Obama's big question mark on Syria

US President Barack Obama speaks before he gives the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sergeant Ty M. Carter during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington 26 August 2013 If the US strikes, what then?

President Barack Obama says he has made no decision on military action. But he's pretty clear what it might be and what it won't be.

Speaking to PBS Newshour, he said any action would be "tailored", "limited" and intended to send a signal to the Syrian government to discourage them from using chemical weapons again.

But he also said he had decided against "direct military engagement", adding: "I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria" and spoke of "not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of Iraq".

There is no doubt that is not just Mr Obama's view - it is a heartfelt plea by a military involved in 10 years of war.

But it raises a lot of questions. What action sends a message to Bashar al-Assad, but does not loosen his grip on power?

A couple of cruise missiles? Three days of air attacks? The destruction of air bases?

The most obvious response, on the chemical weapons bases themselves, has apparently been ruled out by most experts because it would simply disperse the deadly agents far and wide.

It is obvious that when President George W Bush declared war on Afghanistan he didn't expect troops to still be there more than a decade later. Yet it happened. The slope to war is very slippery.

Of course in one sense it is relatively easy for Mr Obama not to get dragged in. He could order one attack and refuse to do any more. But that could leave him looking weak, his action a hollow symbol. There could be retaliation.

Mr Assad could be more determined than before. By declaring that he will avoid a long conflict Mr Obama could be unintentionally signalling to him that this is a one-off punishment, not a response that could escalate to match the regime's actions.

One source, deeply involved, told me an important part of the discussions was exactly that: "Something needs to be done, but what is the impact? What is a surgical strike for? If Assad does it again what do you do? What is the ultimate action?

"Big question mark."

It is indeed.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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    Comment number 290.

    250. dmdonaldson
    The poster in question has been banned many times under many aliases. This person always uses racist, anti-Semitic elements and arguments. I don't report him nor would I silence him. He is too good a sign that racism and anti-Semitism have not been defeated.

    268 Your definition of Martial law is faulty and it is not present in the US. No pravda in you tovarische.

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    Comment number 289.

    Watch PMQT, Britain's funniest TV comedy export. Braying jackasses and barking hyenas. I bet most of them are drunk.
    Physician heal thyself ;)
    "One of the world's greatest secrets - everything mankind does is much, much easier if you're ever so slightly drunk.."


    "But never, ever, more than slightly-less-than-two-drinks!"

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    Comment number 288.

    154 I thought you long dead Mr. Chamberlain. So, Neville, please explain how peaceful countries disarming in a world full of viscious and unprincipled leaders like Kim Jeong Un, Vladimir Putin, and the Assads can guarantee “Peace in Our Time?” Even IF they left the rest of us alone they would war with each other [see Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact].

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    Comment number 287.

    I hope the Parliament's vote will reinforce Pres. Obama's tendency to caution. Furthermore, I hope the reactions of foreign people and governments open the eyes of my fellow citizens to the fact that who we elect, what he does and how he does it affects not only our reputation in the world but our ability to make alliances and defend ourselves.

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    Comment number 286.

    What makes one nation different from another and why are people drawn to certain countries. It is not just wealth and power, it is also a respect for the attitudes and principles that they have attempted to follow. Why did we declare war on Germany after it invaded Poland? Why did the US help the UK in WW2. Why did we send convoys to Murmansk, or defend Malta. Was that all illogical emotion?


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