Belmont Club

The Speech

The running transcript of Obama’s case for his Syrian strike from the Washington Post is here. Here are some reactions from Twitter.

EXCELLENT SPEECH by President #OBAMA on the #SYRIA situation. We have an amazing incredible president.

Obama looks good during this speech, man this is history he’s making. Again.

Obama says he’s wants a “targeted military strike” to keep the fires in Syria from spreading and prevent humanity from being trampled upon.

If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.

This is not a world we should accept. This is what’s at stake. 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, 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.

He neglects to mention that elsewhere he has promised to supply arms to the “rebels”. And it will be Congress’ fault if they don’t let him do it — both supply arms to the rebels or strike at Assad for overstepping his Red Line. And so he humbly lays the problems facing him on the steps of the legislative temple. Though he does it, he reminds them, simply to humor them as he doesn’t have to. “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.”

He takes up this heavy burden despite the fact that his hands have been tied by the Bush legacy, “now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular”. He asks Congress for their opinion though he doesn’t need to ask them. It is a heavy stone he takes up, but it is in his nature to do the right thing.  Nevertheless he reassures listeners, there will be no ground action, no prolonged air action yet it will not be a “pinprick”. But just as he never says whether he’d abide by Congress’ decision or not, neither he explain just when a pin does more than prick.

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. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.

Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.

In other words he’s back to where he was before the Putin deal was offered, though he hasn’t quite forgotten it. He places it on the lectern before the end of the speech.

However, over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, but this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.

And because he hasn’t decided whether to do the strikelike or the peaceful thing, he wants it both ways at once. “I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin” — not to forbid the action even though he does not acknowledge it can be forbidden.

Obama is turning his blunder into another power grab. He doesn’t know whether he will order the steak or the lobster. How about the waiter brings him both? He wants the blank check and surely Congress would not be so churlish as to deny him that. You’ve got to give it to him. Obama never lets a crisis go to waste. Its someone elses’s fault if he can’t defend his Red Line, which he only drew to send a Message. He ends his oration with an appeal to American exceptionalism.

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. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

What is exceptional is his effrontery. Stripped of its soaring phrases it comes to this: sign the check, bub.   The essential truth is not so slippery as the man who’s said nothing and asked for everything. In other news we learn from Sharyl Attkisson that John Kerry has refused to allow Congress to question Benghazi survivors; a reminder that there is in this administration a vagueness amounting to a method. Nowhere in the speech do we learn what side in Syria he hopes will prevail. He assures his listeners that he will not strike down Assad, but who he will raise up remains as much a mystery as Benghazi.

In the end nothing has changed. He’s placing the onus on Congress without acknowledging its authority for a military act that isn’t war, in pursuit of a goal he doesn’t explain, over a duration that is not short but not long, which will be no more than pinprick but less, one assumes, than a shaving cut, to install no knows who and which in the end Obama may decide not undertake at all.

Buy this used car and you will deserve it.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe