The president’s speech was good — but we ARE the world’s policeman

The headline pretty much says it.

I thought the president gave a good, reasoned, tempered, well-balanced speech at a very tricky time. He scheduled this talk tonight to sell us on the idea of taking military action in Syria, and in the last two days we’ve seen developments that may preclude that.

But he handled it well. He made the case for action, should it still prove necessary, but gave diplomacy a chance to work, given the present extraordinary circumstances.

There’s only one false note he sounded — the repeated emphasis on the United States not being the world’s policeman.

Yes, we are. Everything else the president said indicated that he knows that we are.

This is not me saying that the United States should be the world’s policeman, or that’s what I think we should aspire to. That’s what we are. We have power to act effectively, and if we don’t, it’s an abdication of a moral responsibility. As the president said.

It’s silly to say something like that, just to satisfy the factions who hate the reality that that’s what we are.

Note the faulty logic in this passage:

America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.

Guess what? A policeman can’t prevent every crime that happens on his beat. He’s not perfect; his power is not absolute. But he does his best.

Other than that, good speech. Just what was needed at this awkward moment.

30 thoughts on “The president’s speech was good — but we ARE the world’s policeman

  1. Phillip

    To take your policeman analogy further, though: a policeman is hired to do his job through the authority (and the taxes) of the citizens whom it is his job to protect, and against whom he must take action when the laws (again, agreed upon by the citizenry) are violated.

    If an individual were to act as a policeman without the authorization of the populace, well, that’s not a policeman.

    That’s a vigilante.

  2. Doug Ross

    And is there Constitutional support for acting as the world’s police force? Especially without Congressional authorization for any action?

  3. Bryan Caskey

    I thought the speech was workmanlike and mostly unobjectionable until the very end. Up to that point, it had been a repeat performance of everything we had already heard. Leaving aside all the small inconsistencies in the logical reasoning with deterrence, dictators, and chemical weapons, the end of his speech really poisoned the well.

    At (near) the end of the speech, he said this:

    “And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

    To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.”

    Are you kidding me? His “friends on the left” believe in freedom and dignity. Apparently, people on the right don’t. What do people on the right (me) believe in, according to our President? According to our President: military might. Just pure force of arms. Not “national security” which would have a moral component. Not “commitment to keeping the nation safe”. No, the moral side is totally stripped out of it. Apparently, I simply am for the pure love of martial power. Like Napoleon and Caesar.

    His pals on the left support *values* which can be attained by military force, but me and my friends on the right are just for blowing stuff up and seeing the sweet bomb-video footage on CNN. Even when the President is trying to REACH OUT TO ME, he still can’t even bring himself to pay me the slightest degree of respect. Not even a little.

    I basically heard: Hey, you wingers! Get behind the war effort because this should appeal to your reptilian brains. We’re going to blow stuff up. Y’all like guns and stuff. We’re going to slate your bestial need for violence.

    Friends on the left? I’m calling to your better angels! Do it for the children! It’s in the greater good for mankind. There’s a true moral purpose here.

    What a jerk. I turned off the speech at that point.

    Here’s the thing: I know the President feels contempt for me. I get it. However, this is apparently a BIG speech, and the President is (supposedly) trying to get everyone to put aside their ill-will and political motivations in a moment of great national importance. However, the President himself, is incapable of doing that. He cannot summon a single fiber of his being to show generosity of spirit.


    1. Mark Stewart

      I think he was not referring to you, Bryan, but to the US Congress and Senate.

      Your point is valid; so long as you don’t try to convince me the politicians (Congress especially) such as our own Jeff Duncan and Joe Wilson (et al) aren’t completely consumed by partisanship. It was not a well written line, probably a final rush edit (I hope not a bumbled TelePrompTer read), and the President will pay for it. However, agree or disagree with action against Syria, the way that many in Congress have presented their views leaves me as profoundly shaken as I am by the White House’s stumbling for coherence and leadership. Washington is not acting as if it is leading a nation. We expect that most of the time; but cannot have it at times like this.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I may have mentioned that, between these last few episodes of “Breaking Bad,” I’m going back and watching all of the past episodes.

