We all remember the infamous “red line” that President Obama drew with Syria in 2012. The president’s impromptu news conference on Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons was informal, unscripted and came as a surprise, even to his aides. Usually talking points are crafted and discussed in advance and every statement is carefully weighed for its potential impact. But on that day Mr. Obama candidly discussed his stand with Syria and how any use of chemical weapons by them would “change my calculus.”
His comments were not only informal; they were personal as he described his concern regarding Assad’s alleged behavior. The message that was received by almost everyone who was listening was that “we” (The United States) would take military action if the alleged atrocities were confirmed.
In a subsequent press conference, the President attempted to take back his comments- saying that the red line had been drawn not by him but by the international community when it outlawed the use of such weapons. Clearly talking points had quickly been crafted that reframed the demand for limits and action as a stand that the world community had taken and would need to enforce along with the United States.
This past week it was clearly evident how the President’s earlier experience with Syria influenced him when he spoke about the threat that Russia is now posing to Ukraine. His language was carefully crafted, tight and on point. He sprinkled the term “international community” throughout his remarks as he talked about the interest of the people of Ukraine as well as that of Russia. His focus was on respecting borders, upholding international law and avoiding destabilization in the region. The message was clear- “we” meaning the international community will stand together for Ukraine, uphold international law and provide consequences should that law be violated.