Obama Syria Speech Instant Reaction
I’ve been up since 3 am and drinking since 6 pm, so my reaction to a presidential war speech at 9 pm may not be the definitive word. Regardless, it did not move the needle, as best I can tell.
President Obama began with a point of agreement:
Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition and to shape a political settlement.
But I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On this, we are in absolute agreement. I’ve criticized his administration for fecklessness because he’s had Susan Rice and others out there issuing pious pronouncements we obviously had no intention of doing anything to back up but, fundamentally, the president’s policy instincts have been right.
The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening, men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.
The problem, of course, is that a whole lot more children have been killed by conventional means than through chemical weapons. By orders of magnitude.
Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 government that represent 98 percent of humanity.
The enforcement mechanism for which is the UN Security Council, not POTUS.
No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria.
Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible.
No, we don’t. But it’s a reasonable working assumption.
When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other day until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied.
The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.
False. There’s no conceivable logic through which Assad attacks the United States with chemical weapons.
Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.
As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.
If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.
You’ve heard of the Slippery Slope Fallacy? Because, this is an instance of it.
And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.
That’s just silly. Iran is going to obtain nuclear weapons, regardless. Indeed, attacking Assad would, if anything, further incentivize the ayatollahs to hurry up in achieving the security that comes with nuclear capability.
This is what’s at stake. And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. That’s my judgment as commander in chief.
Okay. . . .
But I’m also the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possessed the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress, and I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.
But Congress is likely to vote you down.
Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular. After all, I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them.
Other than the wars you’ve escalated and started, yes, sir.
Our troops are out of Iraq, our troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and I know Americans want all of us in Washington, especially me, to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home, putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class.
That’s right. Good night, sir.
It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.
Oh, sorry, thought you were done. Carry on, Mr. President.
First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.
My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.
That’s comforting, even as it avoids answering the question.
Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. Now, some members of Congress have said there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.
Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.
I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can makes Assad — or any other dictator — think twice before using chemical weapons.
Sir, forgive me, but that doesn’t make any sense.
Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation.
Umm, but about the previous question?
We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other — any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither 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, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.
Well, that’s a relief. Good night, sir. Glad we sorted that out.
Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights?
Sorry, sir, I didn’t realize there were more questions. But that’s certainly a good one. Don’t mind me.
It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But Al Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.
That’s a good point. Because Al Qaeda hasn’t shown any propensity towards criminality up to now. We wouldn’t want to give them any ideas.
The majority of the Syrian people, and the Syrian opposition we work with, just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.
So, wait a minute, we’re going to bring peace and freedom to Syria’s people? Because that’s going to be rather challenging, if you don’t mind my saying so.
Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force? As several people wrote to me, we should not be the world’s policemen.
Outstanding. Thank goodness for your correspondents, sir. And thank you for reading our letters. Good night, sir.
And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations, but chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.
Oh. So, no more sanctions and warnings, then?
However, over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs, in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitting that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.
And no chemical weapons use since then? Outstanding. Well played, sir. That reset with the Russians has really paid off! And I had my doubts about that. I won’t deny that now, sir, that you’ve had your moment of triumph.
It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, but this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.
I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.
That sounds like a plan to me. Good night, sir.
I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.
That will certainly teach them. Jolly good.
I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies — France and the United Kingdom — and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.
I’m somehow reminded of Monty Python but am somewhat confused by the role of the French. But never mind. At least there will be no war now.
We’ll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st, and we will continue to rally support from allies from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East, who agree on the need for action.
Ah, now I see where the French come in.
Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails.
So long as Congress declares war, right, sir? Because, after all, we’re the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.
And tonight I give thanks, again, to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.
So say we all. And no need to add to that list, right?
My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements; it has meant enforcing them.
Unless there’s a duly constituted international body charged by the treaty in question, yes.
And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with the failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.
So, you’re asking an ideology committed to the national interest to go to war—a war which you’ve just tabled in this very speech—in support of their opposite ideology?
To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.
But you’re also asking them to commit to actions—surely, sir, more than a pinprick, no doubt about it—that leaves the man who has killed 100,000 plus in power to continue killing more children, so long as he doesn’t use one particular type of weapon to do so?
Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress and those of you watching at home tonight to view those videos of the attack, and then ask, what kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?
So, this is war by YouTube? What of the other 99,000 dead? Are they okay?
Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideas and principles that we have cherished are challenged.”
That’s true! Except that we did precisely that for several years until we were directly attacked on December 7, 1941.
Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.
Forgive me for saying so, sir, but that’s complete and utter horseshit. None of those things are remotely true.
America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong, but when with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.
But it’s okay to use the death of these children to propagandize a war? Our children are in no way endangered by what has happened in Syria and you have offered no rationale at all for why they would be. Nor, indeed, have you offered a plan to protect even the children of Syria.
That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
Adding to the list of logical fallacies in this short speech, we have the non sequitur. What is it that makes America different and exceptional? What essential truth must we never lose sight of?