8:39 PM CDT, September 10, 2013
President Obama's speech making the case for U.S. military action in Syria was a clear and succinct statement of his outlook, with a nod to the possibility of a negotiated solution putting Bashar Assad's chemical arsenal under international control. But it failed to shore up the two big weaknesses in his argument.
He took some time to draw a gruesome picture of innocents being gassed to death, in defiance of international law. He likened Assad to Hitler. But there is a huge gap between this portrayal and his response. Confronted with this unique savagery, we're willing to do nothing more than a few missile strikes.
The two parts of this argument are badly out of balance. In the minds of many people, if we're not going to do enough to eliminate Assad, it's hard to justify risking any military action. "Go big or go home" comes to mind.
The other flaw is an unanswered question. Obama promises there will be no boots on the ground. He says missile strikes will deter Assad from using gas again. But he declines to say -- and may not know -- what he will do if this attack doesn't work as intended. Will Obama then say, "Well, we tried"? Or will he elect to escalate?
What the president didn't acknowledge is the uncertainty that comes with any war. Americans don't trust their leaders to avoid dangerous and costly entanglements in countries whose problems exceed our means and our understanding. This speech isn't likely to change their minds.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC