The question is, did President Obama do enough last night to convince the American populace that military intervention – even a slight one – is the right move? Though the initial burst of analysis is a mixed bag, it’s too early to tell exactly how this speech resonated. The President took a moral standing and urged us to stand out there with him, that the U.S. is a great nation because it steps up in times of crisis. The words he used were meant to elicit emotion, to incite patriotism and to get us, as Americans, to locate our better selves. He might as well have had the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background.
(Here’s the full transcript)
First, the President hit us with grief:
“The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits — a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.”
Then, with duty:
“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”
But how many Americans feel bad for Syrians? How many could identify Syria on a map? In a recent CBS/NY Times poll, 60 percent of the people asked said they were in opposition of even air strikes by American fighter jets, while a whopping 72 percent said the US should not be in the business of turning dictatorships into democracies. Those are strong numbers, bolstered by another 80 percent that said the White House hadn’t done enough to explain what the end game is in Syria.
Now that the President has updated us on what the stakes are, what are we supposed to do with this information? How are we to circumnavigate our feelings of military fatigue?
Not to mention, what and who are we to trust in these moments? As civilians, we’re out of the loop on these classified matters. The White House stance could be correct, but we’ve heard these songs before and people are weary.
One side effect of the GOP and its anti-American stance on the President’s administration is that when we need a counterargument, we can’t trust many of them. The Republican’s lust for military money-piling, and draconian measures on issues such as women’s reproductive rights and energy renewal, make many of them seem like straightjacket candidates. While many people laugh at the GOP’s lack of understanding and modernity, this is actually terrible, because Americans needs to know both sides of the story.
Watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier this week, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who is just one of many people from both parties opposing American intervention, said several things that stuck with me.
Because much of the GOP stance has been, “if I was on fire I wouldn’t want Obama to put me out,” everything their members throw out there sounds like a lie. This is unfortunate during times like these, when citizens need their lawmakers to do their jobs.
President Obama has found difficulty creating the momentum he needs to galvanize the public. He says he understands that people are “war weary” and that’s good, he should understand. The nation at large has become burdened by discussions of Iraq and Afghanistan and every other hotspot around the world. Unless there is an imminent threat, or a person is so despised that it deserves a real reaction, then people aren’t going to be moved. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hasn’t crossed that imminent threat threshold yet. He’s been cast as a supervillain, but how we analyze that information is based a lot on how we consider Middle Eastern people in the first place.
As we are reminded of what tragically happened 12 years ago, the aftermath of 9/11 hasn’t been one of more understanding of countries such as Syria. The feeling towards them has been detachment, anger and some level of fear. Now the average American is supposed to care enough to send our soldiers over there and spend more money? That’s asking a lot.
Last night’s speech, while earnest, didn’t exactly advance the ball. All most Americans know is that there’s a civil war of some sort in Syria and that the Syrian government has responded by using chemical weapons.
Chemical weapons are, of course, the line of demarcation when it comes to military might. Shoot a dude in the head, or hit a village with a drone strike (and shoulder shrug at the collateral damage) – we keep it moving. But if chemical weapons are used, we go nutso and drop the “unacceptable” card on the table.
There’s a thin line here. The deaths of people via chemical weapons are horrid, but how some negotiate between that and other ways of violence is lost on a lot of people. I certainly don’t understand it. Is dead not dead? This notion that there are gradient levels of human suffering is a consideration that only those conditioned to death and violence, understand or even care about. Are we saying that if the Syrian government only used bullets it’s not an issue? At this point, that seems to be the case, which, again, makes the moral argument blurry.
The only way out of this foxhole is via Russian involvement, as President Vladimir Putin has come out as a middleman of sorts, and though Cold War reflex muscles twitch at their involvement, we need it. Otherwise, Congress and the WH are going to have issues forcing this unpopular situation on Americans.
Maybe the WH would have an easier time convincing the pubic if more honesty was applied. Stop saying and intimating that our intervention is moved by moral authority, and talk about strategy. Middle East instability will matter until we figure out how to harness solar power, or whatever the next energy source is that’s going to power our homes. We value Syria and the rest of those nations because of their proximity to oil. Saying that is too harsh I guess, but that’s what we need to hear. That’s what Obama should say – tell us what the real stakes are here. Tell us that, if the Middle East falls, our bills will skyrocket. That’s likely to get our attention, because this “world family” nonsense isn’t working.