9 p.m. ET all across the dial on cable news. Peggy Noonan calls it, correctly, “a White House address in which a president argues for an endeavor he is abandoning. It will be a president appealing for public support for an action he intends not to take.” Safe bets:
He will claim the moral high ground. He will temporarily reserve the use of force and welcome recent diplomatic efforts. He will suggest it was his threat of force that forced a possible diplomatic solution. His people will be all over the airwaves saying it was his deft leadership and steely-eyed threat to use force that allowed for a diplomatic break.
The real purpose of the speech will be to lay the predicate for a retrospective judgment of journalists and, later, historians. He was the president who warned the world and almost went—but didn’t go—to war to make a point that needed making.
Politico, while being careful to damn American institutions generally for the fiasco of the past two weeks, has an apt verdict on The One himself: “Barack Obama’s unsteady handling of the Syria crisis has been an avert-your-gaze moment in the history of the modern presidency — highlighting his unsettled views and unattractive options in a way that has caused his enemies to cackle and supporters to cringe.” Nonetheless, Noonan’s right. Expect the talking point for the rest of the week to be that this was Obama’s Cuban Missile Crisis, that he prevailed by coolly staring down the Russian bear and … letting himself be dragged to safety by Vladimir Putin at the last moment. One obvious difference between this and the Missile Crisis is that the missiles really were withdrawn from Cuba. The great American hope of disarming Assad at the UN won’t go nearly as well, per Yochi Dreazen:
Finding and securing all of Assad’s sites would be the first major challenge of implementing the Russian plan, but it would be far from the only one. The U.S. and allied personnel would then have to separate the chemical substances themselves from the warheads of his rockets, artillery shells or missiles that had been designed to carry them to their targets. The work itself would be carried out by either robots or specially-trained troops, but it would still be time-consuming and dangerous.
The next step would be to build new a new facility at each chemical weapons site to destroy all of the toxic substances. There are two basic ways to dispose of chemical weapons. One option involves spraying the chemicals themselves into specialized furnaces and then burning them at around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for one or two seconds. Nerve agents like sarin can also be rendered largely harmless by the addition of liquid sodium hydroxide, while mustard gas can be made safe with alkaline water. Kuhlman and other experts say that either type of destruction would have to be done at individual Syrian weapons facilities because it wouldn’t be safe to move the munitions to a centralized collection point or to a country like Russia while the fighting was raging.
“Do you really want to have truckloads of chemical weapons driving around Syria during the current situation?” he asked.
It’ll cost billions and might take more than a decade to complete, all the while knowing that Assad’s allies could re-arm him with WMD virtually overnight if they needed to. But then, the point here isn’t to disarm Assad, it’s to win the test of credibility with him by getting him to admit that chemical weapons are bad, bad, bad and the he should be disarmed. Mission accomplished. Now America collectively can get back to football and whatever Miley Cyrus is up to.
Rand Paul’s promising a rebuttal speech at 10 p.m. but it’s unclear whether the cable nets will pick it up live or whether we’ll have to watch online tomorrow. Regardless, now that O’s embracing Russia’s disarmament charade, some of the contrast has been lost. Expect Paul to focus on the president’s power, or lack thereof, to wage war without congressional authorization instead of the nuts and bolts of the Syria standoff. And if you’re bored with Syria by now, good news: The Colorado recall elections and the New York City mayoral primary are both happening tonight too. It’s Anthony Weiner’s last hurrah. Here’s your thread to grieve as a community.
Exit quotation via KP: