Tuesday September 3, 2013
Advocates of military action against Syria describe the use of force wholly unrealistically, relying on such terms as narrow, proportional, and surgical. President Obama says he is considering a “limited, tailored” operation to send “a shot across the bow.” His analogy fails. A shot across the bow is deliberately designed to miss an adversary, intending to send a clear and threatening warning. In contrast, Obama and his advisers plan to hit and destroy specific military targets in Syria to punish President Assad for the use of chemical weapons against his own people.
The analogy is not merely a bad one. It misleads the public, and the world, about what the Obama administration wants to do. Presidents need to talk straight to build credibility and public trust. The truth is that Obama cannot limit the consequences of a military initiative. It will be open-ended and entirely beyond the predictive capacity of his administration to anticipate what comes after the initial attack.