Even when he said: "What we will do always is uphold our solemn obligation, our Article 5 duty, to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies. And in that promise we will never waver". every NATO member state must step up and carry its share of the burden" -- he still wasn't making a call to war.
But he was making a disingenuous call to support the Ukrainian national government in Kiev as if it was a legitimate government. That bit of Western hypocrisy was needed to obscure the reality that the Kiev government came to power in a wholly undemocratic putsch. And it was a putsch in which many Western hypocrites were quite involved, so best to finesse it.
And a call for something other than war was pretty much the way to go, which the President did: "I believe that for both Ukraine and Russia, a stable peace will come through de-escalation, a direct dialogue between Russia and the government of Ukraine and the international community, monitors who can ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, a process of constitutional reform within Ukraine and free and fair elections this spring."
Since a "stable peace" actually exists right now (an "unstable peace" is an oxymoron), there's a veiled threat and a veiled promise in the President's deployment of the term, since it suggests that both sides should back off and live with the status quo. In others words, so much for Crimea. You could call it giving Putin the Bush-Cheney treatment, although Putin is getting away with a lot less murder.
But that's not something a President wants to say out loud and clear, and so he soon arrived at the distraction of the Iraq War, which he opposed, supported, opposed, and ended in disarray.
"But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system.
We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory.
We did not grab its resources for our own gain.
Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people
in a fully sovereign Iraqi state
that can make decisions about its own future."
Well, that's red meat to anyone who cares about logic, principle, or reality, and one would likely assume that President Obama was well aware of how preposterous his assertions were. But it also served as an opportunity to reinforce popular denial of the Iraq debacle by projecting a kind of wish fulfillment onto Ukraine, before it, too, spirals into chaos. One can hope. And the internal tensions and contradictions of Ukraine may be just enough less severe than Iraq's to make the possibility plausible. Any bets?
As others have noted , seeking "to work within the international system " and having the international system tell you NO, doesn't mean you get to go ahead and do what you want anyway -- unless you're some sort of superpower to whom NO has no meaning, which does sound a little hypocritical . The President implied that just the minimal effort within the legal system makes it OK to launch a criminal war.
To assert that "We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory" is to ignore the reality that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, lodged in a former Iraqi palace, is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world and is almost as large as the Vatican City State.