Copeland: What can the West hope to achieve with a military strike on Syria?
Little or nothing will be gained from Western military intervention in Syria at this juncture, whereas the downside risks associated with possible collateral damage or widening the scope of the conflict are very real.
A strike using precision munitions might bolster Obama's – or Cameron's, or Hollande's – credibility on the home front, but it would be unlikely to affect the military balance in the civil war and would do nothing or address the continuing humanitarian crisis.
Even the deterrence argument is shaky because of the Assad government's increasingly uncertain control over the Syrian state's arsenal.
At an absolute minimum, no action should be taken in advance of receipt of the UN weapons inspectors report. If that submission points clearly to regime culpability in the use of chemical weapons, then the issue should be placed immediately before the Security Council.
Only at that point, and only if a substantial majority of Council members favour action but are blocked by Russia and/or China, should alternatives be considered.
Still, it is difficult to imagine that the use of armed force would make matters anything but worse. And, notwithstanding the predictable moralizing and equivocation, recourse to measures outside of international law would doubtless inflict further damage on NATO's already battered reputation.