‘Unbelievably Small’ or Simply Unbelievable — Mixed Syrian Messages

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US Secretary of State John Kerry gestures during a joint press conference with Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague at the the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on September 9, 2013 in London.

Updated at 1:20 pm EDT

The U.S. military strike against Syria:

“Unbelievably small” — Secretary of State John Kerry’s words for the plan today, at a news conference in London closing a three-day European tour seeking support for the Obama administration’s plans.

Most retweeted line since Clint Eastwood debated an empty chair:

 

As the administration courts support from a resistant Congress back home, mixed messages are emerging in the explanations for what it wants authority to execute in retaliation for the evident deployment of chemical weapons by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. president says there’s a reason for all the qualifying rhetoric.

“Where you will see resistance is people being worried about a slippery slope and how effective a limited action might be,” he said at a news conference in Russia closing his trip to the G-20 summit. “And our response, based on my discussions with our military, is that we can have a response that is limited, that is proportional, that when I say limited, it’s both in time and in scope, but that is meaningful and that degrades Assad’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons, not just this time, but also in the future, and serves as a strong deterrent.

Expect to hear those words of restraint this evening, as six broadcast television and cable news networks release results of their interviews with the president after 6 pm EDT.

“We’re not talking about war, we’re not going to war,” said Kerry, as Bloomberg’s Nicole Gaouette reports in traveling with the secretary.

“Limited… proportional” — the words Obama has been using about his plans for a strike against Syria.

“Limited… specific” and no longer than 60 days, with an option to renew for another 30 days, and no boots on the ground — the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s 10-7 approved resolution on Sept. 4 authorizing the use of military force.

“We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war,” Kerry told reporters today. “That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”

“What do we mean by limited?” Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, said today in an address to the New American Foundation. “This would not be the United States launching another war. As the president has said repeatedly, this would not be Iraq or Afghanistan… Nor would it resemble Kosovo or Libya.”

As the Senate takes up the Syrian resolution this week, the House to follow next week, Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a Republican from Michigan, one of the relatively few House Republicans backing Obama on Syria — along with Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor — acknowledged today that he is not sure what Kerry “means by that.”

“This is part of the problem,” Rogers said in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “That’s a very confusing message. Certainly a confusing message to me — that he would offer that, as somebody who believes this is in our national security interest.”

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