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Obama's shot across the bow

The showdown over Syria appears to be an ever-changing landscape of political brinksmanship. Here's where we currently stand, though it is hard to tell when and how things will change.

Last night Obama told PBS that any strike against Syria would be a “shot across the bow,” and wouldn't draw the United States into an open-ended conflict. He reiterated that any strike will be limited. In my opinion, it's virtually pointless – an empty, feel good response with no real purpose.

The New York Times is reporting that the White House lacks a “smoking gun” that links the Assad regime to the chemical weapons attack last week. The Associated Press is similarly reporting that intelligence officials do not have “slam dunk” proof that Assad ordered the attack or is responsible. But then yesterday U.S. Intelligence officials confirmed that chemical weapons were used after intercepting panicked phone calls from Syrian defense officials. Obama himself told PBS last night, "We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out.”

U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that weapons inspectors need four days to complete their assessment of whether chemical weapons were used, though keep in mind that it is not their goal to determine who used them.

The tone of countries around the world appears to have shifted. France is saying that a political solution is the goal in Syria. Germany's Angela Merkel is urging “unanimous reaction” to Syria, saying that she agrees with Putin that this conflict can only be resolved politically. The Prime Minister of the UK David Cameron appears to have backed off after backlash within his country. He says he will now wait for the United Nations weapons inspectors to issue their report before seeking any approval for action in Syria. Britain's foreign secretary also seems to imply that it wants to wait until the U.N. has finished its assessment. However there is a report in the UK Telegraph which says that Britain has sent six Typhoon fighter jets to Cyprus in preparation for a strike. These are defensive fighters and the UK calls their deployment “purely a prudent and precautionary measure.”

Meanwhile Israel is preparing for a possible retaliation strike, issuing gas masks to its people.

While getting the United Nation's blessing for a retaliatory attack is highly unlikely (considering Russia), NATO has apparently given the White House its endorsement. The international justification for any strike (without the UN's approval) would have to be that Syria violated international norms. Meanwhile according to the Interfax news agency, “Russia will 'over the next few days' be sending an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to the Mediterranean as the West prepares for possible strikes against Syria.” Russian news media is saying that this has nothing to do with the tension in Syria but it merely “a planned rotation.”

And then there's the United States Congress. Today, senior administration officials within the Obama administration are expected to brief congressional leadership, including the chairmen and top-ranking minority party members on national security committees of the situation in Syria. This consultation is a start, but many are still waiting for Obama to seek Congressional approval before using force. Some in Congress are upset that they've been kept in the dark, but the Obama administration promises that more information for the rest of Congress is forthcoming. As of last night, 116 members of the House (including 18 Democrats) signed a letter insisting that Obama seek congressional approval before acting on Syria.

Here are a few more pieces related to the situation in Syria that I would recommend:

Sources: Al Qaeda-linked group behind Benghazi attack trains jihadists for Syrian rebel groups

Syria and al-Qaeda: the enemy of our enemy could turn out to be our most dangerous enemy of all

George Will: Obama is talking America into a war

Syria conflict and the oil market: Worst and best scenarios