By Frank Rich, New York Magazine. Obama's True Motives on Syria!
President Obama reiterated his case for a U.S. led strike in Syria last night, asking Congress to postpone voting on military intervention while the administration pursues a diplomatic solution. It appears unlikely that the House will approve the use of force. Did Obama really think his speech would swing votes? Or was there another aim? The last time many of last night's viewers tuned into President Obama en masse, he was imploring the nation in much the same terms and tone to join him in stopping the grotesque slaughter of innocent children. On that occasion, Newtown, many Americans were in grief and, according to polls, on his side. But we saw the results from his pitch for new gun-control legislation: zero. So let's at least hope that he didn't really think he would swing votes with last night's mishmash of an address. The notion that it would bring around a citizenry and a Congress that are both overwhelmingly opposed to intervention in Syria's civil war is proposterous than anything else that has happened over the past week. And Obama's brief speech was nothing if not of a piece with what came before. He started with a call for military action, then veered into a prayer for diplomacy before trailing off into an inchoate "stay tuned" denouement. I guess this proves that if you mate as hawk with a dove, you end up with the rhetorical equivalent of turducken. I'd like to believe there was some other aim, but what could it have been? A humanitarian preemption of ABC's The Bachelor? This address should have been put on hold by the White House the moment the attack was put on hold because the urgency of the appeal for force had evaporated. Now, if the Hail Putin Pass proves a Russian-Syrian bluff or some other form of mirage, the president can't give the same speech again, minus the diplomatic part. One prime-time strike to sell the country on air strikes, and you're out. Obama mentioned the specter of Iraq and Afghanistan several times during his speech, and his entire approach, seeking explicit congressional approval and guaranteeing "no boots on the ground" seems to reflect his wariness of those wars. Of course, public opposition to the Syria strike is also colored by the country's wariness of those wars. Of course, public opposition to the Syria strike is also colored by the country's experiences over the past ten years. Are we right to see Iraq and Afghanistan in Syria? Or have all of us, Obama included, overlearned their lessons? As someone who was so riveted and outraged by the Bush administration's successful propaganda campaign to sell the Iraq War that I wrote a book deconstructing it, I am here to say that there are many differences between the run-up to that disastrous national misadventure and what's going on now. Obama has been clear about these distinctions, not just last night but all weak. He has assiduously pointed out that he "could not honestly claim" that Syria represents an "imminent threat" to America, and much to his credit last night he did not evoke 9/11 on the eye of its anniversary. The evidence of Bashar al-Assad's atrocities and his repeated use of chemical weapons has not been seriously challenged by anyone and is far more persuasive than Colin Powell's notorious display of show-and-tell props before the U.N.