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. Gary Phillips

    I hope that people will finally realize that being a community organizer doesn't automatically qualify you to be leader of a police state like the U.S.A.

    September 10, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  2. Michael

    It is interesting to see a Nobel Peace Prize winner to become a war salesman.

    September 10, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  3. Dink_Winkerson

    Normally I am not into speeches that interrupt my prime time. However this one should be interesting.

    September 10, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  4. Tell the Truth

    It's official – he's lost it!........Deranged..........Downright dangerous!

    September 10, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  5. jj

    didnt russia come up with a diplomatic solution? what does a strike do? please listen to the american peol.

    September 10, 2013 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  6. FromMyColdDeadFingers

    What a floundering clown! Putin is playing our chump of a president like a wooden marionette.

    Does anyone honestly believe the Assad regime will ever turn over all their chemical weapon stockpiles, in a systematic, verifiable way? In the middle of a brutal Civil War? Does anyone honestly believe Obama will ever find the political backing to strike Syria, NOW? After he's dithered and wavered and waffled, AGAIN?

    This last about-face and subsequent delay effectively guarantees that Obama will NEVER get the votes to strike Syria. Nor should he, with the American public opposed at better than 4-1.
    What a bumbling, incompetent fool! He's allowed freakin Vladimir PUTIN to maneuver himself into being the defender of peace, the most indispensable leader at the UN. Nobly preventing another sandpoundingly stupid war, where we have no national interest at stake, nor even a definable mission with concrete, achievable objectives.

    Putin gets to claim he's protecting world stability, while standing up to Al Qaeda, as the wide-eyed pacifist in the Whitehouse comes off as the slavering American warmonger, backing terrorists who’d gleefully convert or kill every human being alive, in order to create their world-wide Caliphate.

    Ole KGB Vlad just crushed any chance for American action in Syria, now and forever, administering yet another political btch-slap to Obama on the world stage. He’s working our Nobel Peace Prize prez like a rented mule.

    It would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragic to the future of free peoples everywhere.

    What an incredible mess!

    September 10, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  7. mirageseekr

    • Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Russian plan has "given the president a victory" of course they are all going to say how wonderful and thoughtful Barry handled this. Just remember who got us into it and remember where your representatives stood on the issue.

    September 10, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  8. noWar

    Which ever way you spin it, we the American people do not want another war.

    September 10, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  9. jay

    Way harder to push your agenda on to the world stage then it is at home there Mr. President. You sure have been laser focused on this Syria debacle then on domestic issues or finding those who killed our people in Benghazi

    September 10, 2013 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  10. blutopie

    Obama has done a GREAT SERVICE to the US by taking the US military OUT OF THE HANDS OF ISRAEL AND AIPAC

    Modern AIPAC is dead – as Bret Stephens frets about today in the Wall Street Journal:

    ‘In the meantime, Republicans should ponder what their own political posturing on Syria might mean for the future. When a Republican president, faced with a Democratic House, feels compelled to take action against some other rogue regime, will they rue their past insistence on congressional approval?’

    Boo hoo – with Israel and her Neocons no longer capable of bum rushing the US into war with Iran – because it would be overwhelmingly refused by the American people and US House (like this strike on Syria) – AIPAC’s raison d’etre for the last 10 yrs has been destroyed

    Is too much to say that the American Constitution has come to the rescue of the Republic, in the most clearest sense possible, that Israel and AIPAC will no longer be able to dictate our wars because they will have to go thru the American people and US House, first?

    Has Obama, perhaps even half unwittingly, made another Cheney-Neocon bum rush of the US into a war with Iraq or Iran impossible? What a wonderful world....

    September 10, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  11. blakenaustin

    The president is revealing himself to be more and more of a fool with each passing day. What positive outcome will come out of a limited military engagement. This is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt for Obama to save face. The man is shameless and does not have the best interests of the U.S. in view. He should be removed from public office.

    September 10, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  12. Conscience of a Conservative

    You only get to make one first impression. Lost ball high weeds at this point.

    September 10, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  13. Fubarack

    The speechwriters would have to be magicians to save that loon.

    September 10, 2013 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  14. boungiorno

    game over, you undermined people, and they alienated you left you to fend for yourself and its a cruel cruel world

    September 10, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  15. Bryan

    There is a huge hole in the bill circulating through congress. I know so many people that will disagree with me when they read what I have to say, but hear me out. It's a rational argument.

    The bill prevents boots on the ground. I understand why that clause Is there. It's to limit the scope of military action and it is at least in part because of the I-words (forgive me Republicans for bringing up Iraq and suggesting it may have actually weakened our ability to react moving forward).

    The problem with no boots on the ground is Syria actually HAS WMD. The Syrian chemical stockpile is there because it is the "poor man's" response to the nuclear weapons other countries in the region have. And that being the case it's an "open secret." Deterents don't work unless everone knows about them. I know this runs counter to the Iraq WMD argument. So with the Chemical weapons there you would need forces in place to secure them. Why? Because they are terrible things and there are plenty of "wrong hands" for them to fall into in that part of the world. Start throwing American bombs at Syria and who knows what will happen.

    Enter Russia with a proposal to secure those WMD. Why would they promote this idea? Consult you world Atlas and you'll not Russia isn't too far removef from the mid east. And hence the plan to bomb Syria and predumably scatter a huge chemical arsenal to the wind by throwing on American air power while by law preventing the US to secure any of those nasties concern them. I would surmise the idea of a giant stockpile of poison gas circulating freely amongst militant groups in the near vacinity scares Russia a bit. And it should concern the US too. So I think you have a mtual interest here. And I'm going to argue that mutual interest is actually the result of a very short-sighted congressional comittee that figured they could somehow limit the outcome by preventing any "boots on the ground".

    September 10, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  16. Name

    America has lost it's humanity. Real kids gassed y real chemicals and were whining and using Bush and Iraq as an excuse to sit on our hands.

    September 10, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  17. Innocent

    No more wars.

    September 10, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  18. Gurgyl

    Syria better not play with USA. Needle in the hay stack got caught and gotten killed and dumped in Arabian ocean. Better be amicable. Watch out. Obama is not Bush.

    September 10, 2013 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  19. TheTraveler

    Just 'fess up, admit to being a bit wrong and move on Mr. President. Americans don't want to be involved militarily in Syria. There is absolutely no reason to be. It's not about chemical weapons, humanitarian issues, or saving face. Let the Russians broker a deal and get it settled. Americans are simply tired of wars. We worn out, we're struggling with a shaky economy and we're still paying off the LAST war a gung-ho president got us into. Trying to sell us a war we don't want is like teaching a pig to dance; it's a waste of time for the teacher, and it just annoys the pig.

    September 10, 2013 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  20. mike

    Obama is a pure coward, he refuses to make well defined decisions and does his best to always BLAME OTHERS.

    September 10, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  21. johnG

    It doesn't matter what Obama says.Stay out of Syria.Why is it always the U.S..The U.S, isn't the world police,even thou they act like it sometimes.

    September 10, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  22. mike

    here – I can write his speech right now:

    "present! God bless the USA. good night."

    September 10, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  23. TJ

    The people of the United States have spoken for you (those same ones who voted you into office), we do not want military action. No need for speeches or an appeal to Congress.

    September 10, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  24. what's up

    Putin is stepping on obama like he is a door mat. Hilarious!

    September 10, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  25. CNeder

    This is nothing less than a desperate attempt by the Chief global agitator to feel relevant.

    September 10, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
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