To get a sense of what President Obama is up againstTuesday night when he makes the case for a military strike against Syria:
(1) The timing – giving a nationwide address hours and days later than he’d like. If the purpose were to rally a war-weary public and change votes in Congress, Sunday or Mondaywould have made more sense. But that would have pitted the most powerful man in America against America’s most powerful cartel: the National Football League, which owns TV’s prime time on Sunday and Monday evenings.
(2) The unsubtle irony of a man who sought the presidency with the promise of ending wars, perhaps starting us down the road to yet another. Only, it’s not a war. In Mr. Obama’s words: “Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope . . .” Mr. Obama wants to come across as a hawkish dove or a dovish hawk – sort of like a Yankees fan with a Boston accent.
(3) The backdrop. Should Mr. Obama give the big speech from the Oval Office, traditionally the home of epic presidential moments, he’ll be doing so in a setting that his former chief speechwriter believes is a lousy stage.
About that wordsmith: his name’s Jon Favreau and he left the Obama White House in May to strike it rich in Hollywood. Lately, he’s been attending White House meetings. So let’s assume he has a say in what the President says on Tuesday.
And exactly will that be – or, more to the point, what can he say that he already hasn’t said, and change what may be a serious setback to his last term in office?
Put yourself in the shoes of the White House rhetoric machine. For the past few days, fueled by copious amounts of Red Bull to Adderall to stay awake and Aaron Sorkin’s liberal fantasies to stay inspired, you’ve been searching for historical precedent – a past presidential means to justice Mr. Obama’s political end. Preferably, it’s a Democratic ex-president as you comrade in arms, as it were.
But here’s the problem: the past doesn’t make for good Syria prologue. Consider the words of these Democrats who rallied their country to arms:
Woodrow Wilson, War Message to Congress, 4/2/1917
“Our object now, as then, is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles . . .We are at the beginning of an age in which it will be insisted that the same standards of conduct and of responsibility for wrong done shall be observed among nations and their governments that are observed among the individual citizens of civilized states.”