I really like Kevin Drum's deflating post on Syria hype: "This is no Iraq and it's no Vietnam. Hell, it's not even a Suez crisis." That's only one of a number of excellent points he makes. Good stuff.
Why did Syria get so hyped? I've been wondering about this (and blamed everyone for getting it wrong in my weekend Salon column). It's worth going through:
* Conservatives: at first, they were split, which may have pushed those who supported the president against hyping Syria (because they might not have wanted to play up something that found them on his side); once they eventually got a story they could tell about Obama botching Syria, it then made sense for them to hype its importance.
* Liberals: Anti-war liberals, in particular, wanted to use Syria to send a message to interventionist Democrats; not just that they opposed this one, but they had been right on Iraq, and that they weren't going to go along with future adventures. In their interest to hype the importance of Syria. Pro-intervention Democrats might have wanted to downplay it because it was a hard case.
* The White House: Mixed incentives. They might want to have downplayed it because it was a hard case; on the other hand, the whole idea of punishing a chemical weapons violation was to make it clear to the world that there was a cost to such behavior -- making the publicity about any missile strikes perhaps more important than the physical damage they caused.
* The press: Well, of course, if they're going to talk about it at all, they want to claim it's terribly important.
So basically almost everyone had an incentive to pretend the proposed strikes on Syria were a much bigger deal than they really were. What's more, the groups who had a possible incentive to downplay it -- pro-intervention liberals and conservatives -- were the least likely to be hard on this one, because the White House was going to be the main source of pro-intervention rhetoric. And at any rate, many pro-intervention conservatives tend by nature to hype everything, regardless of incentives.
And that's without what I talked about in my column, which was that we've all collectively failed to find a good vocabulary for a missile strike like this, which is in fact an act of war and does in fact entail real risks of unpredictable future involvement...but also isn't "war" in the sense of, as Drum says, Iraq or Vietnam or Suez.
Which gets me back to: nice catch!