09/08/2013 10:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : Can Obama Sway Libs Loathing Iraq or Cons Loathing Him?

By Mark Green

Tuesday night Obama bets his presidency for a third time (auto bailout, OBL raid). Will war-weary liberals really reject his pledge that Syria's not Iraq? Will hawks who supported an invasion over rumored WMD now oppose a one-time attack when it was actually used? Is there a majority pony to be found in this mess? Reagan & Matalin doubt it.


Calling President Houdini. It'll be an enormous challenge for Obama to unlock the liberal-libertarian coalition against attacking Assad. In an ideological scramble, so far the odd Grayson-Paul coalition is outvoting McCain-Franken. The final result depends on how the congress and country answer these questions after his prime time address: Will inaction now give Assad and other dictators/terrorists a green light on WMD next time? Are there plausible alternatives to this use of force? Will Democrats believe their man when he says that he's no Cheney when it comes to intelligence and mission creep? Do most in the GOP care more about hurting Obama than Assad?

On Syria & Sarin.

Since so many view our possible attack on Syria through the lens of Iraq, is today's moment like or unlike Iraq? Ron thinks it dissimilar to that invasion and occupation, "Libya being a closer parallel." Mary quickly re-defends the U. S. attack on Iraq before acknowledging that, yes, "these things are not in a vacuum" and the most recent instance of military involvement informs this one. (While admitting no mistakes still, even Donald Rumsfeld on CNN agreed that the intelligence failures pre-invasion make it harder for Obama.) There's also a split on whether Obama should have gone to Congress. Ron argues that he should have given the language of the Constitution while Mary blasts away at the president's halting performance: "he's in over his head and shouldn't have drawn his red line...he's talking too much and acting too little."

As for whether America should try to "deter and degrade" Syria's ability to again use chemical weapons, the two agree that someone else should take action; they talk up the UN and Arab League. That's nice but pretty theoretical, right? Ron admits that Putin and China refuse to allow the UN to respond and the Arab League hasn't and won't. Mary then challenges the world's distinction between conventional and chemical warfare: "how is gassing your own people any worse or better than killing Coptic Christians in Egypt." She's referred to the 1925 Geneva Convention and a near universal agreement that while war is ugly, there need to be rules and norms against WMD, which Hitler didn't use in WWII.

Realistically, can Obama move either public opinion or Members Tuesday night? Our liberal and libertarian panelists - reflecting the Grayson-Paul alliance on the Hill - think not. "This is an example of the country versus Washington," says Mary. On the one hand, an Obama loss will "kneecap his presidency but he'd have done it to himself"; on the other hand, Ron thinks that "if he should prevail, he'd be a stronger president."

Host: The ironies are plentiful: here we have Obama who won the nomination and election in no small part by opposing "dumb wars" suffering from public cynicism because his predecessor misled the country into a "dumb war"; here's John McCain in an Oval Office he thought should be his agreeing through clenched teeth to support Obama's retaliation; here's John Kerry who led the anti-war movement being chided by Code Pink women holding up symbolically bloody hands.

And then there are many hawks, like a John Bolton who never met a military conflict he couldn't escalate, now saying he'd vote no as Obama requests a lot short of an invasion and 10 year occupation.

Will Obama launch an attack even if he loses both chambers or if he wins a Senate vote but not a House one? Indeed, is there any precedent for such an occurrence? Leadership sometimes is doing what's unpopular - like Truman insisting on the Marshall Plan or Clinton bailing out the peso and rescuing Mexico's economy. Conservatives this week want it both ways: kvetching when Obama "leads from behind" as in Libya OR when he leads from the front as in Syria.

For the best cases for and against, see Ambassador Power and Ralph Nader: and

On the Fed-State Conflict over Pot. AG Holder last month informed the 93 U. S. Attorneys that they need not prosecute people for possession or use of marijuana in the two states that have legalized recreational use of the drug by voter referenda (Washington & Colorado) or those 18 states that allow medical marijuana. We hear Gov.Chris Christie argue that "recreational use of marijuana won't be legal in New Jersey, not while I'm governor."

First, Ron laughs off Christie's stern declaration: "There's plenty of recreational use of marijuana now in New Jersey Governor!" Then: consensus alert! Reflecting national trends and polls, our panelists agree that its use should be a local decision, like gambling, and that it should be legalized, regulated and taxed. Says Ron, "it' a cash crop that'd generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues." Adds Mary, "this is common sense conservatism," also noting that the depopulation of prison population after drug-related overcrowding in California -- so long as selling hard drugs is still illegal -- is not a bad deal.

QTs: Do corps have a right to practice religion? Will Alec make it at MSNBC?

Two Courts of Appeals have split on a controversy of first impression, i.e., since corporations currently have some free speech protection, can they also "exercise religion" by refusing to provide contraceptive services to employees under Obamacare because it violates their religious beliefs? Again, consensus. Though the two differ on abortion, the law is the law and while humans have certain religious protections, inanimate creations of the state like corporations exist to make a profit, not to practice religion. "Come on!" says non-lawyer Reagan, appreciating that politicians, not Bishops, make law binding on all.

Then there Alec Baldwin, who this month had a baby and got a 10 pm Friday night show on MSNBC. Is this a good move for the pugnacious actor and the progressive cable channel? Again reflecting the program's momentary embodiment of "One Side Now," Ron and Mary concur that Alec's smarts and charm make him a good choice. But like battle plans that don't survive their first encounter, there's no way to know if he'll succeed at this until he does it. Mary thoughtfully hopes that his show will be more about him than his politics "(hate the sin, love the sinner" she says about her liberal bud Alec).

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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