September 10th, 2013
07:41 PM ET
11 months ago

Obama’s Syria address a speechwriter’s tall order

Washington (CNN) – The hardest job in Washington today belongs to President Barack Obama’s speechwriters - they have to craft an address calling for a vote in Congress that Obama may or may not abide by, over a military strike the president may or may not need, for a war he’s said he prefers not to wage.

So how do you make that one sing?

The Obama administration hasn't been clear in describing what they want the military action to be.

Over the last days various administration officials have described the mission as “a shot across the bow” designed to “send a pretty strong signal." Obama said it was an effort to “deter the regime from using chemical weapons and degrade their ability to do so again” but “not aim to topple Assad.”

Of the strike itself, Secretary of State John Kerry said it will be “unbelievably small” but the president says it’s “not a pinprick." Kerry later agreed with his boss, saying, "We don't do pinpricks."

To date the president has defined the threat more clearly than the mission.

Still he wants wavering, worried, and downright hostile members of Congress to take a tough vote. But he won’t say he’ll abide by that vote – he’s still undecided. And until now he’s hardly been shy about hiding his disdain for the legislative branch. He recently described one group of congressional Republicans as politicians organizing efforts that will “be sticking it to you.” He told a crowd in Binghamton, New York, less than three weeks ago that congressional Republicans are “less interested in actual governing” than in “scoring political points."

Tonight, he’ll be asking for their vote as a means to pose a threat to the Assad regime to boot.

The latest wrinkle: The diplomatic development.

Kerry, who has been out ahead of the president on rhetoric, pulled a Joe Biden and appeared to get ahead of Obama on policy, too. After Kerry threw out the suggestion that Assad turn over his chemical weapons, the Russians and Syrians bit, and now Washington is locked into a period of negotiating to see if this is even feasible.

While the Obama administration tries to “trust but verify” the President has asked to put the Senate vote on hold because of what he called a “potential breakthrough” but what the rest of Washington is calling an escape hatch or fire exit.

If you’re not sure why the president’s still giving a speech asking for a strike against Syria, you’re not alone. Administration officials explain that’s because the threat to use force is essential.

As the President told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “It's unlikely that we would have arrived at that point where there were even public statements like that without a credible military threat to deal with the chemical weapons use inside of Syria.”

So what could possibly say to bring it all together?

It goes back to something he said in the Rose Garden two weekends ago when he unexpectedly announced he was turning to Congress for its authority - “It’s about who we are as a country.”

In other words, he’s making the case that America should be prepared to use military might to enforce our values halfway around the world.

At the G20 Summit he put it this way: “That’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy…. the question for the American people is, is that a responsibility that we’re willing to bear?”

To Congress - including many who have for years accused him of apologizing for America’s actions rather than projecting American power - somehow the president has become the leading voice for American exceptionalism.


Filed under: Obama address • President Obama • Syria
soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. oldpatriot

    Mr Peace President, perhaps you could actually deliver on the promise of peace you have made so many times.

    September 10, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  2. Tomwe

    Interesting before the Prez's talk tonight, CNN people are shown walking around on a map of Syria. Isn't throwing shoes a sign of contempt or diserespect to Arab people, or showing the bottom of your feet to someone? Wonder how the walking on Syria CNN segment is playing with Arab Americans?

    September 10, 2013 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  3. God

    "Do unto others as you would that others do unto you"

    September 10, 2013 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  4. MJ

    'May or may not abide by'??

    Since when is our Constitution optional?

    September 10, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  5. voice of r3ason

    So Russia and the "international community" take over the chemical weapons. This was after Obama declined to visit Putin... claiming nothing constructive would come from such a visit.

    Russia ships Syria all the arms they want including some nice shiny new planes. The result will be far more carnage than the gas attacks.

    Putin outsmarted Obama and has a win-win situation. Meanwhile, life is really bad if you're a Christian in Syria.

    September 10, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  6. EF

    Striking Syria would be a very serious mistake.
    Why can't this country for once, mind their own business.

    September 10, 2013 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  7. unknown soldier

    No one wants this war. The only ones that are going to benefit are the ones that will make money. Obama you are all alone on this. Sing it how you will, you are a liar supporting a lying administration. The American public no longer believes anything that rolls out of your forked tongue mouth. Sell your snake oil to Saudi Arabi and stay there.

    September 10, 2013 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  8. Abbey

    The expectation level is so low for tonight. I hope Obama realizes that this is not another debate with Romney.

    September 10, 2013 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  9. scrappyike

    "an address calling for a vote in Congress that Obama may or may not abide by, over a military strike the president may or may not need, for a war he’s said he prefers not to wage."

    A firm description of his presidency or in one word description......senseless

    September 10, 2013 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  10. Cuthbert Allgood

    Has any President ever been as much of a disappointment as Obama? Such high hopes, dashed to the ground. This Syria thing is particularly clown-like. *sigh*

    September 10, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  11. Tony

    Nobel Peace Prize?? It is sad when Putin is doing more to prevent this was then Obama. On 9/11 we are going too side with Al Queda 12 years later?? Abandon all Hope :(

    September 10, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  12. Joe Texan

    Great job President Obama. Another Arab dictator without chemical weapons. I'm sure Asaad watched carefully when you bombed Quadafi and when Bush bombed the Butcher of Bagdad. All the Muslim leaders now fear us and know we are not bluffing. And it's good we are not trying to know Asaad out of power because the rebels are Muslim lunatic fanatics. Just make sure they don't get their hands on chemical weapons they could use in New York.

    September 10, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  13. Pepou27

    I say, Putin is a brilliant politician who could teach ours a great deal .... Its all politics in case we wonder ....

    September 10, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    I will not be listening to this speech; the head lines stating speech writers sell this or that already turns me off. I am tired of being sold. Rather, it would be refreshing, but not available from this administration, to hear the truth. So, I will not be listening to yet another scam. I will read and research, and consider and then make up my own mind.

    September 10, 2013 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  15. John

    I would not be able to live with the guilt even his speech writers do. Trying to sell an illegal and senseless war is terrible. I wonder if 4 years ago those speech writers would have thought they would be trying to talk Americans into helping the same al-Qaeda terrorists that took the lives of Americans in NYC, Afghanistan, and Iraq years ago? This is truly a sad time for our country.

    September 10, 2013 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  16. Cool

    It's going down tonight!.... President Obama rocking the speech!

    September 10, 2013 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  17. Steve

    Speechwriters??? Can't Obumbo actually talk to the people without someone 'pulling' his strings??? It's ALL an ILLUSION !!!

    September 10, 2013 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  18. Rick

    Give it up Mr. President. Let's try the peaceful route for a change.

    September 10, 2013 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  19. CGDoc

    Very hard to write double-talk.

    September 10, 2013 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  20. Justin

    08 Obama is not the same as 2013 Obama

    September 10, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  21. Lila

    My hope is that congress doesnt approve this, nothing is ever simple when it comes to intruding in other countries, and we cant afford another 10 years of war.

    September 10, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  22. jim

    You mean a tall order for the teleprompter that shows the speech that the Empty Suit then reads.

    Lord knows it's not a tall order for the president. He checked out long ago.

    September 10, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  23. DocAZ

    His whole career has been a tall order for speechwriters............he certainly can't stand on his own record. I would be willing to bet that he either tries to take credit for what is happening, or he attacks anyway. Look at what he has done with drones in other countries already.

    September 10, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    Let's see what the Jesuit controlled administration feeds us tonight.

    September 10, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  25. Proudoregonfather

    How can the article say "...a war he doesn't want." when he is clamoring for it like a toddler grasping for an out-of-reach cookie?

    September 10, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
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