The president began by giving background on the civil war in Syria, and what the US government has done. Interestingly, Obama pointed out how he has resisted the calls for military action. Obama talked about Assad’s use of chemical weapons and called the images, “sickening.” The president said that, “The civilized world has spent over a century trying to ban them.” The president laid out the evidence that Assad was behind the chemical weapons attack on August 21.
Video of the entire speech:
While making the case for strikes on Syria, Obama pointed out that he has spent four and half years trying to end war. The president directly answered several questions that have dominating the public debate on Syria. He promised that he will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. He said that he would not pursue open-ended strategy like in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that he would not engage in a prolonged bombing campaign like in Kosovo. The president said that the Assad regime does not have the capacity to threaten the US military. The president also said that Assad has no interest in escalation with the United States.
The president answered the question about an air strike strengthening al-Qaeda by arguing that terrorists will benefit more from an unstable Syria. The president walked the line by also speaking strongly about the role of diplomacy in resolving this.
President Obama then announced that he was asking Congress to postpone the Syria vote until the diplomatic track has been exhausted.
This speech was framed by the media as Barack Obama trying to sell the public on war, but what he really was doing was keeping the pressure on Syria while pushing forward on his diplomatic objective. The media questioned whether Obama could walk the line between discussing a military strike and diplomacy. The president did both with relative ease.
The reason why the president was able to make this argument is because he isn’t arguing for war. This isn’t about whether Obama convinced the American people. This is about Obama convincing Assad that his best course is to embrace the diplomatic solution.
The president laid the groundwork for a justification for military strikes, but he clearly explained the limits of such strikes. He also made the case for international intervention, but mostly, this speech was guided by the president’s desire for a diplomatic solution. It was a brilliant balancing act.
Obama delivered, and delivered big tonight. The president may have been talking the talk on a military strike, but that was only to set the stage for diplomacy. Dictators like Assad aren’t going to engage in diplomacy unless they feel it is their only choice.
The president’s speech tonight was a masterful display of how the Commander in Chief can use his powers effectively without taking the nation to war.