President Obama has been "maddeningly tentative" in his handling of the Syria situation, and one big reason for that is the lack of public support in the US, writes Jonathan Tepperman in the New York Times. One week-old poll shows that just 29% of Americans are in favor of airstrikes. But—as the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Libya have taught us—it is possible for the administration to get the public to come around. (Approval ratings for the Kosovo campaign, for example, jumped 22 points between beginning and end.) Tepperman reviews those recent conflicts and draws lessons from them:
- Obama must get Congress and international allies on board. In the case of the Gulf War, getting Congress to back the plan reassured the public. NATO authorized the Kosovo campaign and the UN supported the Libya campaign—support that acted as a reassuring "second opinion" for Americans.
- He clearly and loudly must make the case. "The president needs to sell, sell, and sell," Tepperman writes. George HW Bush did this perfectly by focusing not on "Kuwait’s territorial integrity" but on the price of oil. Obama must "explain in blunt terms why Syria’s civil war and the use of chemical weapons there matters ... [and] make US objectives and strategy clear. And then he should repeat his case loudly and often."
- Keep the campaign short and cheap ... and hope it's successful. "Americans really like winning," and the fact that the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Libya ended with America on the victor's side in a relatively short amount of time is "perhaps the biggest reason the public changed its mind."
Click for Tepperman's full column
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