President Obama said some revealing things this morning in his news conference in Russia.
In his long disquisitions, ruminations, on the questions put to him by reporters he said many words, but these managed to leap out.
"I was elected to end wars not start them."
"I'm not itching for military action."
"I've spent the last four years trying to reduce our reliance on military action."
It would be wise to not repeat these sentiments when he speaks to the nation Tuesday night.
These statements are important though not a particular surprise. But when President Obama is asking for the authority to use military force they illustrate the problem members of Congress have in granting that authority.
If he believes his job is to reduce U.S. reliance on military power, is he capable of effectively using that same military power? If he is reluctant to "start a war", will his use of force end the problem he says demands military force or will it be hesitant, weak, and confused, and lead to further provocations that lead to even greater requirements to act with greater force?
Is a President reluctant to use force credible when he either threatens or employs force? Will our adversaries think his military strike is nothing more than symbolic, an attack they can withstand and ultimately ignore?
The President has made it clear he wants to respond to the horrific use of chemical weapons on civilians and especially on children. But he is trying to make it clear his response is a warning to other countries, specifically Iran, that an American red line on nuclear weapons is serious and should not be crossed.
If military action by the U.S. against the Assad regime does not dislodge Assad nor dissuade his further use of forbidden weapons, the lesson to the mullahs in Tehran will be clear: the U.S. will not take the decisive action that would stop them from continued development of nuclear weapons, nor their use.
The President's resolve to stop the world's worst actors from using the world's worst weapons requires that he is willing, even 'itching', to act. His stated reluctance to act, his core mission to end wars not start them, stands in the way of taking his resolve seriously
This question is a major part of the reason President Obama faces a no vote from Congress. Certainly the country is exhausted with war and doesn't want another. But at least for those Republicans whose votes he needs, there is disbelief that this president is so serious about solving this problem of the violation of, in his phrasing, "international norms" that he has enough George W. Bush in him to decisively use military force.
U.S. credibility depends not just on its willingness to take action, but its determination to take effective action.
The President will speak to the nation on Tuesday. That will be his moment to show that what he plans to do will solve the problem he says must be solved.
If he continues to assure the American public he intends a limited, proportional response, it will likely be seen as little more than a slap on the wrist for Assad, an attack that is not only survivable but one from which the regime can quickly reconstitute itself.
In that even, U.S. voters will not be convinced.
Nor will the Iranians.