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.