The president began by giving background on the civil war in Syria, and what the US government has done. Interestingly, Obama pointed out how he has resisted the calls for military action. Obama talked about Assad’s use of chemical weapons and called the images, “sickening.” The president said that, “The civilized world has spent over a century trying to ban them.” The president laid out the evidence that Assad was behind the chemical weapons attack on August 21.
While making the case for strikes on Syria, Obama pointed out that he has spent four and half years trying to end war. The president directly answered several questions that have dominating the public debate on Syria. He promised that he will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. He said that he would not pursue open-ended strategy like in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that he would not engage in a prolonged bombing campaign like in Kosovo. The president said that the Assad regime does not have the capacity to threaten the US military. The president also said that Assad has no interest in escalation with the United States.
The president answered the question about an air strike strengthening al-Qaeda by arguing that terrorists will benefit more from an unstable Syria. The president walked the line by also speaking strongly about the role of diplomacy in resolving this.
President Obama then announced that he was asking Congress to postpone the Syria vote until the diplomatic track has been exhausted.
This speech was framed by the media as Barack Obama trying to sell the public on war, but what he really was doing was keeping the pressure on Syria while pushing forward on his diplomatic objective. The media questioned whether Obama could walk the line between discussing a military strike and diplomacy. The president did both with relative ease.
The reason why the president was able to make this argument is because he isn’t arguing for war. This isn’t about whether Obama convinced the American people. This is about Obama convincing Assad that his best course is to embrace the diplomatic solution.
The above from Jason Easley pretty much sums up my feelings on the president's speech this past week. Giving Assad a way out through diplomacy while reminding him of the firm backhand that'll await him otherwise was perhaps the best answer. Not a hard and fast head-first charge into the brink, nor a complete backing-out that would leave the president exposed in so many ways.
Personally speaking, drawing a red line on chemical weapons was perhaps the president's first (and perhaps only) tactical mistake regarding the Syrian crisis. All it resulted in was the Assad regime...or possibly rebels hoping to illicit a western intervention...using sarin gas and other deadly chemical weaponry on civilian populations. For his attempts to deliver a firm response against the use of chemical weapons, he was now obligated to respond to said use, preferably via military strike. It's what John McCain and many others would have wanted.
Thus, the president was trapped in between a rock and a hard place - act on Syria unilaterally and spend the rest of his term dealing with the fallout (accusations of warmongering from liberals and unconstitutional from conservatives, possible blowback from pro-Assad forces, potentially opening up yet another front in the War on Terror) or appeal to Congress, as "constitutionally required" and spend the rest of his term dealing with the fallout (accusations of being weak on Assad, getting cockblocked by Congress on yet another issue of importance, Assad and other regional leaders getting emboldened by a supposed lack of action, etc).
It wasn't surprising that the president sought a diplomatic response instead of an immediate attack. That diplomatic response turned out to be effectively strong-arming Vladimir Putin into bringing one of his client states to heel instead of throwing millions of dollars worth of cruise missiles and precision munitions in the general direction of Damascus. It also wasn't surprising that opponents tried taking the shine off of the president's deft diplomatic strokes while at the same time affecting a teenage crush on Putin. More on that later...