Unusually for me, I actually listened to President Obama's speech on Tuesday night. I was not impressed. He seemed to be stringing together a hodgepodge of confused and used talking points. Some consisted of bellicose threats left over from before the Russian diplomatic initiative threw him a lifeline; others revived the administration's orientation toward talks, not bombs, (at least U.S. bombs) that had previously passed for a Syria policy. None of it made much sense or seemed likely to convince anyone that we must make war in Syria. It was simply odd.
Obama did try to plant one new historical falsehood.
True, the Nazis used heavy doses of the agricultural pesticide Zyklon B on helpless prisoners in their mass extermination camps; the United States had used non-lethal doses of the same chemical to "disinfect" Mexican laborers working in our fields in the 1930s. Neither usage falls under a meaningful definition of "warfare"; modern sensibilities would consider both crimes, I trust. The Nazi use of lethal gas in specially constructed, confined killing pens has nothing to do with a chemical attack using a completely different gas (sarin) -- widely dispersed -- on a Damascus suburb in the context of civil war.
The Prez insisted
But where's his evidence? I'm inclined to believe him, but after being lied into war in Iraq and after being lied to about government spying under Obama (more evidence of NSA dissembling revealed today), he's going to have to produce evidence, not just tell us to trust him. How does he "know"? How do we "know"?
But then he made no case for what "national security interests" the Syrian civil war can threaten. Listening to him was more puzzling than convincing.
Atlantic magazine journalist James Fallows made a point that captures exactly the revulsion I felt listening to this speech.
Obama seems a smart and even a decent guy. He knows better. But right now, he's not doing better. Let's hope, for the sake of the people of Syria, the truly despicable Putin finds it in his interest to help Obama wriggle out of this one.