Obama's Syria Speech Wowed No One

Reactions pour in, and most are not good

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 11, 2013 7:39 AM CDT | Updated Sep 11, 2013 8:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – President Obama's Syria speech last night was only 15 minutes long, but it "will be analyzed for a LOT longer than that," writes Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post. But—because Congress isn't onboard with a strike on Syria and we don't yet know how Russia's plan to get Syria's chemical weapons will turn out—"there really wasn't much definitive the president could say," Cillizza writes. "And, he didn't. This was a holding pattern speech." It was also an "odd" one, writes fellow Post columnist Ezra Klein. Obama "had to make the case for war the administration was seeking on Sunday even as [he] pivoted towards the diplomatic solution the administration lucked into on Monday." More reactions:

  • Shibley Telhami, writing at Politico, offers up nine examples of weak arguments Obama made—including that inaction sends terrorists the message that they can use chemical weapons with no consequences. But "terrorist groups don’t care about international norms ... the only thing preventing al-Qaeda from using WMD against its enemies is its lack of WMD."
  • On Twitter, Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg points out another contradiction: "After two years of saying Assad should go, the message now is Assad can stay. We just want to take away one of his weapons systems." There's more where that came from.

  • Indeed, Klein points out in his column that Obama is not actually proposing we end the bloodshed. "Chemical weapons account for less than 1%" of the more than 100,000 casualties in Syria. "It’s borderline perverse to use descriptions of pain, suffering, and death to justify an intervention that would leave the cause of more than 99% of these deaths untouched."
  • Among other unresolved critiques, David A. Graham points out these in the Atlantic: "If Assad can't hurt Americans, why is it a national-security concern? If American attacks will be so limited, will they even really make much difference, either to stop the slaughter or as a future deterrent? And if it's so important to prevent gas attacks that 'brazenly violate international law,' why is Obama so willing to conduct a punitive strike that seems to violate international law?"
  • Many congress members of both stripes were similarly unconvinced, the Los Angeles Times reports, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said in a statement that Obama failed to "lay out a clearer plan to test the seriousness of the Russian and Syrian proposal to transfer the Assad regime’s chemical weapons to international custody."
  • In the National Journal, Ron Fournier actually does find some things to praise ("the president deserves credit for rethinking his plan to wage war without congressional approval," for one thing), but in the end, both his best and worst characteristics were on display—and "it's far easier to catalogue the worst." One anonymous Democratic strategist tells Fournier the Syria situation is "one of the most humiliating episodes in presidential history."

President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.
President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)
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