      Last night, just before going to bed, I watched part of the rather tedious one in which Walt is at war with a fly in the meth lab. He keeps muttering about the “contamination,” and won’t allow Jesse to take a single step toward cooking meth until the contamination is eliminated. Jesse tries to talk him down, to persuade him to get a sense of perspective — even wonders aloud whether Walt has been sampling the product.

      Well, my first reaction to Bryan’s observation is a little like Jesse’s — you turned off the TV over that?!?!? Chill, yo!

      But as I read on, I see your point. And you’re right. He’s supposed to be reaching out, and his habits of thought seem to render him incapable of doing so — worse, apparently no one on his team raised the alarm in reading that, or did so and was ignored. Little omissions like that are failures of leadership.

      And Bryan’s more sensitive to it because he identifies with the right. Since I don’t (or with the left), I don’t feel it. It’s not a kick in the teeth to me; it’s just an omission. You feel the way I feel about the casual little habits of speech by which liberals completely delegitimize people who think the way I do on, say, abortion. They consider our views so abhorrent, so beyond the pale, that sensible, enlightened people have no obligation to respect them whatsoever, or tolerate them for an instant. Their more or less unconscious, reflexive expressions of this attitude are indeed like a slap in the face.

      This reminds me of what I’ve read about GOP House members who have reached out to the White House in recent days, offering to help sell an attack on Syria to their colleagues. They claim to have been… ignored. Which, if true, is appalling…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Here’s the other thing: I’m constantly being told by my more left-leaning friends (Yeah, even a crazy winger like me has ’em) that President Obama is constantly playing a three, four, or whatever high-level chess game, because he’s so smart.

        Reaching out to folks like me in this speech would have been easy. I would love to bomb Assad. I think we all would, given the proper basis and belief that it would accomplish an achievable and realistic goal. Assad is a bad guy. I actually keep hoping that the President can convince me that a strike is the best plan. I’m a receptive person on this. I really am. He just needs to build a bridge to me on this one, because I’m not to where he is, yet.

        And then he goes and insults me.

        Point is: He’s fumbled an easy move here. This is an e4 opening here. He just needs to move his king’s pawn up two spaces, but he spills his coffee all over the chessboard, instead. This guy doesn’t seem like someone who’s playing x-dimensional chess; because he’s having problems with the two-dimensional kind.

        1. Bart

          Actually Bryan, according to one fawning article, Obama is playing a 10 or 11 level chess game. Anyone capable of playing a game of chess above the 2nd level is much more intelligent that the average chess player and I seriously doubt Obama fits into the category of a 2nd level chess player. That is unless the moves are shown on his teleprompter.

    3. bud

      I think you are reading too much into those passages. He clearly understands that liberals think security issues are important but put an emphasis on freedom and dignity whereas he also believes that conservatives believe in freedom and dignity also but emphasize security issues. Hence we have something like the whole NSA kurfluffle. Folks on the right have tended to accept compromises to our privacy in order to attain a greater sense of safety. Those on the left lean the other way.

      I will say this, folks on the right are significantly more thin skinned and defensive whenever they are mentioned in a speech by a democratic president even on something as benign as this. Lighten up folks. The speech was fine and absolutely not any kind of assault on the right.

  4. Bart

    That’s a “”vigilante””.”…Phillip

    In the sense of the term vigilante applying to Obama if he had acted without approval of Congress, I am not sure he could have been accurately described as a vigilante but an elected president who would have proceeded with the firm conviction that he had the constitutional authority to do so, answering to no one. As a supposed constitutional authority and lecturer at the university level, if anyone should be able to understand and comprehend the authority granted to the president by the Constitution, Obama should stand well above the majority in Congress and on an equal footing with everyone else in constitutional law.

