President Obama's performance Wednesday at American University was feisty and fatalistic at the same time, his determination to sell his Iran deal blending with his resignation over the intransigence of his critics. Before he said a word, he knew that he would not be swaying any Republicans in Congress. But he doesn't need their votes. He needs enough Democrats to sustain his inevitable veto, making his target audience a very small group.
But this president once aimed much higher with his oratory. Six summers ago, he reached for the stars when he addressed the Muslim world and spoke of overcoming "decades of mistrust" with Iran. He promised "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims." In the 76 months between that speech and his visit to the AU campus, he has gone from trying "to make the world we seek" to urging his critics to see the world — or at least the Middle East — as it is and to accept his contention that there is no better deal to be had with Iran.
This is a president who has difficulty hiding his disinterest when he is forced to give a speech about a topic low on his priority list. But Iran is something he clearly cares about passionately. At his recent press conference, he all but begged for a chance to talk more about the deal he negotiated. And that passion was evident at American in his almost hour-long address. He sees extraordinarily high stakes in this debate, and he wants the country to see what he sees.