Michelle Obama Weighs In on Syria

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama (Joe Burbank/Getty Images)

(The Root) — On Tuesday night, President Obama delivered one of the most important policy addresses of his presidency. Citing the horrors of the Holocaust and other human rights tragedies, the president laid out the case for why he has proposed military intervention in Syria.

At the moment, military action now seems unlikely. After Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid military action by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week," diplomacy has eclipsed military action as the most likely resolution to this international standoff. On Tuesday, Syria's foreign minister agreed that the country would declare and discontinue its chemical weapons, leading the president to say in his address that he has "asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path."


As President Obama grapples with the greatest foreign policy dilemma of his second term, he has turned to one of his most trusted White House sources for advice. In an interview with NBC's Savannah Guthrie, the president revealed that first lady Michelle Obama had strong opinions about Syria, specifically whether or not the president should follow through with threats to commence military action in response to that regime's use of chemical weapons.

The president said, "And if you ask somebody, if you ask Michelle, 'Do we want to be involved in another war?' The answer is no. People are wary about it, understandably. They have seen the consequences of this last decade. They think in terms of blood and treasure it has not been worth it. It's not what they expected when they signed on to the Iraq War back in 2003."


The president's reference to his wife is significant. He has previously cited his family as playing a key role in shaping his major policy decisions, most notably in his reversal on the issue of same-sex marriage. At the time he explained his evolution on the issue as follows: 

You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we're talking about their friends and their parents, and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently. It doesn't make sense to them, and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.


Of the first lady's specific position on the issue, he said this:

This is something that, you know, we've talked about over the years, and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people, and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.


Some first ladies have faced criticism for inserting themselves too prominently into their spouse's policy work. Hillary Clinton was roundly criticized for her attempts to spearhead universal health care nearly two decades before President Obama would successfully do so.

But in many ways the Obama family has helped humanize the president when it comes to making a tough policy case to the American people. Even in the case of Syria, in which the first lady's position seemed to be at odds with his own, the president, by acknowledging her difference of opinion, conveyed that he takes seriously those who may disagree with his proposed course of action.


Although Obama has endured extensive criticism for the lack of gender diversity in his Cabinet this term, it should never be forgotten that one of his most influential advisers in the White House is, in fact, a woman. 

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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