In the days following the attack, however, it is becoming more and more apparent that any message for this attack is muddled at best (other than to the applauding domestic audience of "serious" national security types). Paul Pillar lays out the muddle nature of the message at The National Interest:
The best face-value interpretation of the attack in Syria is that it had to do with punishing and deterring use of chemical weapons. But if the purpose was to enforce an international norm and international law about use of chemical weapons, persuading anyone of that was made more difficult by the lack of any effort to obtain international sanction, especially through the United Nations Security Council, before a retaliatory strike. Moreover, other bellicose administration rhetoric about Syria has sounded much broader. And indeed, casualties from chemical weapons have been a tiny fraction of overall casualties—including civilian suffering inflicted by the regime’s military operations—in the Syrian war. So if it really was just about chemicals, how much good did any message-sending strike do? The Syrian regime evidently was not deterred from promptly attacking again the same neighborhood that was the scene of the chemical incident.Messages—like names, and unlike sticks and stones—don’t necessarily hurt very much. A message-sending military attack can actually help the regime or group that is targeted, by giving it an opportunity to demonstrate to its constituencies how it is surviving the attacks of, standing up to, and striking back against the American superpower. And it does so with the added benefit of riding any popular resentment against foreign, especially U.S., intervention and resentment against any casualties inflicted by foreign military operations.. . .What is most important in the end is not only the message and the risk of escalation but a belief in the minds of the leaders of the other state that our own leaders consider the issue at stake to be so important that they are willing to fight a bigger war over it. But that is not true of the civil war in Syria. The United States simply does not have that kind of stake in its outcome, which is why the Obama administration wisely did not immerse the United States in that civil war.
Read it all here.