All too slowly, the mainstream media is learning the value of the explainer. But any progress is good progress. In this article, Washington Post's Max Fisher does a very good job of explaining the tangled web of past and present histories that can easily muddle anyone's process when trying to understand just what the Syrian conflict is all about. At the same time, he illuminates just what a thankless job President Obama has in trying to mitigate the worst of the possible outcomes.
For me, the money graf was this one:
So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?
OK, you’re asking here about the Obama administration’s not-so-subtle signals that it wants to launch some cruise missiles at Syria, maybe with the United Kingdom, which it says would be punishment for Assad’s strongly suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.
It’s true that basically no one believes that this will turn the tide of the Syrian war. But this is important: it’s not supposed to. The strikes wouldn't’t be meant to shape the course of the war or to topple Assad, which Obama thinks would just make things worse anyway. They would be meant to punish Assad for (allegedly) using chemical weapons and to deter him, or any future military leader in any future war, from using them again.
Yes, the goal of Obama's proposed air strikes is not to influence the outcome of this conflict. It is to make it very expensive, politically and economically, for regimes and their generals to use these gruesome weapons, which the world has been more unanimous about opposing—and signed more treaties to prevent—than almost anything else on the global stage. It's not rocket science. This proposed action is about destroying several billion dollars of offensive and defensive weapons, and the massive command and control networks they require. It is absolutely not an "invasion," nor a "war."
Precision targeting of facilities and weapons is a deterrent measure that telegraphs to these vile regimes that using these horrific weapons will generate immediate and costly blow back from the rest of the "civilized" world (loosely speaking). Militaries hate having their toys destroyed. Especially when they need them to kill civilians the old fashioned way—with bombs, bullets, and other sorts of conventional bloodletting that has stood the test of time in man's overwhelmingly persistent inhumanity to man.
It's all feels very embarrassing to me. Not because Obama wants to do something about it, but because so many nations and their peoples, whose parents and grandparents had been previously dedicated to doing so, now posture that they do not.
Then pass it around. This chemical weapons problem won't go away. I personally feel it's one of the few places we can put our foot down and draw a definitive line against evil. Obama wasn't wrong to lay down the line. He was wrong to forget that strong moral positions make for even stronger political targets for people more concerned with political rather than moral imperatives.