Last night President Obama delivered his prime time address concerning whether or not the United States would unilaterally attack the nation of Syria. The speech seemed to contradict itself at various points with the one clear takeaway that Obama wanted the vote in Congress for the authorization of military force to be delayed while Secretary of State Kerry worked with Russia in Switzerland to peacefully resolve the issue of chemical weapons use in Syria. The rest of the speech was as odd and muddled as the messaging of the administration had been in the preceding week.
Initially it seemed as though Obama wanted to focus attention on the humanitarian aspect of the Syrian civil war and alleged chemical weapons use:
The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. 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.
Fair enough but then the message drifted:
I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. That’s my judgment as commander in chief.
It is a matter of American national security? A government thousands of miles away – allegedly – uses chemical weapons in a civil war and it is a matter of America’s national security? OK, so you are commander in chief you see a national security threat – right or wrong – you therefore do what?
But I’m also the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possessed the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress.
So a national security threat, just not a serious one? Then the message changed again:
My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.
OK. To recap, it is now no longer about humanitarian concerns nor a threat to national security, but about enforcing international agreements.
Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world’s policeman.
America is not the world’s policeman, it just is the “anchor of global security” in charge of “enforcing” international agreements. In other words, it is in charge of policing the world but is not the world’s policeman. Right.
Whether anyone was buying what Obama was selling is an open question as the polls would indicate otherwise, but maybe he turned it all around last night. Nevertheless, he also conveniently left out America’s own involvement in using chemical weapons on Iran and claimed without reservation that Assad was responsible for the attack which is far from certain. Hopefully diplomacy will prevail.