Kevin Drum pointed me to this video from Fareed Zacharia. It contains a short history of the Middle East, and a short history of American intervention in the Middle East. It's pretty simplified, but pretty much on target.
Unfortunately, President Obama has pretty much painted himself into a corner by saying Assad's use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" that would have "consequences." As Assad has apparently used chemical weapons, it looks like there will be consequences. But what?
Drum quotes the LA Times:
In two major episodes in 1998, the U.S. government unleashed a combination of bombs and cruise missiles against its foes — Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. In a more distant third case, in 1986, the U.S. bombed Moammar Kadafi's Libya.
The bombs and missiles mostly hit their targets, and the U.S. military at the time declared the attacks successful. But in the end, they achieved little. Two years after the U.S. bombed Tripoli, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 passengers and crew. Investigators later concluded that the U.S. attack was a primary motive for Kadafi to support the Lockerbie bombing. Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people in attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Hussein kicked out international weapons inspectors and survived despite sanctions until a U.S.-led invasion deposed him in 2003.
...."If the U.S. does something and Assad is left standing at the end of it without having suffered real serious, painful enough damage, the U.S. looks weak and foolish," said Eliot Cohen, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a former State Department official in the Bush administration, who has long been skeptical about reliance on air power."This is the fundamental problem," Drum says.
All the evidence suggests that Obama is considering the worst possible option in Syria: a very limited air campaign with no real goal and no real chance of influencing the course of the war. You can make a defensible argument for staying out of the fight entirely, and you can make a defensible argument for a large-scale action that actually accomplishes something (wiping out Assad's air force, for example), but what's the argument for the middle course? I simply don't see one. It's the act of a president who's under pressure to "do something" from the know-nothings and settles on a bit of fireworks to buy them off and show that he has indeed done something. But it's useless. The strike itself won't damage Assad much and it won't satisfy the yahoos, who will continue to bray for ever more escalation.John McCain and Linsey Graham, who never saw an intervention they didn't like (and think we should still be in Iraq), are among those yahoos.