The President’s Speech: What Did You Think?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Some reaction from Twitter (@kathrynlopez) followers: 

By my ear, he simply asserted that intervention is clearly just, largely building a case on the abhorrence of killing people — especially children — with chemical weapons. But no one but terrorists needed convincing that mass murder is evil (and when done by means other than the torture of chemical weapons, too). It’s the justice of intervention that’s at issue. 

I can’t imagine he changed minds tonight. 

But maybe that wasn’t the goal. It was way more long term. Here’s what Peggy Noonan predicted, which pretty well held up:

He will not really be trying to “convince the public.” He will be trying to move the needle a little, which will comfort those who want to say he retains a matchless ability to move the masses. It will make him feel better. And it will send the world the message: Hey, this isn’t a complete disaster. The U.S. president still has some juice, and that juice can still allow him to surprise you, so watch it.

He will attempt to be morally compelling and rhetorically memorable. He will probably, like Susan Rice yesterday, attempt to paint a graphic portrait of what chemical weapons do—the children in their shrouds, the suffering parents, what such deaths look like and are. This is not meaningless: the world must be reminded what weapons of mass destruction are, and what the indifference of the world foretells.

He will claim the moral high ground. He will temporarily reserve the use of force and welcome recent diplomatic efforts. He will suggest it was his threat of force that forced a possible diplomatic solution. His people will be all over the airwaves saying it was his deft leadership and steely-eyed threat to use force that allowed for a diplomatic break.

The real purpose of the speech will be to lay the predicate for a retrospective judgment of journalists and, later, historians. He was the president who warned the world and almost went—but didn’t go—to war to make a point that needed making.

Particularly by speech’s end, you wondered why he didn’t give the time back to the networks, since there was nothing much new he had to say except that he was putting Congress on a time-out. 

Odd to hear the president mention Iraq and Afghanistan and not mention the 9/11 attack on the eve of the anniversary. 

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