    In the paper this morning, the AP had a fact check on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and the total number of deaths attributed to their use. The numbers vary by a large margin between what some foreign intelligence agencies and ours are telling the public. Ours is around 1,500 and theirs is less than 500. (any number is unacceptable) The AP finds that the Obama administration has been less than forthcoming about the information they have that can provide substantiation of their claims.

    Looks as if Putin took the comment Kerry made, ran with it to Assad, apparently convincing him to turn over any chemical weapons he has and by doing so, taking the imminent threat of a few missiles fired by the US from happening and then, he remains in power still supported by Russia and China. In effect, Assad wins, Russia wins, and the US loses more standing and prestige. Lesson? Don’t make dumb ass threats in public by announcing with the right amount of righteous indignation to another country there will be consequences until all avenues have been explored. In this instance, Kerry’s late to the game suggestion is the one that should have been offered in the beginning. For once, Kerry comes across as the more intelligent of the two.

    The public at home and worldwide was decidedly against any military action in Syria, missile or otherwise. If the other ME countries want Assad’s civil war to stop, then let them be the ones to broker a peace or use their military to force the issue. With the latest end run by Putin, Assad will most likely remain in power and the civil war will continue. If this is the outcome, what next for Obama and ME diplomacy? Defer to Russia again?

    As for his speech last night – I refused to waste my valuable time watching an empty suit in front of a teleprompter preach to me about responsibility and after reading Bryan’s comments, it is a good thing. I was on the road for 9 hours yesterday and his comment about the “his friends on the right”, I may have “Iraqi’d” the television by throwing a shoe through it.

    Obama’s immutable divisive nature apparently was in full bloom last night and I agree with every point Bryan made. Some of the comments and observations made by progressives about Obama and his community organizing skills back in 2008 are very revealing, especially the ones from his own district. Apparently he was a failure, didn’t even know who was doing what, where, and why but he did keep tight connections to Rezko and his large contributions. Other community organizers marveled at how he was not connected to the very place he represented.

    And now, we are witnessing his disconnect to the country he represents.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      If I understand the custom correctly, you wouldn’t actually have to throw the shoe. Contempt is fully expressed by pressing the sole of the shoe against the screen — maybe even merely holding the sole up toward the screen, I’m not sure.

      In any case, the president has full constitutional authority to act militarily at any time. Sort of by definition, not vigilantism.

      1. bud

        Maybe under the constitution of the Soviet Union but clearly the constitution of the United States of America clearly does NOT give the president authority to use the military in any way he sees fit. Nothing in the constitution could be any clearer.

    2. bud

      I find it interesting that we may be on the verge of a tremendous achievement in securing chemical weapons (of course things can still go terribly wrong) that could ultimately open the floodgates to further diplomatic achievements that make everyone safer. And all you folks on the right want to do is slam the president. I have just one thing to say to you guys – Nah, Na, Na, Naaaaah. And guess what, that comment is much more mature than any of the nonsense coming from the right.

  5. bud

    Ok everyone let’s be intellectually honest here for just a moment and set politics aside. The president most assuredly put himself in a box with his red line comment. And yes he did get bailed out by the Russians. But why all this naysaying? Isn’t it a great thing that we may be on track to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria? I really don’t get this anti-Obama mania. We’re all Americans and we’re all members of the human race so let’s celebrate a really positive development and quit all the partisan attacks. I promise all my conservative friends that the time will come when a Republican president gets a bit of luck when he’s in a tight spot and the Dems will remember this nattering and it won’t be pretty. So let’s be Americans and celebrate the possibility of a great outcome regardless of who the POTUS is.

    1. Doug Ross

      Before we give Obama his second Nobel Peace Prize, how about we wait and see how this plays out? I mean the civil war in Syria isn’t going to end… people will continue to be killed… and there’s no guarantee of any sort that chemical weapons won’t be used again.

