In a nearly 3,000-word article, the Wall Street Journal today takes readers inside what it calls "an extraordinary 24 days in international diplomacy," detailing what happened behind the scenes as the White House decided how to handle the Syrian chemical weapons crisis. Based on more than two dozen interviews with a raft of senior officials both in the US and abroad, the article says President Obama knew right away the chemical weapons attack was a "game changer," and by Aug. 24, five Navy destroyers, each with 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the ready, were positioned in the eastern Mediterranean. But by Aug. 28, it was clear the UK wouldn't support a strike, and Obama was talking through other options with Nancy Pelosi. Despite the fact that pressure was mounting for Obama to seek congressional authorization, by Aug. 30, the Navy destroyers were expecting orders to launch their missiles by the very next day. Pentagon officials even conducted a mock news conference to prepare for questions about the strike.
But that night Obama went on a walk with his chief of staff, then asked his top advisers about seeking congressional authorization. Most were surprised, and Obama decided on that course of action despite many of them expressing concerns. He caught congressional leaders off-guard when he phoned to give them a heads-up: Mitch McConnell, for example, was making a turkey sandwich at the time. An impasse soon became clear: The Senate might pass a resolution, but the House wouldn't. And then John Kerry made his "ad libbed" statement about Syria giving up its chemical weapons, and the Russia plan was born. When Sergei Lavrov called Kerry moments after the remark ("I'd like to talk to you about your initiative," he reportedly said), the Journal says Kerry responded by joking, "I don't know what you're talking about." Before Kerry's comment, the White House and the State Department were skeptical of working with the Russians, but hopeful lawmakers soon saw the deal as a way around the dreaded vote. Click for the Journal's full piece.