THE BLOG
09/24/2014 10:41 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

On White House Lawn, Obama Strategically Underplays Attack on ISIL

It wasn't a speech. It wasn't even an address. It was a book report.

Speaking Tuesday on the White House lawn as Marine 1 spooled up it's engines behind him, President Obama tripped-up the media. What was billed as a 10-minute speech on last night's Syria actions against ISIS, was delivered in just 3 minutes 11 seconds. Obama was already striding back to the White House door before TV news crews even realized that the speech was over.

What happened? For a president whose foreign policy credentials are so often doubted, you would think that he might have wanted to make a little more out of the moment.

What happened was a delicate, if dull, attempt to keep a coalition together. A coalition in Congress, and an unusual coalition in the Arab world. Both are exceptional and crucial.

Lets consider the speech for just one moment. The president paid tribute to the armed forces involved. He paid tribute to the Arab nations who joined the attacks. He laid out the rationale for the attacks. End of story.

We heard no moments of pride, and it was almost devoid of rhetorical flourishes. All of Obama's usual speech elements were, oddly, missing.

The clues to Obama's mission in this speech were the words "bipartisan", which occurred twice, 'coalition', which occurred once, and a special-guest appearance by that horribly tired old cliche "shoulder to shoulder". These four phrases comprised the closest that we could hear to any form of a dominant message, and that message was 'let's stay together'.

We did receive one slight rhetorical flourish, and that was when the president used a form that carries the marvellous name of Dirimens Copulatio -- it's the "not only, but also" figure. The purpose of Dirimens is to amplify a point -- to make things appear bigger. We heard it in the president's phrase "...this makes it clear that this is not America's fight alone." Again -- this is a shove towards that topic of bipartisanship.

It must have been tempting for White House speech writers to incorporate a couple of political point-scorers on behalf of the president. He's taken such heat in recent weeks and months for a seemingly toothless foreign policy. When we've just seen American missiles and jets pounding a repulsive terrorist group, then surely this is the time to notch up at least a couple of political bonus point?

Absolutely not. Had the president attempted to take any form of political credit for last night's attacks, what would then have happened to that rare bi-partisanship? It would have fractured - both at home, and potentially between the growing coalition of Gulf States.

That's why we got a book-report on the White House lawn, and not a speech, and for Tuesday's needs that was just what was needed. It will hold the coalition together.

Now let's see how he does at the UN. Will we get more of the same, or will there be a change of tone?

Peter Paskale is a communications coach and analyst who writes The Presenters' Blog at speak2all.wordpress.com