The Washington Times - September 11, 2013, 08:48AM

Michael V. Hayden, a Air Force four-star general who once led the National Security Agency and the CIA, said Wednesday that President Obama gave the best speech he could “under the circumstances” late Tuesday, as the White House tries to find a way to balance the threat of military action in Syria with daylight for a diplomatic solution that strips President Bashar Assad of his chemical weapons.

“It’s not the speech he intended to give. … You can still see the remnants of the first speech laying out the case for action fairly forcefully,” the general told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday.

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Ideally, he said, the president would have used the threat of military action to ramp up pressure on the Syrian government to seal a diplomatic deal.

“But he can’t because he doesn’t have the votes,” Mr. Hayden said of Congress’ reluctance to authorize force. “He wouldn’t be able to get it, so he had to back off.”

Mr. Hayden said if the world could pull off a diplomatic solution, it may have the benefit of eliminating chemical weapons in Syria if Mr. Assad falls. 

However, he said, the Assad regime might not be punished for the Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus that killed about 1,400 civilians.

The general used an extended sports metaphor to outline the situation.

He said Mr. Obama, the quarterback, is huddling with his offensive linemen after he lost control of the game. 

Then, he said, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plays the role of field judge by poking his head into the huddle and saying, “We’re breaking to a TV timeout.”