On Tuesday evening, President Obama addressed the nation. Eyes wide, shoulders square and voice stern, the Commander-in-Chief commandeered the eyes, ears, minds and hearts of viewers worldwide. By no means a debriefing, Obama’s speech did not offer a single revelation of previously undisclosed material regarding the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on the Syrian people. Yet, the President still managed to speak for fifteen minutes without a single stutter.
No news. There was just a President with his podium sitting in front of him and his legacy hanging over his head. That was what Tuesday’s presentation was truly about. Tuesday night was not about Syria. The last three weeks have been about Syria. Tuesday night was about legacy.
For two years, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has reigned over a civil war in his nation that has cost over 100,000 casualties and millions of refugees. On August 21, Assad’s regime administered the deadly and intentional use of sarin gas via rockets to 11 neighborhoods surrounding the Syrian capital Damascus. Over one thousand lives were lost. Obama referred to Assad as a dictator twice on Tuesday night. A legacy of evil exists.
As Obama lobbies to constituents and representatives at home and abroad for the justification and necessity of forcefully responding to Assad’s crime against humanity, he must overcome an outstanding balance of opposition and doubt which he inherited from his predecessor. Skeptics of United States’ military action draw comparisons of U.S. involvement in Syria to intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, two ill-advised campaigns that cost America unjustifiable losses of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. A legacy of failure exists.
In his plea, Obama emphasized the dependence of global security on American response. A targeted military strike would degrade the Assad regime while deterring the future use of chemical weapons by not only Syria but any capable country. Ignoring the massacre, Obama implied, would be equivalent to approving of the chemical attack. If the Syrian government gets away with mass murder by poison, then Iran may interpret America’s failure to act as a green light to proceed Uranium enrichment for purposes other than alternative fuel supply. If Assad’s regime is not punished for attacking the innocent people of Syria, then United States allies in the region, Turkey, Jordan and Israel, may be next to feel the sarin wrath. In the past weeks, the Israeli government has distributed millions of gas masks to its frightened citizens. Obama cited chemical warfare that led to World War I and World War II. This use of chemical warfare has already threatened the national interests of world powers America, Britain, Russia and China. A delayed confrontation can escalate this issue beyond the little country of Syria. A legacy of fear exists.
Over three weeks have passed since the carnage in Syria. On the day of the attack and 17 days following, the United States Congress was on the second half of its five-week summer recess. Senators and representatives reported to Washington last weekend and were immediately debriefed on all Syrian intelligence before an upcoming vote on resolution for response. President Obama is the Commander-in-Chief, and the power to declare war has exponentially increased from president to president at the expense of Congressional input from elected politicians. Obama did not have to wait for the congressmen and women to return from summer vacation. Obama did not have to stand before the world on Tuesday night and tell listeners what they already know. Maybe Obama is being cautious. Maybe Obama does not know what to do. But he better find out soon. Eisenhower is remembered for Korea. Johnson is remembered for Vietnam. Bush Jr. is remembered for Iraq. Obama has Syria. It will either be the trophy or tombstone to his presidency. Either way, a legacy will be defined.