The usual purpose of an address like the one President Obama will deliver tonight regarding ISIS is to rally support for military action by explaining to the citizenry why such action is required. But Obama will flip that script tonight, as he tries to demonstrate that his awareness of ISIS’s threat matches that of the citizenry.
Recent events, which culminated in the beheadings of two Americans, have convinced the public of the need for military action. Having reached that conclusion on their own, Americans were concerned by Obama’s admission that he had no strategy for dealing with ISIS and, lack of strategy aside, by his failure even to take a consistent position as to his goal (was it to render ISIS manageable or to degrade and destroy it?).
Obama’s Meet the Press appearance on Sunday signified that he might finally be starting to get it. When Team Obama saw that this appearance had played well, it decided that Obama should deliver a prime time address, the president’s first in a year.
It’s never a bad idea to try and appear presidential, even when the president is (again) leading from behind.
In sum, Obama’s speech tonight will not really be an attempt to rally the country or to explain the need for action to a skeptical or uninformed public. It will not, in other words, be a genuine exercise in leadership. Rather, Obama will attempt to show that he has caught up with the country.
The parade has started without the drum major. Tonight, the drum major will scramble to get in front of the marching band and enable it to play the music it wants.