallace, Carney’s predecessor under George W. Bush, said she wanted the current spokesman to be straight with her.
“Do you understand why we all feel there’s a message problem?” Wallace asked.
“I understand that this is complicated business and that for most Americans—” Carney began.
“Wait let me just stop you, because that’s what you say when you think people are stupid,” Wallace interjected. “The public’s not stupid. We get complicated, we get nuanced and the actually people voted two times for a president who is nuanced on these issues, so he’s got a lot of running room there, but he’s been downright contradictory!”
Wallace joked that on Monday night senior staff compared notes and see who was most off-message: “My real question is were you drinking late at night to talk about whose principal was more off message?”