There’s little need for people opposed to launching any kind of attack on Syria to expend much energy doing so when those tasked with making the case for reminding Bashar al-Assad that using chemical weapons is not something the international community can or will ignore are making such a bloody hash of the job.
Here, for instance, is John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, reminding us all that the Americans really don’t want to be taking action at all. They’ve been pushed into doing so, the result of both the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons (why assume Assad’s people are clever enough not to use them?) and by President Barack Obama’s rhetoric about red lines and so on. But this is not where this American president would really like to be.
Not that Obama is a pacifist or isolationist (neither party enjoying much popularity in Washington) but you’ll remember he was never against all wars, only opposed to dumb ones.
So god knows what he thinks of his Secretary of State today. Kerry, you see, has today promised that the attack on Syria will be “unbelievably small”. That will learn the Syrian despot, right enough.
Now of course you know what Kerry was trying to do. Plenty of people suspect any action in Syria risks being Iraq all over again and it doesn’t matter a damn that you tell them no-one has plans for the 101st Airborne to drop in to Aleppo. So in the fact of so much suspicion and in a climate lacking, shall we say, trust you can understand why Kerry and Obama want to stress the limited nature of their planned punitive raid.
But since the purpose of the raid is – and no-one sensible disputes this, I think – just to send a message to Assad and other tyrants that the use of chemical weapons is something up with which the international community will not put it makes very little sense to send a message that’s so unbelievably small neither Assad nor his counterparts elsewhere will feel the need to read or otherwise get it. And if the message is not received it has not, in this instance, been sent either.
And since, moreover, the case for military action also rests upon the sense that American (and western) credibility is on the line vis a vis Syria (and all future foreign entanglements) it seems foolish to make a virtue out of the fact that this action is actually going to be, as Kerry puts it, unbelievably small. What price credibility then?
This is also, I would and will add, a reminder that the US has still not quite mastered diplomacy in the internet age. Kerry, of course, was wanting to reassure anxious allies that the US is not going to go mental re: Syria. But, of course, what he says here is also heard in Syria. Where the US wants to send the message that actually it is prepared to go mental – or at least a little bit mental – in pursuit of the international community’s objectives. Tailoring your message to your audience is much more difficult these days. Another reason for talking less, too.