Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday said a U.S. military strike on Syria would be “limited” and “unbelievably small,” words that must have struck fear in the heart of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We will be able to hold Bashar Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground, or any other prolonged kind of effort, in a very limited, very targeted, very short-term effort,” Kerry said at a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in London.
Kerry added that it would be an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”
Considering Kerry was speaking in favor of U.S. involvement in Syria, some were left scratching their heads over his word choices.
Would an “unbelievably small” military strike actually accomplish something in the war-torn country? Would Assad even take that threat seriously?
Needless to say, the reaction from observers was not favorable.
Here are the top 14 reactions (in no particular order):
14. ABC News’ Jonathan Karl wrote: “Here’s an unusual way to instill fear into the heart of your enemy.”
13. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.):
“I don’t understand what he means by that,” Rep. Rogers, who’s in favor of a military strike on Syria, said Monday on MSNBC.
“I don’t think describing the size or effort of what our target sets are or what ship fires what missile is in our national security interest, candidly. And again, this is part of the problem.
"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," he added.
12. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol:
“I am worried, though, the administration has done such a bad job of making its case,” the Weekly Standard editor said Monday. “John Kerry in London to reassure the British and Europeans said…we’re not talking about war. It would be very targeted, very short-termed. Then he said it would be an ‘unbelievably small,’ limited kind of effort.’”
Kristol, who favors intervening in Syria, said Kerry’s remarks have “shaken in his support.”
“Now we have the secretary of state saying, ‘Well, we went to Congress, it was so important to go to Congress, for an unbelievably small limited strike,’” he said.
“Even I can see why reasonable people on the Hill, and I think it’s unfair to characterize them all as isolationists or irresponsible, reasonable people on the Hill can say is that really better than nothing?”
11. Human Events' John Hayward called it a “sound bite that will linger in history.”
10. Slate’s Joshua Keating wrote [emphasis added]:
“I may not have much experience with brinksmanship, but it seems to me that threatening to hit someone becomes a lot less effective when at the same time you’re telling your friends, Don’t worry, I’m not going to hit him that hard. And convincing the public that this situation is analogous to the buildup to the largest war in human history is difficult when you’re also saying that an “unbelievably small” effort will be sufficient to deal with it. Given the blows the Assad regime has already absorbed over the last two years, it’s hard to imagine statements like these changing his thinking.
I realize the administration is speaking to multiple audiences—trying to play bad cop with Assad at the same time it’s trying to cajole a skeptical American public. But when the same official is playing both roles, it becomes a little hard to keep the narrative straight.
9. But not everyone was so hard on Kerry. The Atlantic’s James Fallows offered the following defense:
You know what he meant. He was advancing the argument for a contained, "surgical," pinpoint, etc., effort that would be big enough to let Assad and future dictators know the cost of using chemical weapons, yet not so broad as to entrap the United States in the ongoing (horrific) civil war. If the two words that had come to his mind in real time had been "unbelievably precise" rather than "unbelievably small," no one would have blinked.
And then there was the reaction on Twitter. As per the norm, it was pretty brutal:
8. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
7. National Review's Charles C. W. Cooke:
6. Hot Air's Mary Katharine Ham:
5. The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman:
4. Former British Ambassador Charles Crawford:
3. New York Post columnist Frank J. Fleming:
2. Yahoo's Chris Moody:
1. Slate's Dave Weigel:
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image Getty Images.