The most foolish mistake that President Obama has made, I believe, was his statement that if Syria were to use chemical weapons they would be crossing a red line and that we would have to respond to that "game changer." George Friedman points out that this is normally a message from a superior power to a lesser power that although they don't like what the lesser power is doing, as long as they stay on the other side of the "red line" the greater power would not intervene militarily.
Well, Assad crossed the red line, a couple of times, and now we are all paying the price for Assad's stupid cruelty and Obama's foolish naivete. Before Obama made his red line statement, Syria was a tragic situation, but had no strategically important interest for the United States. Up to now only humanitarian hawks wanted the U.S. to intervene.
After his red line statement, Syria becomes enormously important to the U.S. and the world. If we let Assad cross the line, then red lines declared by the U.S. become meaningless and future much worse actors (think North Korea with nukes) will cross them as well, and the world will suffer tremendously, and the U.S. will be drawn into terrible wars as a result.
It looks like there are three options.
First, work like hell diplomatically to move Assad out of office and try to empower the more secular forces inside Syria. Good luck on that one. Plus, it allows a hard red line to be crossed with no consequences.
Second, punish the Assad regime with a symbolic strike that damages some chemical weapons, or some such thing. I guess that's supposed to show him that there is a price to pay for crossing Obama's red line. I'm sure he's quaking in his boots. The world will note that the punishment for crossing the red line is symbolic and not real.
Third, go in with air and ground troops to remove Assad just as we removed Hussein. We all remember how well that worked out. Just don't expect gratitude from those we help, nor expect anything other than an Islamic anti-American nutcase government to replace Assad. Plus, don't expect a reduction in the slaughter, it will increase dramatically, with American soldiers' body count added to the dead and maimed.
All of the options are terrible - have no effect diplomatically, have no effect symbolically, have a terrible effect militarily that makes things worse and kills Americans.
I have no idea of how the world gets out of this terrible box. It just looks to me like the Islamic world is bent on civil wars. Osama bin Laden kicked it off with an attack on America, Bush took it to the Middle East with invasions, and the Islamic religious factions seem to be unleashing centuries of grievance and hatred upon each other in terrible civil wars.
My only real hope is that the Arab Spring, better thought of as the Arab Awakening, will become a meaningful force arising from the people themselves to end the tyrannies, and also end the worse tyrannies that want to replace the old tyrannies. I have a hope for the sprouting of new green secular, inclusive, real democracies rising from the ashes of the religious and tribal wars raging throughout the Middle East. This has little to do with the United States military, or the United States at all except as an inspiration and a guide.
One can hope.