It didn’t take long, but President Obama made the case for American exceptionalism, and why that exceptionalism requires us to bear exceptional burdens, much to the chagrin of many liberals, who need a dose of reality, and many right-wingers, who have long severed ties with reality.
Here is the part of the President’s address to the nation, absent from any network or cable news boilerplate commentary, that should ring in the ears of doubters who don’t believe that congressional authorization of American action is wise:
My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.
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.
Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask: What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?
Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.” Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.
America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
We Americans, I believe and have argued, represent something exceptional. There is an “essential truth” at stake here: America is the “anchor of global security,” like it or not. And “enforcing” international agreements is sometimes one of the burdens of being that anchor. And the world is a much better place because, historically, America has often borne the burden of enforcement.
This is no time to retreat, especially since American presidential resolve and the threat of American military power has apparently, though not yet decisively, caused Russia and Syria to seek refuge in compliance with international norms. Congress should see the reality before it and, when the time comes, authorize the President, within the reasonable limitations it sets, to pursue the burdens of moral leadership.