The hawks are squawking. Congressional conservatives and the right-wing media are blasting President
The president insists that there is a "game-changing" red line the Syrian government will have crossed if it is found to have used chemical weapons against its people, but he has bent the red line so far, the hawks say, that not only the Syrians, but the Iranians and North Koreans will conclude Obama is a man with a marshmallow spine whose warnings can be flouted with impunity.
The president has, indeed, added more caveats to his tough talk. In his news conference on Tuesday, the president said if rock-solid proof is found that a gas attack has taken place he would "rethink" what to do next, choosing from an unspecified range of punitive options that might not include military action.
His line got more elastic after last week's ominous but rubbery announcement that U.S. intelligence agencies have found evidence of a possible use of the nerve gas sarin -- somewhere, sometime, against somebody in Syria, "with some degree of varying confidence" (in the words of Defense Secretary
Though equivocal, that finding is evidence enough for the hawks who long for a much more resolute president in the mold of
Obama wisely, and necessarily, is taking a much more cautious approach, clearly reluctant to go before the international community without unimpeachable evidence against the
"If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we may find ourselves in the position where we can't mobilize the international community to support what we do," Obama told reporters.
Even if such evidence can be provided, there is still the hard question of what to do in response. Having spent a decade fighting two wars in the Middle East with dubious results, there are not many Americans beyond Senate hawks such as
Sure, Syrian President
Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has been most vocal in calling Obama a foreign policy weakling, acknowledges that it's a tricky situation. His solution to dealing with the rebels is to "give the right arms to the right people" and "to be ready to fight two wars" -- one against Assad and the other against the Islamist rebel faction. Lest that sound too much like a quagmire, Graham adds that it can be done without "boots on the ground."
If that is what passes for a plan of action from the hawks, we can be grateful that the president is looking for other options. It is worth remembering that not too many years ago we armed a rebel army in Afghanistan to drive out the Soviets. After the Soviets were gone, a large share of those rebels became the Taliban.