President Barack Obama delivered one of the most crucial addresses of his presidency, seeking to convince an overwhelmingly skeptical public of the need to punish Syria militarily for alleged chemical weapons use while demonstrating a commitment to pursuing a surprise diplomatic opening to remove those stockpiles from the war-torn nation.
With many in Washington and on Main Street demanding clarity during fast-moving events, Obama had five questions to answer Tuesday night: Did he do it?
1. With diplomacy in play, why is military action necessary?
This was the most important question the president needed to tackle in his 15-minute, prime-time address.
In a major development, Syria has reportedly accepted a Russian proposal to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile to international control, but the details of what was actually agreed to are still murky.
The White House is skeptical, cautioning that it could be a stall tactic. But it said it would take a hard look, and it pledged to work with international partners to see what can be achieved.
Obama is dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday to meet with his Russian counterpart to see where the initiative may go.
Obama spent most of the speech laying out a chronology of events and pushing for military action on moral, political and strategic grounds, saying that previous efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict diplomatically had failed.
He painted a graphic picture of an August 21 attack that his administration says was carried out by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and killed more than 1,400 people.
"The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits -- a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war," he said.
He only brought up the Russian development later in the address, calling the offer an encouraging sign. But he warned that "it's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments."
He left open the possibility of diplomacy falling short, saying that he has ordered the military to maintain its posture in the region "to keep the pressure on Assad."
And he wrapped up by arguing that America must lead and that force was just in this case.
"America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional," he said.
He did, however, put on hold the domestic effort intended to approve a military strike. He asked Congress hold off on voting on the issue -- a vote he probably did not have majority support for.
Commentators said after the speech that most Americans probably understand the moral case, but they questioned whether Obama could ultimately sway public opinion to see things his way.
A CNN/IRC International initial poll of viewers of the speech found that 47% said Obama made a convincing case for action, compared with 50% who said he did not.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and staunch Obama supporter who is undecided about the Syria issue, praised him for "a very good job" but said his position remained unchanged.
"It was not a wasted speech," said Cummings, noting that his constituents are tired of war. "I thought he made a great moral argument."
2. Why should Americans worry about Syria?
Obama stressed again that the use of sarin gas in Syria was a moral abomination that Americans and the international community simply cannot tolerate.
But, simply put, Americans are sick of war.
In a CNN/ORC poll released Monday, six in 10 say the Iraq war was a mistake, and about half say the same thing about Afghanistan. Three-quarters say the United States is not the world's policeman.
Additionally, nearly seven in 10 say that it's not in the U.S. national interest to get involved in Syria's civil war. Moreover, 72%, say a U.S. airstrike would not achieve significant American goals.
Still, Obama laid out a strategic rationale for military force, saying that what happens in Syria could affect allies in the region, including Israel -- all in the U.S. interest, he said.