The events in Syria are tragic, and that is obvious no matter what news agency does the reporting and the unimaginable and horrific use of outlawed chemical weapons that took the life of roughly 1500 civilians, including some 426 children is an unspeakable act. From a humanitarian and moral standpoint, the White House has the right to plead its case to anyone willing to listen on why the U.S. needs to help and why other nations should lend support to those dying in Syria. The problem the president is having is convincing people at home who would like to sit this one out. A comprehensive strategy on when and where to get involved would settle many of these issues but until then the U.S. falls prey to moral dilemmas guiding the country’s position on when to act.
A limited attack on Assad’s infrastructure sounds great if you want to get his attention but what happens if crucial targets are moved or more importantly Assad doesn’t flinch and calls on Iran for assistance. Although Iran and Syria have a somewhat constrained relationship one thing, the two do have in common is hatred for the United States and both governments are Shia, which is like the cherry on top for solidarity. The same thing goes for the strained relationship between Hamas the Palestinian political factions that are Sunni Muslims and Hezbollah a terrorist organization which is Shia Muslims who seem to come together with their contempt for the United States. Syria could complicate matters by attacking Israel fragmenting our Middle East relationships; the Navy's 5th fleet in Bahrain becomes a prime target for Hamas or Hezbollah or Iran cuts off access to the Strait of Hormuz. How long before what was supposed to be a couple of air strikes turns into a full-blown conflict.
There is an old saying; you can’t be just a little pregnant. The situation is binary, either you are, or you are not in a conflict with Syria. The president’s been extremely fortunate using drones, seal teams and surges in Afghanistan leading to an ultimate drawdown of personnel. This has helped President Obama build up his tough-guy street cred but Syria has the ability of turning into the perfect storm. There are too many enemies, in addition the Syrian Russian relationship and how Israel will react. Placing all hopes on tactical airstrikes and drones this time around is like throwing a Hail Mary pass during a tornado to a blind-folded receiver. Therefore, extensive airstrikes, arming the moderates and the possibility of boots on the ground will be needed to solve another Middle East problem.
The use of military assets requires an interest to national security or a precise foreign policy objective. It also means the country will defend itself against an imminent threat of an attack, and Syria doesn’t fit these criteria. However, the U.S. has historically overlooked its paradigm for when to engage in conflicts, and Syria creates another uncomfortable situation for a battle fatigued American public.