President Obama briefly addressed the media this afternoon, soon after Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks, telling reporters that he has not yet made a decision about what the U.S. will do in Syria, but nevertheless sounding like a president poised to take military action.
Speaking briefly before a meeting with leaders of the Baltic states, the president said that he has not made a final decision on how to respond to the reported use of chemical weapons by Syrian president Bashar Assad, but he reiterated that the "wide range of options" being considered by the administration does not include troops in the region."In no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign, but we are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria but others around the world understand that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban and norm," he said.
Just to reiterate a point from earlier, there's been no indication of what might yet prevent a "limited" military strike at this point. There are no coalition partners the U.S. is awaiting word from; there are no deadlines the Assad regime is expected to meet; there is no report officials are waiting to read; there is no threat that unless Syria does x the U.S. will do y; there is no vote from Congress (or anyone else) that still needs to take place.
The question of whether the Obama administration will strike has apparently been answered.
And while the point seems clear enough -- the president and his team believe Syria needs to be punished for having used chemical weapons to kill its own citizens, including children and unarmed civilians -- we do not yet know what, specifically, the military strikes are intended to accomplish, or even whether it will deter Assad from doing it again.
What's more, pay attention to what "limited" might mean. Obama appears to want to thread a needle -- the strike will be narrow and modest enough to skirt the need for congressional approval, but significant enough to deter Syria in the future.