The following is an early, not-entirely-verified draft of remarks President Barack Obama was set to deliver announcing a strike in Syria. It was found in a rubbish bin outside the White House shortly after he changed course and decided to seek congressional approval first:
My fellow Americans, I'm speaking to you tonight because, at my orders, the United States has begun punitive strikes against the forces of President Bashar Assad of Syria.
There's a formula to this kind of address: some references to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding inside Syria's borders, some nods to the international community's support, some claims about the threat the Assad regime poses to U.S. interests and finally a stirring peroration about freedom, democracy and human rights.
But it's my second term, and I'm awfully tired of talking in clich?.
So let's be frank: Striking Syria isn't going to put an end to the killing there or plant democracy in Damascus, so it's hard to make the case that our values are really on the line.
Nor are our immediate interests: Assad's regime doesn't pose a direct threat to the United States or our allies, and given the kind of people leading the Syrian rebellion these days, we may be better off if the civil war drags out as long as possible without a winner.
Nor do we have much in the way of official international support — no Security Council, no Arab League, not even the British. We're down to the same "coalition of the willing" we started with in the 1770s: It's just us and the French.
Even at home, I don't have many cheerleaders. My base is naturally anti-war, half the Republican Party has turned anti-interventionist, and the hawks of the right and left see this kind of strike as too limited to be worthwhile.
No, this one's on me. And I owe you an explanation of what I'm thinking.
Basically, it comes down to America's role on the international stage, and how we can use our extraordinary military preponderance for our own good and the world's.
One answer, embraced by my predecessor, is that we should be in the business of spreading democracy by force of arms. American military power should be deployed to challenge authoritarian powers whenever possible, to protect democratic governments and movements whenever necessary and to topple dictators outright when the opportunity presents itself.
The experience of Iraq and Afghanistan exposed the limits of this expansive approach. Which is why I promised to chart a different course. After neoconservatism, I pledged a mix of realism and liberal internationalism, in which military force would be used much more sparingly, and American power would be placed in the service of a stable, rule-based, multilateral world order.
I still believe in the "stable" and "rule-based" part. But what the view from this office has taught me is that real stability still depends almost exclusively on the U.S. military's monopoly on global force. Multilateralism is a nice idea, but right now it's the Pax Americana or nothing. There's nobody else prepared to act to limit the ambitions of bad actors and keep them successfully boxed in.
And that's really all this intervention is about. There is an acknowledged line around the use of chemical weapons, Assad's government flagrantly crossed it, and we're the only ones who can make him pay a price.