Obama’s Syria speech, by the numbers

September 11, 2013

President Obama delivered a prime-time address to the American public on Syria Tuesday night, saying he would explore a diplomatic opening that could avoid military action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Here's a by-the-numbers look at the president's speech:

15: The address clocked in at just over 15 minutes, making it a relatively brief one. The president spent much of the speech reiterating the arguments he and his administration have already made about Syria and presenting a broad case to the public for why U.S. intervention is justified. It was mostly a summary of what's already been said.

10: Obama mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan 10 times. Faced with a war-weary public with little appetite for more U.S. military action, Obama sought to drive home the point that what he is proposing in Syria is nowhere near the scale of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

7: As the Fix boss pointed out in his four takeaways on the speech, the president was making a moral argument for action Tuesday night. And he mentioned the word "children" seven times in the context of the alleged August chemical attack that the United States says killed more than 1,400 people. "To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor," Obama said. This was a speech designed to connect with Americans on an emotional level.

4: Part of the president's challenge in convincing a skeptical public and Congress to support military action is convincing them that what happens thousands of miles away matters to the United States. On four occasions, Obama mentioned U.S. national security interests in the context of why the country should act.

0: In weighing Russia's diplomatic proposal to have Assad give up his chemical weapons,  our colleague Karen DeYoung noted that Obama did not mention punishing Assad for the alleged massacre of his people. Nowhere in Tuesday's speech were the words "punish" or "punishment" mentioned. Part of Obama's initial justification for military action was to hold Assad "accountable" for his actions. But would Russia's proposal do that?

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan | September 11, 2013