Amateur hour. Muddled. Incoherent Mess. These are just some of the words pundits, mostly liberal, are using to describe President Barack Obama's Tuesday night address to the nation on Syria.
Maureen Dowd, a liberal columnist for The New York Times, described Obama's leadership as "flip-flopping," "ambivalent," and "bumbling."
"Amateur hour started when Obama dithered on Syria and failed to explain the stakes there. It escalated last August with a slip by the methodical wordsmith about 'a red line for us' – which the president and Kerry later tried to blur as the world's red line, except the world was averting its eyes," she wrote.
Obama's speech was originally scheduled to make the case to Congress and the nation for a military strike against Syria. Syria had used chemical weapons against about 1,000 civilians, including several hundred children. Obama had already promised that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line," that, if crossed, the U.S. military would respond with force.
Obama declared his intention to enforce the red line after the August 21 attack. Then last week, he announced that he would seek congressional approval before attacking Syria.
The next change came Monday when Sec. of State John Kerry accidentally suggested an alternative to attacking Syria – if Syria turns over all of its chemical weapons, the United States will not attack. Russia is leading an effort to bring about that proposal, which the State Department had initially call a rhetorical gesture. Syrian officials have said they are willing to go follow through with the proposal.
Obama's speech, therefore, ended up with two tasks – the initial task of convincing Congress and Americans to support an attack against Syria, and asking Congress to delay a vote on authorizing the use of force while he waits on the diplomatic effort led by Russia.
Obama's frequent shifting of positions, Dana Milbank, a liberal Washington Post columnist argued, "feels as if the ship of state is bobbing like a cork in international waters."
Drawing comparisons with immigration and gun control, Milbank said Obama's leadership on Syria "can most charitably be described as subtle. But he is so subtle that he sometimes appears to be a bystander."
Dowd wonders, though, why Obama would trust Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, two men who have proven untrustworthy in the past.
"Now, when it is clear Obama can't convince Congress, the American public, his own wife, the world, Liz Cheney or even Donald 'Shock and Awe' Rumsfeld to bomb Syria - just a teensy-weensy bit - Pooty-Poot (as W. called him) rides, shirtless, to the rescue, offering him a face-saving way out?" she asked. "If it were a movie, we'd know it was a trick. We can't trust the soulless Putin - his Botox has given the former K.G.B. officer even more of a poker face - or the heartless Bashar al-Assad. By Tuesday, Putin the Peacemaker was already setting conditions."
Conservative political analyst Nile Gardiner compared Obama to former President Jimmy Carter, claiming that he is "outperforming Jimmy Carter as the most feeble US president of modern times."
"In essence," Gardiner wrote, "and this was amply displayed tonight, Barack Obama has no big picture strategy on Syria, or the wider Middle East, and is bereft of a clear game plan. His speech was also a sea of contradictions. He talked about deploying American military might but has no intention of delivering a decisive blow. He paid lip service to the ideal of American exceptionalism, but is happy to kowtow to Moscow. He urged Congress to support his approach, but wants them to wait before they vote. For these were the words of an exceptionally weak and indecisive president, one who seems to be making up policy on the hoof, as he stumbles and bumbles along on the world stage, with his hapless Secretary of State in tow."
Obama does have at least one strong supporter, though, in pundit Andrew Sullivan, a liberal Republican. Obama is using his skills as a community organizer, Sullivan wrote, by "effectively organizing the world."
"That was one of the clearest, simplest and most moving presidential speeches to the nation I can imagine," Sullivan declared. "It explained and it argued, point after point. Everything the president said extemporaneously at the post-G20 presser was touched on, made terser, more elegant and more persuasive."
A CNN poll showed that Americans who watched the speech were about equally divided on whether Obama effectively made a case for military action against Syria. Forty-seven percent said he did make a convincing case, 50 percent said he did not.