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September 9th, 2013
07:49 PM ET

Reporter: There's 'no constituency' for U.S. intervention in Syria

President Barack Obama has an enormous lift in front of him, and less than half the country behind him. A new CNN/ORC poll puts the president's approval rating at just 45%.

On the eve of an address to the nation, the president does not appear to have the political capital to sway the country on U.S. intervention in Syria. Only 9% of Republicans and 26% of Independents approve of how Obama is handling Syria. Obama needs Republicans and Independents behind him on this, he cannot do it with just Democrats.

"Most of the time, public opinion is a process, not an event. So the idea that you can just go with an oval office address, and some interviews with network anchors, and change public opinion in such a short amount of time, I just don't think it can happen," said CNN political contributor and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

"What he has to do in order to make some headway on Capitol Hill, which is the crucial audience right now, is he has to talk about having an integrated comprehensive strategy to change the situation on the ground. That is what has frustrated most people," said Madden.

"He's got to tell a story that helps people understand the context here, what's been going on in Syria," said Van Jones, co-host of CNN's Crossfire and former Obama White House official.

"At some point, you have got to face reality here. He is not likely to prevail in Congress," said Jones. "People in D.C. have to start thinking we can't have this vote (in the House or the Senate). Kick it down field 45 days, 90 days."

Inevitably there are going to be anti-war Democrats that vote against any military involvement, as well as some anti-war Republicans, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. But there is a vast majority willing to be convinced. Yet Obama has not made the sale yet.

"You still have a middle in this country and in the Congress that is theoretically willing to give the president support for military action," said CNN political analyst and New Yorker correspondent Ryan Lizza.

"Why has he lost the broad middle that should be in favor of action? He hasn't made the case of what this pin-prick strike would do. He hasn't made the argument of what it is we are defending, what is the national security interest here. An international norm is not something the American people often rally to go to war in favor of," said Lizza.

Jones says it is even worse, and points to former veterans Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, neither of whom support a U.S. strike.

Tulsi issued a statement Monday, saying, "As a soldier, I understand that before taking any military action, our nation must have a clear tactical objective, a realistic strategy, the necessary resources to execute that strategy-including the support of the American people-and an exit plan. The proposed military action against Syria fails to meet any of these criteria."

"So it's not just the sort of wild, anti-war left in the party – of which I might be a part – it's actually people right there in the center that are not with him," said Jones.

"There is no constituency for this war right now," said Lizza.

"The president from the very beginning has been lacking any clarity on the mission. He's lacked it in making the case with the American public and he's lacked it with Capitol Hill. What he has tomorrow night is an extraordinary opportunity to talk with just his voice. Directly to the American people, no filter," said Madden. "I do not think it's enough time because he hasn't engaged earlier on this. But it is an extraordinary opportunity."

Secretary of State John Kerry described the strike on Syria Monday as an "unbelievably small, limited kind of effort."

Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, a supporter of intervention, dinged Kerry on Twitter, writing, "that is unbelievably unhelpful."

The Obama administration is trying to thread this needle, saying the strike will effect change in Syria to win over the more interventionist types, and also saying it is not going to be that big a deal.

"He's trying to be half hawk and half dove, and that kind of bird doesn't fly in Washington, D.C.," said Jones.

"He's put in a situation where he's trying to figure out what to do and he's kind of taking the country with him on this walk. I think the walk around the White House has to stop. He's got to take a stand tomorrow and make his case," said Jones.

"There's a certain incoherence to the case. He wants to do something that will prevent Assad from using these weapons again. But to sell it to an anti-war base on both the left and right, he's saying we're not really going to war. He's got to fix that tomorrow," said Lizza.

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