Patterico's Pontifications


Kerry: Planned U.S. Attack on Syria Will Be “Unbelievably Small” – Updated with Cheerios

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:29 am

This is so absurd you have to check to make sure it’s not satire. They’ve crossed a “red line,” we are told, and America’s credibility is at stake. What better way to build our credibility than to promise an attack that is “unbelievably small”?

Kerry said the Americans were planning an “unbelievably small” attack on Syria. “We will be able to 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. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”

Nothing says “watch out, Iran!” like a promise that our military response to Syria will be feckless. (Assad, for his part, is, um, not promising to keep his response small.)

It sounds like the desperate last pitch of a bad used car peddler. If the polls are any indication, Americans are responding “no sale.” Hillary can talk today, and Obama can talk tomorrow, but all they’re doing is further undermining U.S. credibility. This is clearly not going to happen, and it has been a disaster at all times.

If our ultimate goal is truly to maintain credibility with Iran, Alan Dershowitz has a suggestion: reject military action against Syria, but approve it now — in advance — on Iran, should they cross their own “red line”:

There is a way out of this dilemma, at least with regard to Iran and its future actions. The president should secure congressional approval now as to the red line with Iran.

He should ask Congress for authorization now to take military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program if it were to cross the red line he has already drawn. If Congress gives its approval, that action will increase the deterrent threat currently directed against Iran, by underscoring the red line as having been drawn both by the president and by Congress.

It should leave no doubt in the minds of the Iranian mullahs that the president not only has the will to enforce the red line but also has the authority from Congress to do so.

Having the authority to engage in military action does not require that the president take such action; it only empowers him to do so if he chooses, without further action by Congress.

But as President Obama has repeatedly warned: he does not bluff; if he says he will not permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons, he means it — unless Congress stops him.

If Congress were now to give advance approval to the red line with Iran, the mullahs will understand that there will be no stopping the president from keeping his word. Only if the mullahs believe that President Obama will attack their nuclear reactors if they cross the red line will there be any hope of deterring them from doing so.

The media would make this approach difficult, of course; approving force even with strict conditions will be portrayed as a bellicose act. Also, in this case, waiting for the red line to be crossed is probably waiting too long. North Korea has nukes (thank you, Bill Clinton) and threatens us every time they want money. The conventional wisdom on North Korea seems to be, since they already have them, an attack is no longer feasible. I’m not sure why that line of argument would not apply to Iran as well.

I don’t necessarily endorse Dershowitz’s proposal, but it’s at least worth discussing.

It can’t be any stupider than promising an unbelievably small attack on Syria.

*** Update ****

A second senior official, who has seen the most recent planning, offered this metaphor to describe such a strike: If Assad is eating Cheerios, we’re going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he’ll still be able to eat Cheerios.

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