Fred R. asks what we should do in Syria. A very good question, now that there are new reports of major chemical weapons use by Assad.
It was easier to answer this question a year ago. We should have done what we did in Libya; make it clear that we would support the rebellion by disabling the dictator. A no-fly zone and safe haven zone on the Turkish and Jordanian borders would have been helpful early, before Assad got help from Hezbollah; it would have led to more defections from Assad and far fewer refugees and rebel casualties. And perhaps to fewer outsiders coming in to take advantage of the chaos. But those opportunities are lost. Now Assad seems to have the confidence to use chemical weapons — and frankly I am not sure what Obama can do at this point to retaliate. Perhaps missile strikes on Assad’s command and control centers?
The problem is that assaulting Assad’s forces to a degree that would lead to their defeat would lead to a sectarian bloodbath, the possible partition of Syria, and the rise of Jihadi states or statelets. So the goal must be to damage Assad enough to made him forswear use of WMD, but not enough to create a sudden lurch into total defeat.
Can it be done? — probably. Will it be done with enough skill and luck to achieve the desired outcome — a continuing battle with no winners that wears down both sides to the point that a negotiated outcome becomes possible, even desirable? That is more difficult. We shall see.