President Barack Obama’s Tuesday remarks on the civil war in Syria could be thought to express two contradictory viewpoints.
In the immediate, the president is asking Congress to delay a vote on the United States taking military action in the country in light of a tentative agreement between Syria and Russia to place Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile under international control. Yet President Obama also continued his push to convince a skeptical American public of the need for a military strike if the diplomatic option fails.
Brad Phillips, president of Phillips Media Relations and writer of the Mr. Media Training blog, tweeted that President Obama “articulated his rationale for action well,” but didn’t do a very good job of making it clear exactly what that action would or should be.
“I believe we should act” is strong-sounding but vague. How can U.S. act if Congress turns him down? If Russia backs out? If UN says no?
— Mr Media Training (@MrMediaTraining) September 11, 2013
He concluded that the speech probably won’t change many people’s minds on Syria.
Writing in The New Yorker, Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, agreed that President Obama made a moral case—it seems clear that chemical weapons were used in Syria, he wrote—but didn’t say much to back up his claim that a strike in Syria will come with “modest effort and risk.”
“This was not a policy but an invitation to join him in his leap of faith,” he wrote.
In the 12 years since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it’s gotten considerably more difficult to coax the public into those leaps.
Reaction to Tuesday night’s speech was a mixed bag, too. Some praised the president’s remarks while others observed that the discussion of Russia’s diplomatic proposal seemed tacked on:
Obama’s speechwriter is aware of Russia’s proposal yesterday and Syria’s response, right? #Syria
— Jeremy Youde (@jeremyyoude) September 11, 2013