The best thing I can say about President Obama’s speech on Syria is that it was mercifully brief, clocking in at just over 15 minutes. I only missed an inning of the Red Sox-Rays game.
But his speech was awash in contradictions. On one hand, Syria’s use of chemical weapons is “a danger to our security”, but on the other hand Syria “does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military.” Obama added that “any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day.” In effect, Obama is telling us that while Syria is a danger to our security, but the danger is in line with threats we face elsewhere.
Obama tells us, “If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.” But minutes later, Obama states, “Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise, and our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force.”
Obama admonishes us not to “choose to look the other way” but then tells us he “would not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.” The NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo lasted less than three months while its campaign in Libya lasted scarcely two and a half months. So Obama says that we mustn’t look the other way provided that it’s not for a “prolonged” period. O.K., so Obama doesn’t like prolonged conflicts. But he argues that “even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.” Um, how about Israel? Didn’t Obama say Israel could defend itself with overwhelming force?
Obama has no idea how to win friends and influence people. He managed to alienate both the Right and the Left. With regard to conservatives, Obama said, “I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with the failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.” Could President Obama please tell me what is so “plainly just” about aiding al Qaeda? What is so plainly just about aiding an organization that 12 years ago tomorrow al Qaeda murdered 3,000 on our own soil? What is so plainly just about aiding an organization that one year ago tomorrow al Qaeda killed four Americans at our consulate in Benghazi?
And please don’t tell me about this “moderate opposition”. There is no moderation amongst al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamist entity.
President Obama mentioned the developments concerning a potential proposal by Russia to put Syria’s chemical weapons under monitoring in passing. He, of course, attributed these developments to America’s “credible military threat” and discussions he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week at the G-20 Summit. If Obama was already having these discussions with Putin then why did Russia have nothing to say about it until after Secretary of State Kerry’s press conference yesterday?
Whatever the origins of this diplomatic initiative, what is the sense in President Obama making the case for a military conflict with Syria he has no intention of fighting and the American public has no intention of supporting? While the Russian proposal is probably not worth the paper on which it will be written, wouldn’t it be prudent for Obama to pursue a diplomatic solution rather than bang the drums of war? Even if those drums are unbelievably small. This is the sort of speech that should be made only after President Obama has exhausted all other options.
President Obama may have spoken for only 15 minutes, but he spoke for 15 minutes too long. This was the wrong speech at the wrong time. In asking Congress to pause its vote on military action in Syria, President Obama should have put his speech on pause as well.