Sheldon Adelson to President Obama: ‘I Would Be Willing to Help’ on Syria

In an exclusive interview, the billionaire GOP donor offers to help the White House whip the Syria vote”“if it’s wanted, and needed.

Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of The Las Vegas Sands Corporation speaks at news conference during the opening ceremony of Four Seasons Hotel in Cotai Strip in Macau, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008.
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Sept. 10, 2013, 5:17 a.m.

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.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4431) }}

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