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Obama agenda: Returning to the Syria debate

Amid the government shutdown the Syria story has been lost. But this New York Times article paints a dim picture of how the president and the administration handled the international crisis: “As Mr. Kerry held meetings in London with representatives of Syrian opposition groups on Tuesday in the hopes of reviving a proposed peace conference, the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough appeared dim. Mr. Assad’s position is stronger, and the rebellion has grown weaker, more fragmented and more dominated by Islamic radical factions. A close examination of how the Obama administration finds itself at this point — based on interviews with dozens of current and former members of the administration, foreign diplomats and Congressional officials — starts with a deeply ambivalent president who has presided over a far more contentious debate among his advisers than previously known. Those advisers reflected Mr. Obama’s own conflicting impulses on how to respond to the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring: whether to side with those battling authoritarian governments or to avoid the risk of becoming enmeshed in another messy war in the Middle East.”

That said, the Washington Post’s Max Fisher notes how the U.S.-Russia deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical-weapon stockpile is proceeding on schedule. “The effort to destroy Syria's chemical weapons is still in its early stages and could slow or fail outright, particularly if the violence in Syria harms one of the U.N. team members. But these first few weeks are a promising sign, an indication that this mission may actually be achievable. But it won't save Syria.”

On the topic of health care… Politico reports that White House officials are meeting with health-insurance executives today.

Kathleen Sebelius said on CNN that President Obama didn’t know about the health-care website’s problems before it launched. Sebelius, Vice President Biden, and Chelsea Clinton are slated to be at a forum in Boston Wednesday night.

AP: “As questions mount over the website’s failure, insider interviews and a review of technical specifications by The Associated Press found a mind-numbingly complex system put together by harried programmers who pushed out a final product that congressional investigators said was tested by the government and not private developers with more expertise.

NBC’s Maggie Fox: “Jeff Zients, who’s been named President Barack Obama’s next top economic adviser, will help clean up the jammed health insurance marketplaces, the administration said Tuesday. Zients, former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, won’t start his job as director of the National Economic Council until the end of the year, when Gene Sperling steps down. So he has a few months free to try and tidy up the logjammed health insurance exchanges.”

Ironically, as the conversation in Washington continues to be the bad launch of the website, the health-care law’s popularity is growing in another poll. Gallup finds that 45% approve, which is a 4-point increase from August, while 50% disapprove.

Somewhat to that point, National Journal notes the “level of hysteria” on the part of reporters, one likening the health-care rollout to Obama’s “Iraq war.” “From the story: We are currently three weeks into Obamacare's six-month open enrollment period and still the website has not been fixed. That's a far cry from a death sentence. Officials said Monday that they expected enrollment in October to be low, with a spike in December prior to benefits beginning in January, and another spike in March before the individual mandate kicks in. Young people, in particular, are expected to sign up closer to deadline, according to the administration's models. Those models aren't baseless. When Massachusetts rolled out a similar health insurance mandate in 2007, the biggest spike in enrollment came in the two months leading up to the time that people would be charged a penalty for not having coverage, according to Jon Kingsdale, who ran the state's health-benefit exchange at the time.”

For the first time, according to Gallup, a majority of Americans support legalizing pot -- by a 58%-39% margin. Gallup’s timeline line graph from 1969 to now is striking on this issue.

The Obamas attended parent-teacher conferences yesterday.