As Pete mentioned, it’s obviously a hell of a mess and there are no good options. But there’s no getting around the fact that Barack Obama is the president of the United States and he repeatedly warned Assad against using chemical weapons. We can wish that both of these things weren’t true, but they are. It was foolish of the president to make threats he had so little inclination to make good on, but those threats weren’t outlandish on their face: It’s very easy to imagine any other U.S. president contemplating an anti-U.S. dictator using WMD against his own population making the same warnings. It’s becoming a conservative trope to say doing nothing would be better than a minimal attack. How would this work in the real world, though? Not only would the president have to eat his words now, he would have to mumble and look at his shoes during what would surely be subsequent and perhaps much worse chemical attacks in the future. Does anyone doubt that Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah would be delighted at our humiliation? As a general matter, limited attacks from the air don’t have much to recommend them, but Israel has undertaken carefully calibrated strikes against Syria — granted, with much more concrete aims — without seeing its national-security posture collapse. The problem, obviously, with going all the way and pursuing regime change is that we don’t have confidence in the opposition. As our editorial argued, we should be working on the ground to change that.
by Rich Lowry