Obama would’ve been better off not giving the Syria speech

Despite taking his case for intervention in Syria directly to the American people on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama has been unable to sway their elected representatives in Washington. Votes continue to pile up against a potential authorization of force should a diplomatic solution fail, largely because of the confused, contradictory case the White House continues to present.

President Obama insisted that intervention against Syria was in our nation interest, even though he once again said that Bashar al-Assad’s regime didn’t represent a threat to the United States. He all but said that Assad’s government used chemical weapons against its own people, even though the Obama Administration can’t prove who ordered the attack.

And while he claimed that strikes would be a deterrent against future use of chemical weapons, President Obama didn’t present any plan for what happens should the situation in Syria escalate. The speech was basically a glorified summary of everything that has been said since the end of August, with the added detail that there may now be a diplomatic solution.

Writing earlier this week at the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza wondered whether President Obama should have just canceled the speech given that the situation had evolved, thanks to a diplomatic solution presented by Russia:

by the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around, it had become quite clear that events had outrun Obama’s plan. Congressional opposition to Obama’s use-of-force resolution was on the verge on becoming overwhelming. The Russians were pushing a diplomatic solution that would require Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, a proposal of uncertain fate as Obama’s speech time approached.

The speech Obama imagined last Friday simply was not adequate for the changing circumstances. And yet, Obama didn’t feel comfortable enough making a new argument for the right way forward in Syria — or he simply didn’t have a new argument to make.

Given that, should he have simply canceled the speech — noting that the situation was too fluid at the moment and that he would address the country when he could offer more definitive guidance on what would (and should) come next.

Cillizza noted that the White House has defended the speech as a chance to reach out to Americans who are outside of the political class. The problem is that the message was confusing.

To sum up his speech, President Obama basically said, “Hey, guys, this is why we need to go to war. It’s in our interest, even though Syria isn’t really a threat to us. But that totes doesn’t matter. Because, you know, war.”

And then, with what was a curveball to Americans, he said, “But we gotta at least listen to this diplomatic solution, because God knows we didn’t try hard enough for a peaceful resolution on our own. But should that fail, even though Syria isn’t a threat, we’re going to war!”

Polls only a show a slight uptick in the numbers for military force, which can attributed to President Obama’s ability to deliver a speech. But the vast majority of Americans believe that a diplomatic solution is the best course for the United States.

And let’s not forget that the non-political class ultimately doesn’t control the narrative, as much as the White House is trying to deflect on that point. Yes, they’re opinion matters, but they’re much less intense about the issues. The political class rightly believes that President Obama has mishandled the situation in Syria, presenting a laughably weak posture on the international scene.

In other words, the speech was pointless. President Obama failed to significantly move the needle. The post-speech bump will be gone in a few days, if it isn’t already. Moreover, the whole situation has proved to be an embarrassment for his administration, as Russia was successfully able to portray itself as a peacemaker.

Congrats, Mr. President, you’ve done a bang up job.


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