If President Barack Obama ever does get around to targeting Syria, with congressional approval, it will be the strangest U.S. military strike in recent memory.
The administration has made a convincing case that the Syrian regime gassed 1,400 of its own people to death last month, including 426 children. And yes, the use of poison gas violates longstanding international norms.
Yet Obama can't seem to make up his mind if he wants to punish Syria for using chemical weapons or not.
On Saturday, he made a strong case for using military action to deter anyone from deploying these terrible weapons again. He said he'd decided to strike Syria, then — in the very same speech — said he was postponing the mission until he gets authorization from Congress.
Obama and his spokesmen have already spent a week insisting, over and over, that any strike would be a “limited narrow act.”
Missiles would be fired from ships in the Mediterranean for a short time, aimed only at sites linked to the delivery (not the storage depots) of chemical weapons.
Furthermore, the aim would not be to unseat President Bashar al-Assad, or to impact the wider Syrian conflict. Meantime, his aides have so clearly telegraphed the possible targets that, according to opposition sources, the regime has been trucking troops, files, and equipment away from those sites.
The administration's litany of limitations already had Syrian opposition leaders comparing a possible strike to Operation Desert Fox, the Clinton administration's much derided four-day bombing campaign in 1998 that aimed to degrade Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
After Saturday's speech, this latter-day Desert Fox is looking more like Operation Desert Farce.
Obama's public dithering is confusing both his allies and his foes. “He seems unable to make difficult decisions,” says Hisham Melhem, the veteran Washington bureau chief of al-Arabiya news channel. “This will embolden Assad and the opposition jihadis and demoralize the secular, moderate Syrian opposition. Obama is gambling with his reputation at home and abroad.”