Syria's President Bashar Assad may be a murderous thug. But would he use chemical weapons when doing so would invite Western military intervention? The chemical attack was likely the act of a local commander "going rogue" or who is a rebel sympathizer who decided to sacrifice civilians to provoke a Western response.
Even if Assad did give the order, however, no vital U.S. interests would be served by intervening. Doing so could lead to a wider conflict and to a takeover of Syria by anti-Western Islamics. That would raise the cry for more U.S. involvement, and the slide into the Middle East morass would accelerate. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan -- does the "law of unintended consequences" come to mind?
Regarding the argument that failing to attack shows U.S. "weakness": President Nixon asserted that this country would be acting like a "pitiful, helpless giant" if it did not invade Cambodia and bomb North Vietnam. How did that work out?
Chemical warfare is barbaric. But there is much barbarism in the world. The U.S. should not be a global policeman. Putting aside the question of whether this country has the right to play that role, what would it cost? The U.S. still has a severely damaged economy. Millions are unemployed, millions in poverty. There is not enough money for education, environmental protection, infrastructure repair, Medicare, etc. Yet President Obama proposes to spend tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars getting involved in another war at a time when the government is running out of money and next month must again ask that the debt ceiling be raised.
Sometimes a superpower has to take care of its internal problems and recognize its limitations in foreign affairs. The U.S. should stay out of Syria.
Kenneth N. Marshall