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The Multifaceted President

As Violence in Syria Escalates, White House Narrative of Obama as Peacemaker, Risk Taker Is Tricky Sell

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

It’s a tale of two presidents — the ice-cold killer who orders drone attacks against a secret “kill list” of targets as young as 17, and the peacemaker winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and resisting calls to start new ones.

The White House has worked hard in recent weeks to show both sides of President Barack Obama as it tries to sell his work to end the wars of the past decade while ramping up efforts to take on terrorists. The narrative aims to boost Obama’s foreign policy credentials and serves to counter Republican criticism that Obama is weak on Syria and Iran.

First with a media blitz surrounding the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, and again Tuesday with a story in the New York Times about the president’s “kill list” of terrorists, the White House has pushed a narrative of the president as a commander in chief willing to take risks to protect Americans from terror attacks.

The article came just as the White House was taking more flak from Republicans, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, for what they characterize as Obama’s dovish approach on the ongoing violence in Syria.

But the president continues to reject calls to arm rebels or take military action, despite a massacre in Houla, Syria, over the weekend that left scores of women and children dead.

“Military action is always an option,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. “You never, and we haven’t in this case, removed options from the table.”

But Obama clearly doesn’t want to use them.

“We do not believe that militarization, further militarization of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action. We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage,” Carney said.

A minor victory came this weekend when, for the first time since the Syrian regime began targeting civilians, Russia and China joined the rest of the U.N. Security Council in condemning the massacre.

The United States and allies expelled Syrian diplomats in response to the massacre, and the administration is still in talks with the Security Council, including Russia, a Syrian ally that could be crucial to helping end the conflict. The White House supports the peace efforts of U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan but has no trust that Syria’s government will abide by any plan.

Romney welcomed the expulsion of the diplomats Tuesday but said more assertive measures are needed to end Bashar al-Assad’s reign.

“President Obama’s lack of leadership has resulted in a policy of paralysis that has watched Assad slaughter 10,000 individuals,” Romney said in a statement calling on the administration to pressure Russia and arm the rebels.

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