Bumbling, fumbling, stumbling... oh dear, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are having real problems with Syria. Why? Are they incompetent fools? Maybe. But the real problem is the Middle East and how it compares to American values and interests.
It seems to me that there are some obvious truths.
First, the Middle East really seems to want to have a Middle East wide civil and religious war and carve up the Middle East along religious and sectarian lines - Shia, Sunni, Kurd, Allawite, and whoever else is out there wanting to live only with people just like themselves and are anxious to kill everyone else.
I think it would be very nice if they all just got along and allowed religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity and tolerance, but the area is centuries behind the West in this respect, and the West isn't real good at it either, witness the bitter conflicts between the South and the Tea Party on one hand, and the North and the Liberals on the other. At least we had our Civil War a century and a half ago, so the shooting is over, I hope.
Second, the nation does not, does not, does not want to go back into the sands of Middle East and spend its blood and treasure trying to pick sides between, or even to calm down, the killers in those civil and religious wars.
Third, the West finds it almost impossible to stand by and do nothing when we see brutality, slaughter, and massacre on our TVs and computer screens.
Fourth, the interests of the U.S. and the West are best served by Syria remaining in the control of the Assad regime, but not Assad himself, rather than being taken over by radical islamist jihadists. The Assad regime has no particular aim to kill Americans or other Westerners, whereas jihadists seem dedicated to killing infidels wherever they find them. How to show the compassion of civilized people without empowering jihadist fanatics?
So, what can a president do? Any president? Of either party? Given these completely contradictory forces? Probably either look like a bumbling, stumbling, fumbling fool, by being indecisive, kind of like Obama - or look like a bull in a china shop trashing and crashing everything he touches by being really decisive and militarily strong, kind of like W.
Why is Syria of interest to us? It's not, really. But humanitarian hawks want to Do Something. Why was Iraq of interest to us? It wasn't, really, but neocon hawks wanted to Do Something. I was one of those, to my regret now.
If I thought that adding American military to the Middle East would end the slaughter there, I might think it was OK. But, as best as I can tell, American blood in Middle Eastern sands only adds more deaths, not fewer. They are going to have to fight their way into newly drawn countries, or learn to live with each other, and the U.S. and the West aren't going to be able to have much to do with that process, as best as I can tell.
I continue to think our only option is to try to identify and train and support those factions that are more modernist and moderate. Or at least, once some winners emerge, to add our expertise and guidance to allow them to create pluralistic democracies. Our hopes were raised by the February 11 peaceful uprising in Egypt that deposed Mubarak, but that beautiful movement of the bulk of the Egyptians was taken over by... the Muslim Brotherhood, who proceeded to build an islamist dictatorship. Not exactly a surprise, at least in retrospect.
The real hope that I have is that they get tired of killing each other and decide to find a way to either separate from each other as a function of diplomacy, or to find a way to live together in relative peace.
I concluded after the disaster of the Viet Nam war that I should only support a U.S. war if a mother and father could look at each other upon hearing of the death of a child in that war and say to each other that the pain of that loss is unbearable but at least we can comfort ourselves by knowing that our child died for a worthy cause. I don't see how getting sucked into the Middle Eastern Civil and Religious wars satisfies that criterion.