The following story by The Associated Press appeared in the September 11, 2013, edition of The Boston Globe and numerous other publications worldwide. Jeffrey Engel, an award-winning American history scholar and director of the Center for Presidential History at SMU, provided expertise for this story.
September 11, 2013
By JULIE PACE
AP White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama wasn’t just seeking Americans’ support for military action in Syria. He also was seeking their trust.
Whether he earned it will not only color his response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war but also his legacy as a world leader and the success of his broader second-term priorities.
With the majority of Americans against the use of force in Syria, Obama asked them Tuesday to have confidence in his judgment as commander in chief if he launches a strike despite their opposition. And he asked them to have faith that a president elected to end wars was still trying to find another way out, perhaps a diplomatic deal at the United Nations to secure Syria’s chemical weapons.
‘‘I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular,’’ Obama said in a prime-time address from the White House, adding that he has a ‘‘deeply held preference for peaceful solutions.’’
No matter the outcome of the Syria standoff, keeping the public’s faith is a daunting task for Obama at a time when he’s already fending off lame-duck status. With trust intact, Obama has space to maneuver on Syria and other issues. But should he lose the public’s confidence, Obama would find it more difficult to wield influence on the world stage, much less persuade Congress to pass immigration overhaul, rally support for budget issues or build backing for critical elements of his signature health care law.
Politicians of all stripes would have little incentive to follow a weak president if the public — the people who vote for lawmakers — don’t trust him.
‘‘The president does need the American public and the broader international community to trust his judgment on this issue, which he did not choose, in order to allow them to trust him on the issues he really does choose,’’ said Jeffrey Engel, the director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.
Read the full story.
Also see what other SMU experts say about the Syria situation.
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