The one requisite in a presidential speech is honesty. Without it, nothing else matters. The president’s speech last night was incoherent in its call to be ready at some future day to use force that he just recently insisted must be used immediately.
But more disturbing, aside from the true nature of the Putin gambit, Obama simply did not tell the truth about the role of Congress in his self-created debacle.
In fact, not long ago, Obama said that he did not “believe it was right . . . to take this debate to Congress.” In truth, he was forced to, after resisting such a move, because public opinion was not in his favor. Or, in the words of his own cynical political guru, David Axelrod, he wished the congressional dog to catch the car and share some responsibility for the self-induced mess.
Moreover, last decade was not characterized by a president who engaged in “sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.” In truth, George W. Bush obtained authorizations from both Houses of Congress before using force in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, Barack Obama bypassed Congress — but not the Arab League — in bombing Libya.
Nor did the president simply ask the leaders of Congress to postpone the vote. Congressional officials came to him, hence last night’s address, to warn him that, in a historical first, he would be rebuffed by both houses of Congress.
As in the case of the Libyan bombing, Obama initially sought to bypass Congress, could not given sinking public opinion, reversed course and went to Congress, then was faced with a rebuke, and finally ended up doing nothing. This leaves the country with the precedent of a president going to Congress when desperate, then announcing that he will not necessarily abide by the vote should it be negative, and then postponing a vote that he knows will be negative — taking the country in a futile 360-degree path back to where he started.
Again, Obama warns about those who bypass Congress and leave a mess after taking out dictators — with no mention that he alone in the last decade has done both.
Finally, there were the usual Obama-speech bullet points that ensure it is a presidential speech:
The tired usual emphatics? Check: “Let me make something clear.”
Straw men on the edges with sober and judicious Obama in the middle? Check: “friends on the right” and “friends on the left.”
First person overload? Check: “especially me,” “my judgment,” “I determined,” “I possess,” “I’m also,” etc.
Bush did it? Check: “. . . after a decade that put more and more war making power in the hands of the president.”
Iraq ad nauseam? Check: “we learned from Iraq,” “an open-ended action like Iraq,” “terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan,” “our troops are out of Iraq,” etc.
Growing the (now shrinking) middle class? Check: “growing our middle class.”