Customarily, the power of presidential speeches is in their ability to recognize the public's desires (even if those are still hidden) and translate them efficiently and with conviction into specific policies that will then garner the president widespread support.
A clear illustration of this can be found in a speech by former President Lyndon B. Johnson on March 15, 1965. With his honed political instincts (which abandoned him in the Vietnamese jungles), Johnson understood that the time was right to open a new door for racial equality in America, and his unforgettable speech provided the moral and ethical framework for supporting far-reaching legislative initiatives.
In contrast, in his speech to the nation on Tuesday, President Barack Obama was unable to bridge the gap between the public's preferred course of action and his own over the situation in Syria. His speech was rife with contradictions and lacked any message of substance. On the one hand, his words expressed an uncompromising militancy and saber rattling over the war crimes committed by the regime in Damascus. However, by the time the speech was given it was even clearer to everyone that the chances of Obama following through with his threat of a military operation were slim to none.
Indeed, not only did the White House's public relations barrage on the Congress do little to soften it or the public's opposition to a military strike (essentially rendering it a mere pipe dream), with his speech he granted support -- even if only partial and temporary -- to the diplomatic guidelines set out by none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the Syrian crisis.
With this in mind, Obama's aggressive words rang especially hollow, and once again exposed America's complete and utter foreign policy bankruptcy under his stewardship, because the option of a military strike has been shelved for now.
One gets the impression that the White House was unable to bridge the gap between America's hegemony (and the responsibility that comes with this status to ensure the safety and welfare of the international community, particularly in light of the horrific use of chemical weapons in Damascus, which the president recounted in chilling detail), and Obama's fundamental ambition, which he expressed in his speech, not to be the "world's policeman."
The president's allegedly firm commitment to punish the Syrian regime stood, therefore, in contradiction with the vast majority of the American public's desire to disengage from the battlefields and crisis centers in the international arena, which do not pose a clear and present danger to American security. Because the desire to focus on domestic matters was Obama's own original calling card, we can better understand why his message was full of dialectical contradictions that provide no logical recourse.
In the end, Obama's speech to the nation, which was more of a passionless didactic recitation, will not go down in the history books as a defining moment. At the most it will be a footnote in the chapter about the incomprehensible chasm between rhetoric and reality.
Even the speaker's considerable oratory talents were unable to extricate him from the Catch 22 into which he has, with his own hands, put himself. In this regard, the president's speech was more a fledgling's chirp than the proud battle cry of the American eagle.