War and Peace

David Frum vs. Michael Tomasky: Weighing In on Obama’s Syria Speech

Michael Tomasky says the president gave a great speech, but the public still isn’t buying what he’s selling. Meanwhile, David Frum says the president has a split personality, simultaneously calling for military action and giving reasons why we shouldn’t get involved. Who’s right? Read both pieces here.

09.11.13 4:22 PM ET

Obama’s Split Personality

You can’t have it both ways. The president called for military action in Syria and also made his case for why we shouldn’t get involved. David Frum breaks down Obama’s speech.

"Good evening. The topic for tonight's debate is Syria: to intervene or not to intervene? Speaking for the intervention is President Barack Obama, live from the White House. Speaking against—also President Obama, also from the White House. Mr. President, the first question is for you. Is Syria vital to our national security?"

President Obama 1: "What happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it's also a danger to our security."

President Obama 2: "We don't dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military."

Good Speech, Long Odds

The president gave a great speech. But the public still isn’t buying what he’s selling—and there’s a good chance Russia will leave him in the cold, writes Michael Tomasky.

This was the best speech Barack Obama has given in a couple of years. It was well structured, right to the point, and direct; it anticipated the skeptical viewer’s questions and tried to answer them, and it did so persuasively. In places, it even did so powerfully, especially toward the end when he made specific appeals to his “friends” on the right and the left to try to see this conflict in contexts that traditionally mattered to each side: the “commitment to America’s military might” to the right and “belief in freedom and dignity for all people” to the left. And the sections of the speech that sought to tug at the heartstrings weren’t overwrought. He did nearly as well as he could have done.

This does not mean I think many people are going to agree with me, or more importantly, change their minds. Obama presented evidence and rational arguments to support his position. But when people have basically made up their minds, they don’t want to listen to evidence and reason. And most people don’t understand the region anyway. (It might have been helpful if they’d cut away to a map.)