Critics see contradictions in Obama administration’s Syria claims –

WASHINGTON –- The planned military strikes on Syria would be “targeted, limited” and wouldn’t seek to topple the government of President Bashar Assad or even force it to peace talks.

They would also be punishing and “consequential” and would so scare Assad that he would never use chemical weapons again.

U.S. airstrikes would change the momentum on the battlefield of the Syrian civil war. But the war will grind on, unchanged, perhaps for years.

As administration officials lay out their case in favor of a punitive attack on Syria, they have been making all of these seemingly contradictory contentions, confusing supporters and providing rhetorical weapons to their opponents.

The contradictions stem from the basic challenge the White House faces: how to reassure the large anti-war contingent in the Democratic Party, as well as conservative opponents of overseas intervention, that strikes won’t open the way to another war, while convincing hawks and more militant internationalists that the strikes will do enough to make the mission worthwhile.

It’s possible to square most of the administration’s arguments – if one believes that a military strike can be so precisely calibrated as to harm the Assad government just enough, but not too much. But as a political case, the effort has so far proven hard to sell.

If officials lean too far in one direction, they risk losing supporters on one side or the other. But when they voice both sides of their case, they risk presenting an argument that is incoherent.

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