President Barack Obama addressed the nation Tuesday night, explaining why the chemical attack in Syria matters and where the U.S. goes from here.
In his address the President talked about the images of Syrians writhing on the floor of a hospital and dying after what appears to be a chemical attack. The President said that when “dictators commit atrocities they count on the world to look away.”
Obama said that the evidence against Syrian President Bashar al Assad is clear as he made the claim that “Assad’s government gassed to death over 1,000 people including children.” “No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria.” and went on to say “We know the Assad regime was responsible”.
The problem with President Obama’s address however is that while he made very definite statements about the chemical attack clearly happening at the hands of the Assad regime, he offered no evidence of that claim.
As we have reported, the American public has no interest in the U.S. intervening in Syria. Some polls indicate as many as 91% percent of Americans are against it. Reports indicate that Congress is leaning 10 to 1 against military action. The Obama administration has insisted that they have no choice but to get involved because of the use of chemical weapons.
Where the President needed to move public opinion was by offering evidence, not simply his word, but evidence that the Assad regime committed this atrocity. It is not enough for the President to state that because there is evidence of the use of sarin, that draws a direct line to Assad. We have also reported that Turkish security forces arrested members of al Nusra Front with 2kgs of sarin on May 31, 2013. Millions of Americans are aware that al Nusra is the Syrian wing of al Qaeda in Iraq and certainly is capable of carrying out this kind of chemical attack.
On that note, it is interesting that in the 15 minutes President Obama spent appealing to the American people he made mention of the name al Qaeda only once and did not directly address the fact that those forces are actively working to overthrow Assad.
The second major problem with the President’s appeal was that he made a promise that the public will almost definitely reject at face value.
“I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not authorize open ended action as we experienced in Iraq. I will not engage in a prolonged air campaign as we did in Libya,” promised the President.
Of course, this promise cannot be made when there are so many unknown variables. What if Assad retaliates and launches a larger chemical attack? What if Iran and Syria launch attacks against Israel? And the biggest question, what if U.S. strikes help to topple the Assad regime and these stockpiles of chemical weapons are exposed to “rebel” fighters including al Nusra Front? Would the U.S. not be compelled to send in ground troops to secure those weapons?
Tuesday, the President needed to convince the public that the moral obligation of the United States is to intervene against ruthless dictators. For too many Americans, that address has been given one too many times.