As of this writing, the betting is that Obama will decide to strike Syria, as punishment for its use of chemical weapons.
One can admire the President''s deliberate consideration of what appear to be all the bad options, even while ridiculing him for the bombast which he proclaimed against chemical weapons and then passed over their apparent use during the year or so since his first declaration of moral outrage.
Monday night''s news on Israeli television had a clip showing the kind of people Obama would be helping by attacking Assad''s forces. An armed man, identified as an al Qaida Sunni Muslim, stopped a truck, ordered the three men in the cab to stand by the road, questioned them about details of Muslim ritual, then killed them when they answered in the style of Alewis.
The fractured and at least partly barbaric nature of the opposition to Assad is only one of the bad issues having to be considered by the American President.
It is hard to think of any good outcome.
There is also the thin justification of repulsion about chemical weapons, which in the most blatant case were responsible for perhaps 1,300 deaths. Estimates are that more than 100,000 have been killed by what apparently are acceptable conventional means. It is not clear if the non-combatant proportions of those killed by chemicals were higher or lower than the proportions of non-combatants among those killed by conventional means.
If the shrillness of moral outrage and promises of punishment are equivalent to weapons, Assad would soon be on his knees begging for peace.
American officials are sounding like a justifiably aroused teacher. They have announced that the Assad regime is guilty not only of using forbidden weapons in a way to kill and injure non-combatants, but has also tampered with the evidence, thus making made it impossible to accept whatever verdict comes from UN investigators.
Secretary of State John Kerry described Syria''s attacks as a "moral obscenity."
His lesson continued
"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality . . . Make no mistake, President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world''s most heinous weapons against the world''s most vulnerable people."
By "the world''s most vulnerable people" Kerry most likely does not mean anyone connected with the rebels who killed those truck drivers, or who have managed to kill more than a few of Assad''s troops and captured some of his tanks.
Americans have announced the kinds of targets they will be attacking: air defense, command and communications centers, air force and missile installations. They will use Tomahawk missiles and stealth aircraft. We are hearing that it will be a short and sterile strike, cleared with allies in advance in order to assure wide support. Among those in the circle are Britain, which is also positioning military assets in its Cyprus base a short distance from Syria, as well as France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Jordan, Turkey, Israel, and two prominent suppliers of money and munitions to the Syrian rebels Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Leading officials of all but Israel were invited to meet with Americans in Amman. Consultations with Israel occurred in Washington, perhaps to save America''s Muslim allies the problems involved in being seen with with Israelis.
This is not the first time a war has begun with predictions that the fighting will be short and decisive, with the boys home before Christmas or whatever is the next national holiday.
Among the bad options being faced by President Obama are the prospects of responses by Syria and others.
Ranking Syrians have threatened an attack on Israel. Israeli commentators have said that such an attack would produce a devastating Israeli response.
Should Assad be considering an attack on Israel with his chemical weapons, he should ponder its history with poison gas. The last time an Arab was said to have been considering such an attack, i.e., Saddam Hussein in 1991, Israel let it be known that it would respond with nuclear weapons.
Restraint on someone''s part may also be necessary to keep this escalating into a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia. Russian ships are likely to be in a Syrian port when the blow comes, and Russian weapons are likely to be used by Assad''s troops in their defense and/or retaliation.
A Russian official responded to John Kerry''s moral condemnation of Syria by saying that a US attack on Syria would have disastrous consequences.
We could see a test of Russian defense systems against American missiles and radar-evading planes, against whatever counter-measures Americans have built into their missiles and planes, and with whatever counter-counter measures the Russians have added to their weapons.
While the American President and Secretary of State are talking about punishing, other American officials are talking about continued talks with Russians in order to find a political solution.
Whatever happens will lack the advantages of surprise employed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Israel is moving more anti-missile batteries to the north, and promoting the distribution of gas mask-atropine kits to those who have yet to collect them. We hear that Assad''s family has left Syria. Presumably Syrian officers are deciding where to prepare their defenses, and maybe thinking that it would be wise to call in sick over the next few days.
Meanwhile, Israel police entering a Palestinian town looking for a wanted man encountered substantial resistance with stones, concrete blocks and whatever else could be thrown at them. The reinforcements came, means of crowd control were not sufficient, three Palestinians died and some 15 were injured in the resulting gun fire.
Among the reasons for Palestinian anger heard from those involved are fears that Palestinian negotiators are trading away demands that ought to be pressed without compromise.
One Palestinian response was to cancel a scheduled meeting of the peace negotiators. That may be a little burp in the process, whose noise will pass in a matter of hours, something major that will require pressure from on high in Washington to get the parties back together, or an opportunity for Israelis opposed to the talks to demand that they not be restarted.
If all that were not enough, individuals claiming to be Palestinian refugees resident in Syria say that relatives were among those killed by chemical weapons, and are asking for the right to come home as a consequence.