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. are122

    He should just tell a bunch of Jay Leno jokes.

    September 10, 2013 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    "Peeps, I 'jumped the gun' at first, but realized through common sense and public opinion that diplomacy is always the best method before war! :-)

    We're going to bolster the UN to manage world-wide humanitarian crises such as these in the future. We'll streamline the process so major priorities can be addressed in a timely & organized fashion. We will have a better plan for actions such as these in the future. Thanks for your enduring patience. Bless you all and goodnight." – A Cool President

    September 10, 2013 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  3. glenview0818

    I say lets smoke them, I am sick and tired of monsters killing innocent people, I stand behind our president, not Putin on this issue.

    September 10, 2013 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  4. Namepaaul n Michael

    Well Mr. Obama is doing the best he can any way.Shera big? Did he do it an dus he have the guitar to say to the UN lets call a stop to the war an go to Truelove as in UN court ..pnm..

    September 10, 2013 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  5. K.f

    Deaf congress and Obama, my husband is a soldier in the Unites States Army, I'm not about to lose my husband to try to "solve" another countrys problems. No one asked for our help. No one wants to help us if we go in. Everyone d to not intervene. What's at stake is the United States cizitzens and their families. You lack in judgement. We are all trying to stand together and tell you that we don't want to go to war. Your not gonna call this a "war". Of course not. Stop trying to be all high and mighty. Obama this is the most ridiculous thing in the world. You may not put boots in Syria but you will put boots outside of Syria right next to them. Our job is not to take out anyone that is not dangerous to us right now.

    September 10, 2013 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  6. K.f

    *No one wants to help us do this. Get the hint.

    September 10, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  7. just saying

    obama doesn't have speech writers. he has a room full of pathalogical liars that concoct this nonsense. they are devoid from reality as is obama. they take the american people for fools since they were foolish enough to put this clown in the white house for 8 years. they think they can make it up as they go and just keep shoveling this bs to the american people every day.

    September 10, 2013 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  8. ValleyMuse

    You know, most think a master's degree in fiction writing is right up there with basket weaving.
    Not so for Ben Rhodes! He started as Obama's right arm as senator and now ... Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting.

    Yep, degree in fiction writing.

    September 11, 2013 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  9. Evergreen

    It has been said before and now I am beginning to belive that the media is more interested in creating controversy rather than reporting.

    September 11, 2013 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  10. Data Driven

    "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."

    And here's where I disagree with the President. "Enforce" our values? Yeah, that always works. Rather, let's HELP enforce the WORLD'S values, preferably not at gunpoint - values such as never permitting governments to gas their own people, as laid out in the Geneva, and other, Conventions.

    September 11, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
1 2 3 4