Usage of Chemical Weapons by Assad or anyone is unacceptable. Reasons are clear:
- There is a reasonable consensus among world powers that it is not a way where we as humans want to go. Even though war of any kind is bad, no one wants to revive memories of Nazi gas chambers.
- When a regime breaks this taboo, there needs to be consequences to the regime.
- Or else the usage of chemical weapons would proliferate. That is dangerous considering the ease with which any evil intended regime can assemble these weapons and deploy on weakest sections of society, even if we keep aside implications for terrorism.
In a reasonable world the most legitimized global body like UNSC would come forward and would pass a resolution backing a military intervention in Syria. Clearly with Russia of Putin - who sees glory in Cazarist Russia of suppression and rekindled dreams of Soviet Union and China which refuses to grow up to its global super power role responsibilities (or may be frightened as usual for any kind of intervention least people start questioning absolute power of Communist Party in China); we have an impasse. UNSC would neither pass any resolution condemning chemical attacks nor would take any steps to stop it.
President Barack Obama would have his best chances of procuring any legitimacy for American military interventions in getting backing from NATO and Arab League. NATO member Turkey has crucial national interests vested in containing civil war in Syria. Same is the case with Jordan. As far as Israel goes, stable Syrian region is preferred to the current turmoil even though who prevails in the end would not matter much (as all are equally detrimental to Israeli interests). These 3 neighboring countries and Egypt, Saudi Arabia; all have regional interests in stability of Syrian region.
Given this predicament, beating of war drums by Sec. John Kerry is understandable. Questions are what specific action President Obama can undertake and to what goals. The most desirable goal of having Syrian integrity retained and Syria as a peaceful democratic state seems far fetched now. Bashar Assad is not losing this civil war at present, but it is hard to see how he would be able to quell it either. Rebels are no longer that much push over. Given that Assad family has inflicted repeated genocides on people of Syria; it is hard to see how rest of non-Alawait Syrians would accept Assad regime any further.
Can there be a peaceful Syria possible without Assad? That seems hard too given the relative strength of Assad who can at least carve out Alawite regime in coastal mountainous regions of Syria. And as far as rebels go, Islamic extremism and fanaticism are not in short supply there. World has seen inability of Islamists in governance (Morsi of Egypt). Does that mean, equilibrium of some sort in Syria is only possible after 'fragmentation of existing Syria'? Seems so, considering to start with there were all these arbitrary states cobbled together.
Then what would American attacks achieve; apart from American President retaining his credibility in drawing 'red lines'; keeping Iran on hooks and in general not losing the might of American power? Stopping another chemical attack seems a reasonable and achievable goal in all this. It does not have to be on the basis of wiping out each and every chemical weapon depot. All it means Assad regime understanding that chemical weapon attacks may be still feasible, but the collateral and strategic cost (by way of losing strategic assets like air power) do not warrant those. If that is what Obama Administration wants to achieve as the goal of military intervention; that may be feasible. But any war is inherently non-deterministic, President Obama's Syrian Civil War Intervention cannot be an exception. Prudence is keeping it restricted in scope but not hesitating for bit of prolonged involvement (3 to 6 months?) if that is what it requires to produce a consequential result.