I understand the use of chemical weapons is an atrocity that cannot be allowed. I also understand that the U.S. was complicit in Iraq's use of them against Iran. However, that should not be an excuse to fail our moral obligations to make sure that this type of horror does not become common place. In this particular case, 350 people were killed in Syria. I find it hard to believe that any U.S. intervention or airstrikes would result in less than 350 civilian casualties. So, what should be done?
Make A Deal With Russia
Russia may not necessarily care whether chemical weapons were used in Syria. Russia does care if the U.S. intervenes in what it considers a domestic Syrian dispute. Russia, and indeed the whole world, is aware of the U.S. intention to strike Syria. If indeed the goal is to stop the use of chemical weapons, and based in humanitarian concerns of stopping the unnecessary deaths of civilians, the U.S. must agree not to strike Syria, in exchange for Russia's cooperation. What would that cooperation look like? A UN sanctioned intensive de-armament of all chemical weapons in Syria, led and operated by U.S. and Russian forces. This should be coupled with unprecedented humanitarian aid for refugees and civilians. This may work. (The U.S. and Russia have worked together before, WWII against Nazi Germany!)
How and Why Might This Work?
Russia is increasingly irrelevant on the international stage other than in pure political theater. Yet, Russia does have a seat on the 5-member UN security council, which are both realities that must be dealt with. Giving greater strength to the UN and the international system is in the U.S.'s greater interest and gives legitimacy to any interventions in human rights atrocities yet to happen around the world. Russia has always been a roadblock to this sort of intervention. However, this deal would require Russia to put some 'skin in the game.' Russian and American forces will need to demand rigorous cooperation from Syria. Russia, being Syria's most powerful ally on the world stage, would likely cooperate if Russia demands it. Any attack by Syria on these de-armament forces would result in Russia's willingness to use force, if that unfortunate need arises.
Saving Face & International Law
The best scenario would be that the U.S. and Russia would be able to unequivocally eradicate chemical weapons in Syria, while also providing basic needs to refugees, with the smallest amount of civilian casualties. Should it get messy, the UN would likely have the full support of the Security Council (China would quickly fall in line), giving legitimacy to any greater intervention that may be needed. This would help to give new weight to the International System, maintain the concept of sovereignty and give the U.S. the moral standing it has long desired, and perceived itself to have. Barack Obama, prior to being elected, was a strong believer in the the potential good of the UN, IGOs and diplomacy. Obama obviously doesn't want to give greater weight to Russia's influence in the world, but if we are willing to negotiate with 'terrorists' we can surely negotiate with a former ally and major world player, in the pursuit of these three primary goals:
1. Stop the use of chemical weapons
2. Prevent further civilian casualties
3. Preventing a wide scale, multi-state altercation (WWIII)
I am not actually an expert on Syria or military intervention, but I bet your are. What's your advice?