More to the heart of the current debate is whether a limited missile strike would make any difference. The near-unanimous opinion is not really. From the porches and stoops of America's heartland to the marbled floors of the U.S. Capitol, the consensus is that a limited strike would merely aggravate matters and potentially lead to a catastrophic clash with global ramifications. How would that work for our credibility?
A strike of greater proportions reminds us of Colin Powell's better moment: You break it, you own it.
That Barack Obama hesitates seems the least of our concerns. He has created problems to be sure, speaking loudly and carrying a twig (as a reader wrote me, to give credit where due). His “foreign policy” seems to be more afterthought (or political cynicism) than strategy.
Even so, lawmakers, including John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Nancy Pelosi, are lining up to support the president's plan for missile strikes. Let's hope that whatever the outcome, our best efforts have been directed by an abundance of caution rather than a prideful attachment to credibility. This is not to say that credibility isn't important, but the measure of one's credibility isn't only whether a nation is willing to stand its ground. It is also whether a nation is willing to be wise.
The U.S. still carries the biggest stick. We are still the bravest, most compassionate, generous nation in the history of mankind. When our allies need us, our credibility is beyond reproach. We always act decisively when the stakes are clear. The world knows this. It is our exceptional history, not a single, transitory man, that inspires belief.
And sometimes, it is helpful to note, a coiled snake is more effective than one that reflexively strikes.
WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP