The Conversation

Kerry: It Would Be Bad If We Let the President Look Like a Weakling

Secretary of State Kerry gave his justification for the use of force in Syria today. Kerry spoke for about 19 minutes. If you want to understand what the administration is really saying, have a close look at how Kerry divided his time.

  • Kerry spent 8 1/2 minutes arguing that we know for certain Syria's government was behind the attack concluding "these are facts." Nearly half his speech was simply about establishing what happened and who did it.
  • Kerry then spent 2 minutes arguing that chemical weapons are historically off limits and are bad news for people in the region.
  • At 10 1/2 minutes in, Kerry shifts gears toward some rationale for responding to Syria. "What we chose to do or not do matters in real ways to our own security," Kerry argued. But he made no attempt to claim there was danger of an imminent attack on the US, only that failure to respond to Syria would embolden other outlaw nations, including Iran and North Korea. "It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens" This part of the speech lasts a total of 3 1/2 minutes.
  • At 14 minutes in, Kerry turns to the question of international partners claiming "many friends stand ready to respond." He lists a handful of Middle East groups who have condemned the use of chemical weapons but does not spell out what they are prepared to actually do about it. This takes up another 90 seconds.
  • At 15 1/2 minutes Kerry argues that the UN "cannot galvanize" the world to act. He goes on to suggest that history will judge us harshly if "we turn a blind eye" to the Assad regime.
  • Finally, 18 1/2 minutes into the speech, Kerry reaffirms the administration's commitment to negotiations (after the military strike?) saying, "we know there is no ultimate military solution."

Kerry's speech amounted to the claim that we must back a strike because failing to do so would make President Obama look weak. Is this a justification candidate Obama would have backed when George W. Bush was President?

Not addressed in the speech is President Obama's radical 180 turnabout on the use of force without congressional approval. Not offered was any claim that there is any imminent threat to America, as there was from Iran in 2007. Not offered was any evidence that a strike now will prevent further use of chemical weapons in the future.

Recall that Obama campaigned against the surge and wanted to pull troops out of Iraq when we were losing the war there. Even after the surge was seen to have worked, Obama refused to say he was wrong. Instead he made criticism of the surge disappear from his website and claimed he had always said it would work. 

Was Obama concerned about how his "cut and run" strategy might look to the rest of the outlaw nations of the world in 2007? He was not. He continued to claim that direct negotiations could cure all ills. Once again he has been proven wrong and once again he refuses to admit it.

It's outrageous that President Obama thinks he can sell the very arguments he would have pounced upon a few years ago. And that's not an assumption, that's a fact on the record.


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