So what does Obama have to accomplish in tonight's speech? Before the Kerry-Lavrov plan, as I'm going to try to get people to call it, it was one thing. Actually, it was two things. One, explain clearly the consequences of not acting; try his best to make as many Americans as possible care at least a little bit about what it would mean for Assad to see the international community do nothing, for Iran and Hezbollah to see their regional ambitions face no American deterrence of any kind, for the al Qaeda–associated factions of the Syrian opposition to be able just to keep killing moderate rebels (the moderate rebels groups want U.S. military strikes, and the al Qaeda affiliates oppose them because they think U.S. strikes will help strengthen the moderate rebels). Two: make clear that every intervention isn't Iraq or Vietnam. Elevate Kosovo as the model here.
I'm not saying that making those two points as effectively as possible would change the poll numbers dramatically. They'd change them a little, but not enough for Obama's purposes.
But anyway, all that is kind of secondary now. Now the speech needs chiefly to promote Kerry-Lavrov in a way that reassures Americans and Democrats in both houses of Congress that a diplomatic solution to this crisis is at hand. There is going to be very shortly a Security Council resolution that will presumably spell out how this takeover and containment of Assad's CWs is going to work. He should explain that, to the extent possible. Tell people it's going to pass; Russia and China are on board.
Then: How will it work in practice? Who's going to watch over these stocks, when are they going to get to Syria, who's going to give them access, and what is the extent of the assurances about access? These are all things I'm going to want to know, anyway.
Then: What is he going to do if Syria reneges? Here, he has to hold out the option of force as a negotiating position. Remember all those times in his first term when liberals got mad at him because (it was said, sometimes accurately) that he gave away the store or half the store to Republicans before the negotiations even started? Well, he can't do that here. The way to keep Russia and China at the table is to make them suspect that there's still a chance you might walk away. Negotiating 101.
And he should tell us what the new resolution Congress is going to be voting on is going to say. I'm hearing lots of things right now and am not even going to try to keep up. Whatever I write at this moment will be old by the time I press publish. In sum there may be something that says "Syria has X days to consummate this, and if not, we go boom." X will be realistic, I'm told, giving them enough time to do it, so that Democrats don't get scared and can reasonably think that the deal will indeed avert military action, so they can feel semi-all right about voting yes.
Fascinating day. Going to a fascinating evening, too.