In spite of the rather flippant title of this blog, I'm really at my wits end over Syria and the Middle East in general.
The way I see it, there are two courses of action here, each one fraught with pitfalls and neither one even remotely appealing. And then there's the course Barack Obama is trying to steer between the two, which has all the worst qualities of both.
COURSE ONE: ALL-OUT WAR
I must admit there's a part of me that is just itching for this. Go in there and settle all the scores. Assad is a dick-tator in a region positively bulging with dick-tators. I can't think of a country in that part of the world that has respect for (a) its own citizens and (b) the citizens of other countries. And yes, I include Israel in that lot. While they aren't as evil as many in North America would have you believe, their hands are far from clean.
Look, you can't just let leaders unleash chemical weapons on their citizenry. There has to be consequences, and harsh ones, to actions like that: we have a moral obligation to intervene, and forcefully.
But there are two glaring problems with that. The first problem is that because the whole region is such a powder keg, any military strike is going to drag in other countries. At best, you have a regional war (likely with terrorist acts rippling out as far as North America in retaliation). At worst: a third world war that starts the way the last one ended. Nobody want that.
The second problem, every bit as thorny, is the exit strategy--which needs to be worked out almost before an entrance strategy. What is the objective? Democracy and peace, yeah, okay, now let's be realistic. What's the objective? Regime change? Who's to say the next regime is any better? It could very well be worse. Colonization? Locals won't appreciate that at all. Just removing Assad ("Drone, drone on the range...") and bugging out? You really don't want a power vacuum in that part of the world, because, well, vacuums suck.
So maybe you just sit back and look at
COURSE TWO: DO NOTHING
After all, what business is it of America's? It's not like Syria is Mexico and why can't those Yankee bastards just mind their own manners and stop interfering in the affairs of foreign nations? And then there's the economic cost: it's not as if the U.S. is flush with money along about now, no matter what Wall Street may have to say on the subject.
Except the decision to do nothing has consequences, too, and they're not all that pretty. Obama has made as much effort as he possibly can to lessen the yoke of American hegemony...and things like Syria are bubbling up as a direct result. Do you think Assad would have done what he did had he thought America would react instantly and brutally? He's far from the only world leader noting Obama's aloofness with gleaming interest. There's that madman in North Korea, a passel of other Middle Eastern dick-tators besides Assad...and the guy I'm most worried about, Vladimir Putin. I hate to play Godwin here, but the kind of shit Putin's pulling lately has a distinct odour of early '30s Germany about it. He's doubtless gambling (correctly) that the world doesn't have the balls or the resources to stop him.
It sounds like an oxymoron and it really shouldn't be this way, but si vis pacem, para bellum..."if you want peace, prepare for war". Pax Americana has its benefits, chief among them global stability.
So if all-out war is distasteful and doing nothing is too weak, there's what America's doing: a limited action, which may or may not happen after everything has been talked about and pondered over and hey, by the time we get around it to they'll probably have forgotten what it is they did to deserve the bombs.
This may seem eminently sensible to some: a considered, measured military strike that doesn't endanger American lives, doesn't involve too much collateral damage (which, we must remember, is a nice euphemism for "dead women and children"), and which has a defined ending point.
Good luck with that.
Because, as I've already noted, that region is a powder keg. There's really no telling what Assad will do or how quickly things will spiral out of control. You know Iran would be happy to start fighting. Iraq is a a hodgepodge of explosive bickering (thanks to the last 'limited action' the U.S. engaged in) that would destabilize even further. And of course there's Israel, which deals with terrorist attacks just because it's Tuesday and which would almost certainly come under fire right early in any Middle Eastern military foray, no matter how "limited" you make it on paper.
I don't have an answer. I don't think there is one.