Marc A. Thiessen
Marc A. Thiessen
Opinion Writer

Obama lifted his Syria speech from Bush

President Obama never misses a chance to “blame it on Bush,” and last night’s address to the nation on Syria was no exception.

The reason Obama has failed to win support military action in Syria, the president declared last night, is not because he has failed to lay out a coherent strategy — it’s because of “the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Obama further slammed former president George W. Bush for presiding over “a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.”

Marc A. Thiessen

A fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, Thiessen writes a weekly column for The Post.

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Put aside the fact that Congress explicitly authorized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while Obama did not seek congressional authorization before launching his war in Libya — or that dozens of nations joined us in Iraq and Afghanistan, while in Syria we have . . . France.

If Bush was so bad, then why did Obama lift so much of his speech making the case for military action in Syria from Bush’s speech making the case for military action in Iraq?

In his address Tuesday night arguing that the United States must hold a Baathist dictator who used chemical weapons against his own people to account, Obama said: “I know Americans want all of us in Washington — especially me — to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home. . . . It’s no wonder then that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.”

He then went on to pose a number of questions raised by critics about the need for military action, and answer them: “First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? . . . Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad. . . . Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation.. . . Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights? . . . Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force?”

Hmm, that sounded familiar. In his October 7, 2002, speech in Cincinnati, making the case that the United States must hold a Baathist dictator who used chemical weapons on his people to account, Bush declared: “Many Americans have raised legitimate questions: about the nature of the threat; about the urgency of action. . . . These are all issues we’ve discussed broadly and fully within my administration. And tonight, I want to share those discussions with you.”

Bush then went on to pose a number of questions raised by critics and answer them: “First, some ask why Iraq is different from other countries or regimes that also have terrible weapons. . . . Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. . . . Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could detract from the war against terror. . . . Many people have asked how close Saddam Hussein is to developing a nuclear weapon. . . . Some citizens wonder, after 11 years of living with this problem, why do we need to confront it now? . . . Some believe we can address this danger by simply resuming the old approach to inspections, and applying diplomatic and economic pressure.”

In other words, Obama essentially copied Bush’s speech making the case for military action in Iraq to make his case for military action in Syria.

The similarities don’t end there. Obama also mimicked Bush in laying out the consequences of inaction, Obama said: “A failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path. This is not a world we should accept.”

In 2002, Bush declared: “Failure to act would embolden other tyrants, allow terrorists access to new weapons and new resources, and make blackmail a permanent feature of world events. . . . And through its inaction, the United States would resign itself to a future of fear. That is not the America I know.”

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it takes a special kind of chutzpah to plagiarize your predecessor while attacking him at the same time.

Of course, the imitation only went so far. After making the case for military action, Bush issued an ultimatum to the Iraqi regime. After making the case for military action, Obama announced he was deploying . . . Secretary of State John F. Kerry to meet with his Russian counterparts. Presumably Kerry will explain that if Assad fails to comply with Obama’s just demands, the Syrian dictator will face the consequences — a military strike that is “unbelievably small.”

Now that wasn’t lifted from George W. Bush.

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