This was a desperate speech from a president who has dug himself into a hole after carelessly drawing a red line in the sand, and then finding himself in the position of actually having to do something about it. Obama knew full well he was heading for a humiliating defeat in Congress, with just 26 Members of the House of Representatives confirmed as supporting him on Syrian strikes. This speech was above all a delaying tactic, designed to give him breathing space while his advisers think of how to get him out of this mess. In the meantime the White House is content to let the Russians, staunch ally of Assad, call the shots on the international stage, with Washington leading from behind.
The American people are overwhelmingly opposed to President Obama’s plans for a military intervention in Syria, what John Kerry likes to refer to as an “unbelievably small” strike against Assad. Just 29 percent of US voters back Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis according to a new poll this week. This speech will do nothing to assuage their concerns. The president was simply unable to explain in any convincing way why a US attack on Syria is in the direct national interest of the United States. Nor could he explain how airstrikes would actually help bring Syria’s civil war to an end or weaken Assad’s brutal regime in Damascus. Obama was also in denial about the nature of some of the rebel groups operating in Syria, identifying Islamists as “extremists,” while downplaying the growing influence of al-Qaeda in the country. He also made no mention of mounting attacks by rebels on Christians in Syria, a major cause for concern on Capitol Hill.