If President Barack Obama's short speech Tuesday was supposed to make the case for the United States injecting itself into Syria's civil war, it missed badly.

However, if the speech, as we suspect, was designed to signal the administration is seeking a way out of a diplomatic mess largely of its own making, then it may be productive.

Obama's speech broke little new ground. We find it difficult to believe it swayed many undecided Americans to support his call for limited military strikes against Syria to punish that nation's leadership for using chemical weapons on its own people.

President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, Sept. 10.  EPA/EVAN VUCCI /
President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, Sept. 10. EPA/EVAN VUCCI / POOL

The speech was long on emotion and reiteration, but short on clear explanations of why an attack is in our national interest. Vague assertions about what other tyrants might do are not strong enough to move a nation weary of war and wary of additional foreign entanglements.

The speech stoked the valid observation that the more Obama's administration explains its plans the more support it loses. That seems especially true in Congress where the president cannot afford to lose a showdown vote.

The first law of holes declares that once in one, it is imperative to stop digging. We hope the wisdom of that proverb is what drove Obama to ask Congress to delay its strike authorization vote while new diplomatic options are explored.

The "new" options center on an off-handed notion floated by Secretary of State John Kerry during a speech Monday that Syria could forestall a U.S. attack if it surrendered its stash of chemical weapons to the international community.

It was a tantalizing gambit. But in the same speech even Kerry acknowledged it was something that Syria likely "cannot do."

But Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seized the public-relations opportunity. Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, expressed support for such a resolution in the U.N. Security Council and Assad agreed. France, our lone ally for military action, has begun to draft such a resolution.

On the surface, this sounds encouraging. It controls chemical weapons that have heretofore been uncontrolled and it reasonably ensures Assad will not use those weapons in the future. However, weapons experts tell us that the logistics of such an endeavor -- especially during a civil war -- are dangerous and mind-boggling. Besides, the entire plan hinges on Obama keeping the credible threat of military action on the table, which we are not convinced he can do.

Certainly, diplomatic answers here are better than military ones, but no one should be duped into thinking that a diplomatic solution is close at hand.