After all, you head up a country that was once great and powerful, even though you may have presided over its decline of late. Still, you believe in the strategy of the environment you grew up in: if your opponent brings a knife to a fight, you bring a gun. Given your reputation as you perceive it, no puny little dictator would think of calling your marker.
Form an alliance with countries who egg you on, despite their having no dog in the fight. And ignore the warnings from those who claim to be allies of your opponent -- after all, they would never intervene in such a minor dust-up. No, they are bluffing, and this is poker. A single attack on a two-bit country could never lead to a world-wide war.
Above all, assert your supreme powers as Commander-in-Chief of your armed forces. The decision to attack, after all, is entirely up to you, since you (and not your country's elected representatives) laid down the marker.
Never mind having a clear goal or objective beforehand. You simply want to punish the upstart who dares to defy you in front of the whole world. Your opponent's regime may fall as a result of your attack; or again, it may not. At all events, you agree with this summary of another decision to attack without a plan by an earlier administration:
It may fail, and we cannot estimate the odds of success with any accuracy -- they may be somewhere between 25% and 75%. What we can say is that even if it fails, the policy will be worth it. At a minimum it will damp down the charge that we did not do all that we could have done, and this charge will be important in many countries, including our own. Beyond that, a reprisal policy to the extent that it demonstrates U.S. willingness to employ this new norm in counterinsurgency will set a higher price for the future upon all adventures of guerrilla warfare, and it should therefore somewhat increase our ability to deter such adventures.Oh, but you left out Secretary Bundy's final sentence from that quote: "We must recognize, however, that that ability will be gravely weakened if there is failure for any reason in Vietnam ...". And there was a failure in Vietnam, wasn't there? It was the failure of a leader-made war to get the country united behind it -- again, because there was no definite plan to explain, or to ask the people to support. The leaders were interested only in punishment ("reprisal"), not (at least at the very first) in any wider goal.
And by all means, do not let contemporary voices deter you from your course -- after all, what do they know? You are the leader; you laid down the marker; that pipsqueak defied it, and now it's payback time -- Chicago style. (Oh, and don't be bothered by those pesky voices from the past, either.) You said it all when you came into office: can you be at fault if subsequent events have forced you to think differently?
No, perish the thought. You're in charge, and have been from day one.
And that's why you can cut that damned Assad some slack. You'll just rough him up a bit, let him have a taste of good old alpha-male whoop-ass -- something that offers "a level of intensity 'just muscular enough not to get mocked', but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia." You want it to be "just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic."
When you take it all on yourself -- when you ignore the laws and make it all about you -- it can get a bit lonely up there, can't it? The whole world watching you, to see what you (alone) will do? Kind of empowering, isn't it?
Then again, you've never wanted it to be any other way.