"[We] threaten none, covet the possessions of none, desire the overthrow of none." Woodrow Wilson, in describing the American people, was either lying or severely delusional. Retrospectively, the United States has almost invariably pursued policies that it found most economically and politically (as opposed to morally) rewarding. Despite pretensions at humanitarian justice, our nation has, when necessary, facilitated everything from the very atrocities it publicly condemned to the subversion of democratically-elected leaders and financing of puppet despots. When it benefited us, we've gladly ignored Wilson's lofty precept and exercised realpolitik.
Thus, in the context of Syria, American voters and their representatives must understand that intervening isn't about policing the Middle East; crippling Bashar al-Assad's regime isn't punishment for a humanitarian injustice, and even a violation of the Geneva Protocol (a chemical weapons ban practically codified into international law); intervening is the United States's preservation of its integrity, an assertion of the credibility of its threats and political promises.
President Obama, roughly a year ago, remarked to the press that "a red line is [...] chemical weapons moving around or being utilized." But with foreign policy and military maneuvers shadowed by the specters of failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with America exhibiting only minor economic growth after the worst of a protracted recession, threatening military action appeared risky. Obama was gambling and cleverly weighing the Syrian conflict.
The president reasonably believed that he could afford to issue a hollow threat. By warning Assad against the use of sarin gas and comparably potent agents, the United States could assume a moral, humane stance on a consequential Middle Eastern war. Moreover, a year ago, the Syrian government nearly verged on collapse, as the majority of rebel factions were united under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, sectarian extremists were marginal, and the conflict hadn't begun decanting into the fringes of adjacent Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Assad's overthrow was practically within sight, and, hence, Obama's threat would remain relevant for a short period of time. He expected that he'd never have to enforce the "red line" he established. After all, would the dictator of a withering state dare to test an American threat?
Assad evidently has. Initial reports of chemical weapon usage surfaced in December 2012, but, despite endorsement by the State Department, were overturned by the National Security Council. Others followed: in March 2013, missiles allegedly delivered gas payloads to districts in Aleppo and Damascus; a month later, British scientists confirmed the presence of weaponized chemicals in a soil sample smuggled out of a war zone; and, of greater importance, nerve-gas attacks resulted in upwards of 600 deaths just two weeks ago. Ample evidence points to Assad, whose initial refusal to allow United Nations inspectors entry equated, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, an admission of guilt.
Obama blundered, the gambit failed, and the United States will now likely intervene in yet another peripheral conflict. Regrettable, yes, but we're past the event horizon. Congress, now considering authorization of military action, must act definitively and unhesitatingly. America remains the globe's leading superpower, if only for the near future -- indecisiveness in enforcing a military threat reflects miserably on its national integrity. To preserve our political credibility and mitigate the damage it has already suffered (from Obama's foot-dragging immediately after the August attacks), the United States must deal Assad a crippling blow. Otherwise, what's to prevent the likes of an increasingly confident Russia and China from asserting their preferences on the international stage? What ultimatum will deter Iran and North Korea from constructing nuclear weapons? Intervention won't quell the civil war, nor, should it remove Assad from power, herald the rise of an improved Syria. The rebels, now laced with terrorist cells and extremist militias like al Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra, don't offer better prospects for the country's future than does its current dictator. But an attack will reinforce America's political weight and prevent its deterioration.
We should undertake surgical strikes: maximally cost-effective, measured, and pulverizing, a contemporary iteration of blitzkrieg. Ballistic missiles can decimate the regime's infrastructure with minimal collateral damage, targeting command centers, weapon stockpiles, and energy supplies. Aerial bombardment could be conducted when necessary. If concerted properly, intervention in Syria would hardly resemble the chaos of Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly because we would driven by an obligation, rather than a desire, to intervene. (Syria doesn't quite have 150 million barrels of oil.) We will not deploy soldiers, we will briskly secure our goals, and we will depart as cleanly as we entered.
After the dust has settled, though, Obama and like-minded American politicians must learn from the Syrian mistake. After witnessing the delayed response to Assad's chemical massacre, deviant nations will be even more eager to test our willingness to enforce foreign policy. We must expect to make good of any further threats and political promises we issue. Moreover, we should gradually decrease overt involvement in the hotbeds of foreign turmoil and continue our work covertly. Meanwhile, to conclusively end our role in the Syrian crisis, Congress must authorize intervention, act with decisive military action, get out, and avoid repeating the blunder.