      Let’s check in on this in, say, 2016 and see what Obama accomplished with his bomb-again, off-again “strategery”.

    2. Bryan Caskey

      A couple things: First, I’ll celebrate a positive development when I see one. Keep me posted of concrete developments, please. I hear that John Kerry is meeting with his Russian counterpart to hash out the details. Anyone brimming with confidence on that front?

      At this point, Putin is cutting donuts in our front yard by writing America-slamming editorials in the NYT, we’re sending small arms to what is pretty much the Syrian franchise of Al Queda, Putin is selling heavy weapons to Assad, Assad has new initiative in his battle for power, and America’s status in the world is diminished.

      Excuse me if I refrain from bursting into a rousing chorus of “Hail to the Chief”.

      Second, I understand that it’s tempting to judge failure or success by outcome, rather than by the process. However, that’s not always a good way to judge. Sometimes the process is important.

      Drinking and driving home without killing anyone isn’t a good process, even if there’s a good outcome. Launching a space shuttle with faulty o-rings isn’t a good idea just because the shuttle didn’t explode the last couple of times. That’s kind of what it looks like we got here (so far).

      Without the Russians reaching out (and it still remains to be seen as to whether that’s a good faith offer or not), we were either going to have: (1) a likely ineffectual military strike in the face of Congressional disapproval; or (2) no strike at all, with a President that would have been shown to be impotent. Both of those outcomes would have been very bad.

      Don’t expect a bunch of back-slapping and high-fives from me just because the drunk guy made it home safely in spite of weaving all over the road.

      Also, as far as “nay-saying”; to paraphrase a certain American naval commander, I have not yet begun to nay-say.

  6. Phillip

    Yes, Bud, I too am still mystified by Brad’s continued assertion that “the president has full constitutional authority to act militarily at any time.” It’s interesting that if one Googles “Constitution on executive power to wage war,” you find articles taking different sides of the issue, but all the ones defending the executive’s power to more or less unilaterally decide on taking the US into conflict seem to have been written by John Yoo. As the saying goes, “just sayin’…”

    To Bart and others, though…my comment about “vigilante” had nothing to do with any questions of domestic Constitutional issues, that’s a separate issue. I was merely commenting about role of the US in the world, and this idea of being “the world’s policeman,” and the moral/legal issues involved therein. If the world has not vested in you the power of being its policeman, but rather you have vested that power in yourself…

  7. Bryan Caskey

    Also, to Brad’s original point, the President did say that we aren’t the “world’s policeman”, but he also said that we were the “anchor of global security”.

    World’s Policeman, no.
    Anchor of Global Security, yes.

    Can anyone square those two metaphors up for me?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, other than that the president and his speechwriter wanted to have it both ways.

      Nor did the particular way the president described American exceptionalism make sense. But I’m going to address that in a separate post…

      1. Mark Stewart

        Actually, I think they are different.

        Same difference as between a police force and the military. Isn’t he clearly saying that there is a distinction; and that the role of global security enforcer is one that rightly remains with a world superpower? The UN can be the world’s cop for the smaller stuff.

        I didn’t hear him abdicate our right to insure our security as a nation. That distinction sounds like a clear message to Russia and China; maybe one that just didn’t resonate domestically where we clearly see the distinction between the two forces and therefore tend to confuse the two when speaking offhand about foreign affairs.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Basically, the phrase “the world’s policeman” doesn’t poll well. It’s unpopular on both the left and the right. THAT’s why, according to the president, we’re “not the world’s policeman.”

          Even though the other things he says acknowledge the reality that we are

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        To Joe Klein, for one, who writes of the president’s performance being “one of the more stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I’ve ever witnessed…The consequences of Obama’s amateur display ripple out across the world.”

        1. Phillip

          I said America’s standing, not Obama’s. Anyway, considering how unpopular the idea of American intervention in Syria is globally, not just domestically, ever think that maybe pursuing the idea of this possible positive step short of warfare might actually increase America’s standing in the world?


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