4 takeaways from President Obama’s Syria speech

September 10, 2013

President Obama just concluded his primetime address to the country, a speech in which he largely remade arguments he had offered over the past 96 hours for why it is in America's interest to consider a military strike against Syria.

Obama spoke for roughly 15 minutes, but the speech will be analyzed for a LOT longer than that. My takeaways on what he said -- and why he said it -- are below.

* This was a speech Obama had to give, not one he wanted to deliver.  The reality of the situation -- the rising congressional opposition to a use-of-force resolution coupled with the uncertainty surrounding a nascent Russian-led effort to force Syria to hand over its chemical weapons -- meant that there really wasn't much definitive the president could say about the future of U.S. action in the region. And, he didn't. This was a holding-pattern speech.

* The core of the Obama argument was -- as it has been for days now -- a moral appeal. "When dictators commit atrocities, they depend on the world to look the other way," Obama said at one point. But, it wasn't just an appeal to our common morality. It was that if an act -- gassing your own people -- is condemned but tolerated by America, then the chances of other rogue actors pressing the bounds of acceptable behavior in the future increases. What Obama seemed to be saying is that this isn't about Syria -- it's about the next Syria and the one after that.

* Obama made a very carefully argued case for how America should think of its place in the world in the 21st century. He said twice that America was "not the world's policeman" but that in a case like Syria -- where the United States could send a moral message around the globe with small risks  -- we should do so.  That's a complex calculation that has a level of subjectivity built into it -- what small risks, large rewards actually are often lies in the eye of the man or woman making the decision.

* This is not Iraq. The president went above and beyond, rhetorically speaking, to drive home the point to the public that Syria is not Iraq and he won't let it be. "We cannot resolve someone else's civil war through force," he said bluntly at the start of his speech. He also made clear that he knew people want him to focus on growing the economy at home, not litigating other nations' conflicts. It was, in that way, a remarkably frank speech about the political realities/difficulties he faces in making the case for action.

What did you take away from the speech? Did what President Obama say change your mind? Why or why not?

More on this story:

Obama takes case for Syria strike to the public

Where Congress stands on Syria vote

Read the transcript of Obama's speech

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | September 10, 2013