Obama fails to make the case for military intervention in Syria

Barack Obama

TL;DR version: President Obama gave a speech last night rehashing the same arguments made for military strikes against Syria. He delivered the speech well, but failed to present a compelling case for intervention, specifically saying several times that Bashar al-Assad isn’t a threat to the United States. Even as he made a specious case for intervention, Obama said that he asked Congress to postpone a vote, making it a mostly pointless speech.

In a televised address last night, President Barack Obama took his case for military intervention in Syria directly to the American people, stating that Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law and is a threat to the United States’ interests in the region.

President Obama started off by offering background on the civil war that has ravaged the Middle Eastern country, noting that more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced by the conflict.

“I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Obama. “The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children.”

President Obama emphasized the treaty banning use of chemical weapons, which the United States Senate ratified in 1997. Syria, however, is one of five countries that hasn’t approved the treaty, though they now say they will.

“No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria,” noted President Obama. “Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible,” explaining that the Syrian troops prepared for the attack and reviewed the results in its aftermath.

“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them,” claimed President Obama. “Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.”

President Obama said that Syria’s civil war could spill over into other countries, potentially threatening American allies, such as Israel, Jordan, and Turkey. He also warned failing to act could embolden Iran, which is hostile American interests in the region.

“This is not a world we should accept. This is what’s at stake,” President Obama told the American people. “And that is why, after careful deliberation, 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,” he said, “to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.”

In one of the most peculiar statements of the speech, President Obama noted that he is the “president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.” But he once again claimed that he “possess[es] the authority to order military strikes” against Syria, a statement that is completely out of step with both the Constitution and War Power Resolution.

He also noted that he went to Congress because he believed doing so “was right in the absence of a direct or imminent threat,” a statement that contradicts his earlier claim that the a strike against Syria is in the national security interests of the United States.

President Obama then addressed some of the criticisms from members of Congress, including concerns that this will draw the United States into yet another war after a more than a decade of conflicts.

“My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo,” he declared. “This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”

There is simply no way that President Obama can make any such guarantee, and to do is incredibly naive. If his administration attack Syria, there is a very real possibility that Assad or his allies will retaliate against an American interest, which would draw us further into the conflict.

President insisted that Assad would get the message, even with the limited strikes that his administration has proposed. And he once again said that the Syrian regime “does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military.” He also said that he agrees that the United States is not the world’s policeman, despite military action being taken in Libya and drones strikes against Pakistan and Yemen.

President Obama spoke about the possible deal brokered by Russia, expressing optimism, though noting that he is still distrustful of the source. He later added that he has ordered the military to “maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails.”

In the end, the speech was pointless and confusing.

President Obama rehashed the same arguments that his administration has been making for weeks, just putting it in a different setting, while noting at the same time that he has asked Congress to postpone votes authorizing force. That’s a vote that he knows he’d lose, by the way, given mounting opposition to military strikes in both chambers.

The proposed military action wouldn’t end the devastating civil war in Syria. People will still be killed, by either Assad’s regime or the rebels fighting to depose him, and there is still no clear plan on what comes after the strikes should Assad decide to escalate. What’s more, President Obama failed to make a case that there is a compelling reason for the United States to intervene.

The speech was delivered well, but there won’t be many Americans swayed to support President Obama’s push for war.

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