Having leaked to the world, and thus to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a detailed briefing of the coming U.S. air attack on Syria — (1) the source (offshore warships and perhaps a bomber or two), (2) the weapon (cruise missiles), (3) the duration (two or three days), (4) the purpose (punishment, not “regime change”) — perhaps we should be publishing the exact time the bombs will fall, lest we disrupt dinner in Damascus.
So much for the element of surprise. Into his third year of dithering, two years after declaring Assad had to go, one year after drawing — then erasing — his own red line on chemical weapons, Barack Obama has been stirred to action.
Or more accurately, shamed into action. Which is the worst possible reason. A president doesn't commit soldiers to a war for which he has zero enthusiasm. Nor does one go to war for demonstration purposes.
Want to send a message? Call Western Union. A Tomahawk missile is for killing. A serious instrument of war demands a serious purpose.
The purpose can be either punitive or strategic: either a spasm of conscience that will inflame our opponents yet leave not a trace, or a considered application of abundant American power to alter the strategic equation that is now heavily favoring our worst enemies in the heart of the Middle East.
There are risks to any attack. Blowback terror from Syria and its terrorist allies. Threatened retaliation by Iran or Hezbollah on Israel — that could lead to a guns-of-August regional conflagration. Moreover, a mere punitive pinprick after which Assad emerges from the smoke intact and emboldened would demonstrate nothing but U.S. weakness and ineffectiveness.
In 1998, after al-Qaida blew up two U.S. embassies in Africa, Bill Clinton lobbed a few cruise missiles into empty tents in Afghanistan. That showed 'em.
It did. It showed terminal unseriousness. Al-Qaida got the message. Two years later, the USS Cole. A year after that, 9/11.