Is This 'Leading From Behind' on Syria?

Jeffrey Goldberg is a columnist for Bloomberg View writing about the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy and national affairs. He is a national correspondent for the Atlantic, the author of "Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror" and a winner of the National Magazine Award for reporting. He has also covered the Middle East as a staff writer for the New Yorker.
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Oh, for God's sake. From the Los Angeles Times:

One U.S. official who has been briefed on the options on Syria said he believed the White House would seek a level of intensity 'just muscular enough not to get mocked' but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia.

There's nothing like acting out of an acute fear of mockery to get you mocked, I suppose. Remember "leading from behind"? This quote ranks up there in the did-someone-actually-say-that category. (By the way, I don't doubt the accuracy of the reporting, I'm just incredulous that someone in a position of responsibility would be so brutally frank.)

"Muscular," by the way, is one of those words -- like "robust" -- that Washington policy makers use to describe foreign and defense policies that otherwise might not be mistaken for muscular or robust.

But put the semantic issue aside: If this is indeed the goal of the Obama administration -- to look tough without being tough, to avoid threatening the existence of Bashar al-Assad's regime, and to avoid angering Iran and Russia -- then, really, let's not bother with this attack at all. For other reasons, I'm opposed to this sort of attack on Syria -- please see yesterday's post on the subject. But if the goal is merely to save face in light of President Barack Obama's (morally and politically appropriate) drawing of a chemical-weapons red line, then this forthcoming attack is a very, very bad idea.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jeffrey Goldberg at goldberg.atlantic@gmail.com