IT'S now a safe bet that President Barack Obama will give the order for a United States military assault on Syria; and I don't think it will be "a shot across the bow." It will be hard enough and sustained enough to eventually topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The leader of the world's most powerful nation — in both military and economic terms — is too far down the road to turn back now. Despite assertions to the contrary by Mr Obama in Sweden on Thursday, his credibility and that of the United States are on the line. And whatever arm-twisting it takes, he will get his authorisation for a military strike from a very reluctant Congress.
Early in my two-week vacation in the United States and a break from writing, I assumed that I would resume the column today looking at some of the intriguing political developments at home, including Audley Shaw's flirtation with a challenge for Andrew Holness's job as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party and the prospects of renewal in the ruling People's National Party in its 75th year.
But given the global implications of a new conflict in the Middle East and the risks for the Obama presidency itself, I had to put that plan on hold as much of America's political class and mainstream media beat the drums of war louder and louder.
A US military strike and possible war with Syria will be different and will have different consequences compared to any other American military intervention under any other president; it is the first time that the finger on the trigger is that of a black man.
Barack Hussein Obama was elected the first African-American president in an epoch-making event in 2008.
In the US, the election was greeted by some with high expectations of a post-race America hoped for in the Martin Luther King dream shared with the world August 28, 1963, and which set off a series of events that, for the first time, recognised the civil and voting rights of black Americans.
But in speeches by President Obama and scores of other leaders at ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the historic 'March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom', it was acknowledged that despite significant progress, including the election of a black president, a lot more needed to be done to realise the twin objectives of the march.
Poll data show rising income inequality, with more Americans being left out of the prosperity as all of the productivity gains of the last two decades have gone to management and shareholders after the unions have been neutered.
Blacks are disproportionately affected by income and other inequalities even as the US Supreme Court recently rolled back some of the gains of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It was significant that no major leader of the Republican party addressed the commemorative ceremony in Washington, though former President George W Bush put out a statement.
Political polarisation between a Republican party under the influence of the hard right and a reform-minded black president has frustrated the domestic agenda imperilling health care reform, energy efficiency, regulations of the financial markets to avoid a rerun of the 2008 crisis, immigration reform, rebuilding a crumbling physical infrastructure, and investing in education to create a more globally competitive workforce. In short, the two sides can't agree on anything significant to the constituency that elected Mr Obama.
Globally, the Obama presidency was supposed to usher in a new era of a more responsible use of American power in the world and be more supportive of multilateral co-operation. Indeed, Mr Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the basis of hope and promised change rather than tangible accomplishments in making the world safer and more secure.
We come to the Syrian crisis. After a bloody two-year civil war between the al-Assad regime and diverse opposition groups of unlikely brothers in arms, the US has produced evidence allegedly directly linking the regime to the use of chemical weapons to kill several hundred Syrians, including children. This would be a grave violation of international norms requiring a response from a civilised international community.
But with memories of Iraq fresh in the minds of many, the evidence has been greeted with scepticism, including by some US allies and friends at home as well as persons in President Obama's own party. Further, some believe the attacks could have been perpetrated by some of the nasty elements in the amalgam of Syrian opposition forces, especially as the tide of the conflict had reportedly been turned towards the regime.
The president, who won election partly on his promise to end the Iraq War, now advocates an attack on Syria without major allies or the United Nations imprimatur, or a strategy to find a solution to the conflict.
Republicans who traditionally push for vigorous US military action in the world are now sceptical; politics has been turned upside down.
Last Thursday, the New York Times reported that Obama's "core supporters, especially African-Americans and members of the Democratic party's liberal wing who voted repeatedly against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are expressing the deepest reservations."
And Reuters reported that the president has failed so far to convince most Americans that the United States should launch a limited military strike against Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack by the Syrian Government, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.
In this maelstrom, the president has opted for a high stakes strategy by forcing the Congress to vote on whether to leave him adrift or take joint ownership of the unilateral exercise of US power in another Middle East country.
The president seems to be forcing his detractors on the Republican right to back him on what he has insisted is a matter of US national security concerns and an issue that Republicans traditionally support; otherwise they risk the perception that their dislike for the black president trumps the national security interests of the United States.
For Mr Obama, Congressional approval to launch military strikes could provide an opportunity to restart the national negotiation on critical issues and give his presidency a chance to succeed on issues now mired in gridlock.
Former president Bill Clinton, in what could be a subtle swipe at Mr Obama, remarked at the commemoration of the March on Washington that Dr King would be appalled that beneficiaries of his legacy are whining about gridlock instead of finding a way to make politics work to achieve the agenda staked out 50 years ago.
But the entire narrative will change if the pictures of gas victims in Syria are replaced by images of victims of American bombing and the conflict spirals out of control. The potential downside is huge.
If the last two years of Syria's bloody civil war is anything to go by, there will be some kind of military response to United States bombing; and the conflict could be widened to other countries, adding to the death and destruction in a region that has seen too much war.
In the days ahead, Mr Obama should not only be using the power of his office to win authorisation from Congress and marshal global support (other than France and Saudi Arabia). He needs to convince sceptics that the evidence that al-Assad is responsible for the use of the weapons is not juiced, as happened a decade ago.
A bombing campaign might punish al-Assad for crossing Mr Obama's red line. More importantly, the US must outline and seek support for a strategy to involve the global community in search of a lasting solution.