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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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September 10th, 2013
07:53 PM ET

What will Obama say to sell his Syria plan?

President Barack Obama will address the nation Tuesday night. With the option in Syria changing so much in the last few days, Obama has a difficult task ahead.

He has to give some background to what has been happening, then he has to "make a moral case to the American people about why it's important to them," said former National Security Spokesman to the Obama administration Tommy Vietor.

Specifically, Obama has to convince Americans "why chemical weapons in Syria, why little kids being gassed in their sleep with chemical weapons is important, why that endangers U.S. troops, and why the credible threat of military force actually helps him reach a diplomatic solution to this problem," said Vietor.

Former Bush speechwriter and columnist with The Washington Post Michael Gerson wrote in his column, "The Obama administration has generally waged a war of words and then used those words casually and clumsily."

It will be tough for Obama to make his words count Tuesday night.

"It's a tough challenge here, because you're not asking for action, that's not going to happen, and you're not declaring victory, because this is a very distant prospect to have inspections in the middle of a civil war," said Gerson.

"He has to reestablish both his resolve here, not be so ambiguous and conflicted in his message, and hold out the possibility that things can get better through negotiations at the same time," said Gerson.

"I think this is an easy speech to write. It's a hard speech to sell," said CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, who has advised several White House administrations.

"The American people are hardened against use of force and their heads are spinning over the last 48 hours of the events. We're all going to be looking ... for resolve, but also for clarity," said Gergen.

The administration has sent mixed messages on Syria. Polls show American people believe that Assad gassed his own people, but they still oppose going to war, they still do not want military action.

"You have to convince them the chemical weapons convention, that our nonproliferation regime makes them more safe, makes our soldiers on the battlefield safer, and is important for global security," said Vietor. "You need to help them understand why, ironically, the threat of military force, a credible one, helps you get to a diplomatic outcome that doesn't involve force."

But the Russia proposal to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons looks suspiciously familiar, says Gergen.

"We have been down this road before with Saddam Hussein. He agreed to let U.N. inspectors come in and look at weapons of mass destruction, and what happened? It took years. He obstructed, he lied, he threatened, and we didn't know if for several years whether he had gotten rid of his chemical weapons," said Gergen. "We're not going to know in a week whether this is a firm deal."

It is also dangerous to emphasize chemical weapons, said Gerson. The U.S. has strategic interests in the region, a rivalry with Iran, and regional chaos spilling over to neighbors.

"We have humanitarian nightmares that have nothing to do with chemical weapons. You can't accept the moral hazard to say, you kill 1,400 people with chemical weapons, it's okay to use bombing of Scud missiles on neighborhoods," said Gerson.

"The president is going to have to broaden a little bit here and say it's not just a chemical weapons treaty. We still have interests in this region that we have to effect. That's a difficult challenge because the options are so poor," said Gerson.

Obama has likely lost the support of Congress, he did not convince many other countries to back the U.S. at the G20 summit, and Americans are strongly opposed to intervention.

"He is entering this argument from a position of rhetorical weakness," said Gerson.

"This is a remarkably difficult policy to talk about, because the last person in the country that wants a war in Syria is Barack Obama. But he needs that ... credible threat of force to get to a diplomatic outcome," said Vietor.

Obama said Tuesday that he wants to put off the vote in Congress until after he works through the diplomatic side.

"The hard thing tonight, is to move the needle of public opinion far enough that Congress will actually give him that vote in a positive way, two weeks or three weeks down the road," said Gergen.

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