Bottom line: I don’t think the president changed any minds Tuesday night. And I don’t think he intended to.
President Obama didn’t make the case Tuesday night that a military strike would have any consequential impact on degrading the chemical weapons the Syrians have now acknowledged exist.
And he didn’t make a specific case about what a military strike would achieve beyond speaking in generalities about the arguably serious need to retaliate in kind for the chemical attack that occurred on August 21st.
But I don’t think that either of those points were ultimately the main message of the speech.
The main message was for President Obama to make clear that he does not want to bomb Syria if he can avoid it. And he is hoping that his own efforts, and those of Secretary of State John Kerry in Moscow on Thursday, will delay, diffuse, and otherwise remove the threat of chemical weapons in Syria.
In his speech Tuesday night, Obama avoided discussing the practical issues involved in finding the chemical weapons, even if there are international inspectors involved. Or, more to the point, how they will get to those sites given that there is a civil war going on.
Put another way, I don’t believe the president changed any minds or moved any Americans Tuesday night.
But I do believe that he did something which, for him, is arguably as important. The president was able to fundamentally change the dialogue from one that was threatening his presidency.
The process of going to Congress with his resolution, which was most certainly going to be defeated, having it defeated and then having to make the unpalatable decision of either standing down because of congressional opposition or going forward on his own surely does not represent a option the president would want to take.
It follows that the president knew his political position was untenable. And the offer that has now come from the Syrians and the Russians in response to John Kerry’s off-the-cuff comment in London, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s public encouragement of that option Monday, is such that the president is hoping against hope that he can trust a Russian government and a Syrian government who have shown to be untrustworthy at best and murderous at worst.