Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Muddling the issues for attacking Syria

The news this morning on the latest developments between the US and Syria is confusing. As a result of Secretary of State John Kerry's rhetorical comment the other day, Syrian President Assad has apparently agreed to a Russian proposal to turn over all of his chemical weapons to international supervision. In the meantime, Secretary Kerry has described US plans for a military strike against Syria as "unbelievably small," and as far as we know, President Obama still plans to make a case for attacking Syria in his speech this evening. Even Eugene Robinson, one of Obama's most loyal supporters among the punditry, is confused. In his recent column at the Washington Post, Robinson asks, "Does Obama want to attack Syria or not?"

The Obama administration keeps undermining its own case for a punitive strike in Syria. If the president wants permission from Congress and support from the American people, he and his aides had better get their story straight.

The “messaging,” to use an unfortunate Washington term, has been confusing, contradictory and halfhearted. The nation simply will not approve going to war if its leaders cannot coherently explain what they want to do, how they plan to do it and why.

Secretary of State John Kerry threw mud into turbid waters Monday when he said the attack would be an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.” This punch line came at the end of a string of similar assurances: no “troops on the ground,” nothing “prolonged,” merely a “very targeted, short-term” affair.

But if the attack is designed to be so limited, why bother? Why not just send a special envoy to give Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad a stern talking-to, followed perhaps by a reassuring hug? 

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