Is Obama really going to attack Assad’s regime in Syria, or is he just talking? And if he does attack, how far will he go, and what is his ultimate goal?
There’s no dearth of speculation on all those questions. We have Ralph Peters in the NY Post:
Mr. President, do you really think it’s wise to send our missiles and aircraft to provide fire support for al Qaeda? That is exactly what you’ll be doing, if you hit Assad.
Assad’s an odious butcher, filth on two legs. But in the world of serious strategy, you rarely get a choice between black and white. You choose between black and charcoal gray…
For the record, I don’t regret getting rid of Saddam or Khadafy. I regret the ineptitude with which we did these things. When you propose a war, don’t ever expect a cheap date…
We have a president who thinks that, “Gee, maybe, well, gosh, I said I’d do something, so maybe I should…”
That last sentence I quoted in particular seems to describe Obama’s likely state of mind. He drew the line in the sand, and cannot afford to go back on it. And I believe that whatever military response he is contemplating is highly likely to be small and symbolic, in the mold of some of Clinton’s efforts (Bill, that is).
Paul Mirengoff of Powerline is also against an inadequate and half-baked response:
…[W]hen our interest in preventing an Assad victory is factored in, I believe the case for military intervention becomes solid.
But that case rests on selecting military action that sets Assad back significantly. Otherwise, our action won’t help prevent his victory, won’t meaningfully punish him, and will have no hope of deterring him — a difficult task in any case, given that Assad is fighting for survival and his supporters see themselves as fighting to avoid genocide against their minority group.
In other words, if Obama aimlessly launches a cruise missile or two, his action will be a mere gesture — a transparent, and transparently weak, attempt to save face in light of the “red line” remark. It will be deserving of ridicule and contempt, and will be worse, in my view, than no response at all.
Whatever action Obama takes should meaningfully degrade Assad’s military capacity. If it doesn’t, then Assad will assume that the military benefits of using chemical weapons outweigh any cost Obama is willing to inflict. And the rest of the world will conclude that, to paraphrase Kerry, the international norm against using chemical weapons can be violated without meaningful consequences.
Ah, but Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney has gone on record in saying that the goal is not to oust Assad:
I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change,” said Jay Carney, the president’s chief spokesman. “They are about responding to clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.”…
“It is our firm belief that Bashar al-Assad has long since forsaken any legitimacy that he might have to lead and that Syria’s future must be one that is without Assad in power,” Mr. Carney said.
He said it’s in the national security interest of the U.S. to make sure the use of chemical weapons “not go unanswered.”
So, if one believes the administration (always an iffy proposition), it appears that Obama is contemplating a small action of some sort to show he means what he says, sort of; does not intend to directly overthrow Assad but to somehow weaken him and encourage his overthrow; and has no idea what would happen next except turmoil.
That’s the best I can do to understand what’s going on, but it makes sense from what I’ve gleaned about Obama over the years. The whole thing reminds me a bit of the first few lines of one of Macbeth’s famous speeches:
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly. If the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague th’ inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips.
[ADDENDUM: Here's Richard Fernandez's perspective.
Obama is trapped by his own propaganda, the victim of his own myth. He came to power on the strength of his supposed genius; his messianic transcendance. He was destined to make the world America’s friend; usher in a world without nuclear weapons; and fundamentally transform the nation. He was even going to make the oceans fall. Why he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of achievements he had not yet even attained.
It is these expectations that weigh down on him like lead. Had Obama not made any of these vaunting boasts he might not look like the fool he is now. But as his speech on “Red Lines” exemplifies the teleprompter can write check[s] his autopen doesn’t even know how to sign.
Perhaps the only remaining reason for striking Syria without first deciding policy is simply to demonstrate to low information voters that he’s still President; that he can still do something, even if that something is pointless.]