Barack Obama appeared on all three networks (as well as CNN and PBS) Monday night to try and salvage support for his planned strike against Syria. But it was World News anchor Diane Sawyer who appeared ready to preemptively credit the President with possibly solving the unraveling issue.
The host began the program by touting, "And moments ago, I sat down with President Obama who seemed to be signaling the tough stand by the U.S. may have caused a dictator to back down." [See video below. MP3 audio here.] Sawyer added, "If Bashar al-Assad yields control of his chemical weapons to international authority, are we back from the brink?" Both CBS and NBC offered tougher questions to the President, pressing Obama on lack of support from the American people.
On the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley flatly told the President, "The people aren't with you." Regarding proof of Syria's chemical weapons attack, the host pressed, "Mr. President, the administration has described evidence to the American people and the world, but it hasn't shown evidence. And I wonder, at this point, what are you willing to show? What are we going to see, in terms of the evidence that you say we have?"
On the NBC Nightly News, guest anchor Savannah Guthrie pushed Obama on the nature of the attack:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: You've said that these strikes, if they take place, will be limited. My question to you is, how could you possibly know that? If we strike and Assad retaliates, or Iran does, or Hezbollah, they strike U.S. interests, or even strike U.S. citizens at home, what then? You may want limited action, but can you really promise it?
Of the three evening newscasts, only Guthrie questioned Obama on a gaffe by John Kerry: "Today Secretary of State Kerry said the strikes would be 'unbelievably small.' What does that mean? I mean, are we talking a pin prick? A knockout blow? A punch in the gut?"
Sawyer and Pelley never bought the comment up. (Although John McCain did mention the remark in an interview on Tuesday's CBS This Morning.) ABC relegated the "unbelievably small" comment to an online article by Jon Karl.
Karl appeared along with Raddatz on Monday's World News. Echoing Sawyer's helpful spin for Obama, Raddatz rationalized, "But when you look at it, [Obama's] goal all along has been to deter any future chemical attacks in Syria. And if he can get some sort of break through here with Syria, they don't have to strike."
A transcript of the September 09 World News interview is below:
SAWYER: And a good evening to you as we come on the air tonight a big development in the U.S. military action in Syria. Is a deal now possible? Did the Russians persuade Assad to turn over his chemical weapons? Even Congress now putting on the brakes. And moments ago, I sat down with President Obama who seemed to be signaling the tough stand by the U.S. may have caused a dictator to back down. [To Obama.] If Bashar al-Assad yields control of his chemical weapons to international authority, are we back from the brink? Is military strike on pause?
OBAMA: Absolutely. If, in fact, that happened. I don't think that we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility of a military strike and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that. I want to make sure that that norm against use of chemical weapons is maintained. That's in our national security interest. If we can do that without a military strike, that's overwhelmingly my preference. And now the key is can we see with a sense of urgency–
SAWYER: Urgency meaning how long does he have to show this is real? A week? A month?
OBAMA: This is one of those situations where the stakes are high but they're long term. They're not immediate but they are serious. I don't anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or, you know, any time, you know, in the immediate future and so I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians, the Syrians to work with us to see if we can resolve this.
SAWYER: So, we are talking weeks?
OBAMA: I'm not going to put a particular time frame on. I think that we know what's at stake here. We know that the international community, even Assad's allies like Iran agree that chemical weapons use is abhorrent.
SAWYER: You still want Congress to vote authorization and you still reserve the right to strike if they say no?
OBAMA: Strikes may be less effective if I don't have congressional support and if the American people don't recognize why we're doing this. So I haven't made a final determination in terms of what next steps would be. My hope would be that I can persuade Congress that this is important. My hope is that I can persuade some of the American people that this is important. But ultimately I understand why a lot of Americans are resistant. I think the polls are clear. I read them. This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan. This is not Libya. The goal would be to degrade the capacity of Assad to carry out the specific chemical weapons attacks.
SAWYER: And Bashar al-Assad has said everything is possible in terms of retaliation.
BASHAR AL ASSAD: You should expect everything. You should expect everything.
SAWYER: Do you feel at this moment looking at everything that's possible that the American people should brace for retaliation?
OBAMA: No. Look, we take all precautions. But understand, Assad's capabilities are not significant compared to ours. They're significant compared to an opposition that are not professional fighters.
SAWYER: But they have allies. Iran, Hezbollah.
OBAMA: They're significant relative to 400 children that they gassed. They're not significant relative to us. Iran is not going to war with the United States over the use of weapons that they, themselves, object to. But I think it is important for us to understand that if, in fact, the choices between a world which dictators and other countries start believing it's acceptable to use chemical weapons on civilians and children, that will make it more dangerous for us. Our troops when they're in theater all having to wear gas masks because they don't know whether chemical weapons will be used. If they can resolve this without military that's my great preference. I would much rather talk about how we can provide early childhood education to our kids, create more jobs, and focus on all the things that I think the American people care deeply about. But my responsibility as commander in chief is to make sure I think about the long term safety and the use of chemical weapons threatens that in a significant way.
SAWYER: Thank you Mr. President.