Basically, he was treading water until events, once again, overtake his policies, whatever they are.
In reverse chronological order
President Obama was trying to recover from two years of bungling diplomacy (see my column today in the Chicago Tribune). I'm not sure he has; he has left Americans with as many questions as they had before the speech.
Putin, for his part, has raised even more questions with his proposal for international inspection and control of Assad's chemical weapons. What is he up to? Is there some hidden agenda? Is it a clever way to strengthen his ties with Syria in alliance against western democracies.
Back to my original question: Perhaps it would have been better not to have the speech because all the elements of this crisis are in such flux. Obama tried his best to show that he knows where he is heading with his policy--even if the rest of America doesn't.
Obama has made what is essentially a moral argument for a strike. I don't think that many people were persuaded that an attack is primarily in the interests of the United States.
Basically, he was treading water until events, once again, overtake his policies.
Post speech reactions and observations:
What happens if nothing happens at the UN? What happens if Russia's proposal for international inspections falls through? Will we be back at the "red line" threat of precision military strikes? What happens if those strikes change nothing? More strikes?
The difference between Obama and George W. Bush during the advent of the Iraq invasion is that Bush actually did build a coalition. Bush acted after the failure of what Putin is (sort of ) suggesting--international inspections. Bush went in after Saddam failed to fully cooperate, leaving UN inspectors unable to convincingly say that he had no weapons of mass destruction.
Chris Matthews on MSNBC argues that we should be in the UN pounding on the issue every single day. Why, he asks, don't we become the champions of opposing "these weapons?" Interesting argument coming from him and his "ilk" who condemned Bush for trying to do the same thing. Yet, he disagrees with Obama--putting more kids in the hospital "would not sell the world."
David Kay, the weapons inspector for Iraq, comments on CNN the difficulty of verifying everything that the Syrians are supposed to do. By the way, he said again that Saddam had chemical weapons, even if they were "lousy," compared with Saddam's.
He's finished. He's still holding the threat of military action over Assad's head. Why is the United States standing alone, remains the question. Is he trying to shame our allies into support.
Sometimes statements of resolution aren't enough. Do we choose to look the other way? Keeping free of foreign entanglements should not keep us from standing up for our principles. He's sounding like a neoconservative. He elevates the issue to one of "children being gassed to death." Our resolve to stand up for that is what makes America special.
Gee, we've tried for two years to negotiate and impose sanctions. Hasn't worked until I rattled the threat of a missile strike.
He's beginning to sound like George W. Bush.
This line will be remembered: "The United States military" does not do pinpricks.
It's Bush's fault. He says he's been against wars, but Americans have been soured by Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama explains why allowing Assad's use of chemical weapons endangers our national security. He's got a good argument in that the use of the weapons endanger everyone.
Obama has the goods on Assad, the "facts" cannot be denied.
He has "resisted" military action, he says at the opening of his speech. He also seems to have resisted diplomacy, judging by the results.
7:58 p.m. (CDT)
Everyone is trying to guess what President Barack Obama will say in his speech on Syria tonight. Question: Does he know what he will say? Charles Krauthammer on Fox News tonight asks why is Obama going on national TV to persuade a country that doesn't want to go to war to support a "pause" in congressional deliberations on the way. "He has to convince the country that he knows what he is doing," Krauthammer put it succinctly.