The Obama administration may well be the first in American history to ask Congress to authorize a military slap on the wrist. How else to interpret the promises and representations flowing from the White House that any military action will not involve "boots on the ground," will last no more than two or three days, will be in John Kerry's words "unbelievably small." A White House aide told the LA Times that the president's attack would be "just muscular enough not to get mocked."
Obama is asking for authority he insists he does not need to carry out a military campaign that will, to quote Kerry again, "hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's civil war ..."
How can Congress take this seriously? "This is not war in the classic sense," the secretary of state explained. Right, and that's part of the problem.
The president insists that it isn't his credibility but that of the "international community" that is at stake here. Yet the principle he claims to be upholding -- that chemical weapons use should never be tolerated -- is not one that gave him second thoughts in that 2002 speech. He acknowledged that Saddam "butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied U.N. resolutions, thwarted U.N. inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy."
But removing Saddam by force -- even though he gassed more of his own people than Assad has his -- constituted a "dumb war." The president must now persuade Congress that his "unbelievably small" pinprick of violence a) will adequately deter a hardened war criminal, and b) is not "dumb."