Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who spent tens of millions of dollars trying to defeat President Obama last year, has a message for the White House: Call me.
In an interview with National Journal, Adelson said he stands behind the White House's push for American military action against the Syrian government. Perhaps as important, Adelson said he's ready, if asked, to roll up his sleeves and help Obama—the "commander in chief," as he repeatedly referred to him—corral the needed votes in Congress for a strike.
"He is our commander in chief, whether we like what he says politically or not," Adelson said late Monday evening.
The 80-year-old, one of the most influential GOP moneymen in the nation, is no Obama apologist. He's still the financier who, along with his wife, spent nearly $100 million trying to defeat Democratic candidates, Obama chief among them, last year. But he is also a pro-Israel hawk who said America's standing in the world is at stake in the showdown with Syria over chemical weapons.
"I would be willing to help out the administration, because I believe it's the right thing to do. He is our only—we don't have any other commander in chief," he said.
The comments are Adelson's first public remarks on the Syria situation, although the Republican Jewish Coalition, an advocacy group that he chairs, came out in support of a Syria strike last week. His offer of a helping hand came as Russia floated a diplomatic solution in which Damascus would cede its chemical weapons to avoid a strike, something Obama called a potential "breakthrough" on Monday.
For Adelson, Israel has long been a defining issue (he owns Israel's biggest-circulation paper). He said he worries about missiles, and chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah. And he sees the potential that America might back down after Obama drew a "red line" against use of chemical weapons in Syria as poor precedent, in the Middle East and beyond. "I wouldn't want to see North Korea come down and trample on South Korea because they think they can do it with impunity. And the same thing with Iran and Israel, and Iran and Europe," he said.
And so Adelson said it's time for Republicans to line up behind Obama, however they feel about him personally. "Whether we care or not about whether he loses credibility is not the issue," he said. "The issue is whether or not the United States of America loses credibility."
Adelson extended his olive branch—even if it comes with a thorn or two—as the White House is struggling to round up support in Congress. Democrats are defecting, and Republicans are unifying in opposition. On Monday, top administration officials delivered classified briefings to Congress, as Obama blitzed a half-dozen television networks with interviews. He follows up Tuesday with a national address from the Oval Office. More lawmakers have been coming out in opposition anyway.
"I wouldn't say I'm confident," Obama told NBC News on Monday of the vote-gathering efforts.
The Russian offer to have Syria forfeit its chemical arsenal—which the Syrian government said Tuesday it would accept—could avert the need to gather votes for military action (although administration sources were already reportedly expressing some skepticism about the potential deal).
But if the White House does reach out to Adelson—"I'm hoping if they see my comments that support them in your publication," he says—it would make for the most unusual marriage of political convenience. This, after all, is the man Democrats set out to make the biggest GOP bogeyman in American politics last year, casting him as the unmatched symbol of a warped campaign finance system.
Adelson doesn't seem to care: "America has to back up their commander in chief."
"Would I have set the red line? Probably not. Would I hope that he didn't set the red line? Maybe," Adelson added. "But the fact is, he did. He set it for our country…. I love our country. I'm a patriot; I'm a citizen; I'm a veteran. And so I'd like to do what is in the best interests of our country."
Though Adelson is among the most feared and influential donors in Republican politics, it's not clear how many votes he could actually move.
"Listen, I'm not qualified to turn this thing around. I mean I don't have that kind of clout," he said. "I might be able to call up a handful of friends, a couple handfuls of friends, and say, 'This is the right thing to do, why don't you support him.' "
Adelson isn't selling a Syria strike as a panacea. "It's a two-edged sword," he said of jumping into a Syrian civil war that pits the government forces backing dictatorial leader Bashar al-Assad against rebels who have ties to terrorist networks. But he said that chemical attacks launched by Assad were nonetheless across the line.
"I come down on gas not being used," Adelson said. "Jewish people have a history of gas killing off their people, and although it was done in a different way, I don't want anybody to be killed, particularly innocent people, women and children, older people. Somebody goes out and carries a rifle and starts shooting, they're fair game. But innocents shouldn't be targeted."
It sounds very much like the case that Obama and his administration have been making in speeches and interviews around the world
"Although we have political differences—and we may have a lot of them—what's good for the country is clear to me and it's unmistakable," Adelson said.
And today that means backing the man he spent so much money trying to defeat.