So far, the 21st century is nothing to crow about in the annals of human history.
It started in its very first instant of existence with the threat of wiping out the planet’s computer systems, and more specifically the data and operating systems on those computers, because many of them had been designed without the capability to count time past 11:59:59pm, December 31st, 1999. The feared forthcoming Armageddon was known simply as Y2K (year 2000), which was short for the fact that no accommodation had been built into those operating systems to provide for the century change from 19xx to 20xx, and those systems would thus cease to function at midnight plus one nanosecond, January 1st, 2000.
It was a dud.
Nothing adverse happened to better than 99.99999% of the world’s computers. On January 1st, 2000, life just kept on running along, albeit slowed perhaps by just a wee bit too much partying.
But Y2K was a harbinger of more destructive and violent events to follow. Only 21 short months later, 9-11 and its resulting invasion of Afghanistan by the USA (and some much lesser efforts by some allies) happened. Then the US invaded Iraq in March 2003 and stayed until December 2011, leaving a dysfunctional quasi-democratic state in its wake while removing a big obstacle against Iran, a US adversary.
Next came the Arab Spring in December 2010. What started with peaceful protests by Arab citizens in various Arab nations in Africa and the middle east (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria) seeking democratic governments to replace dictatorships ended up in new Islamists governments and subsequent bloodshed and turmoil in most of them.
The last one, Syria, never even got to the new government phase. Instead, the Assad regime which has controlled Syria for many decades (a father and then son affair) decided to not yield to the pressures that the other three Arab governments had yielded to, and instead fought back with strong military force against its own people.
That conflict has been going on now for two years and has killing over 100,000 people. While the anti-government Syrian rebels scored a large number of initial military successes against Assad’s superior fighting forces, pro-Assad forces won back many of the initial rebel gains.
One type of munitions used by the Assad regime was a WMD (weapon of mass destruction): chemical weapons. These include nerve agents that shut down breathing and heart functions and chemicals that burn skin, eyes and lungs. Chemical weapons have been outlawed by global treaties. Their use and even their storage are violations of international law. But Assad still purportedly used these several times against both rebels and innocent civilians in his own country.
The US/NATO coalition fighting the Afghan war and the Iraqi war took a hands off approach to what had now become a Syrian civil war. In the USA, with the exception of some hawkish extremist right wing folks who want to kill all foreigners everywhere, no one is in the mood for another American military action. Enough already, right?
Additionally, a number of bad policy decisions were carried out by the Bush administration: Torturing detainees after 9-11, public abuse and private torture of prisoners at the military prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, extraordinary rendition (kidnapping prisoners and sending them overseas to be tortured), and other crimes against humanity committed by Americans with authority These policies and actions, while no longer practiced, have all rendered the credibility of the USA a bit less than Sterling in the eyes of the world. Thus, were the USA to unilaterally bomb Syrian military assets in the name of protection of human rights, that might be seen cynically by many in the world. In fact, there was a warning about this every eventuality leveled by more enlighten folks back when those shameful actions were occurring. And although the USA now has a completely different administration, the actions of the previous administration don’t just disappear from the USA’s record. Nor should they.
Conscious of all these factors, the Obama administration has wisely delayed any action against the Assad regime in retaliation for violating global treaties against the stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. It knows it has to first provide proof that chemical weapons were used and also proof of who actually used them. Then it has to form a coalition of other like-minded countries to join in any military retaliatory action against the Assad regime. This must occur while circumventing the UN Security Council, because both Russia and China, whom have supported Assad in the past, are likely to veto any plan to attack the Assad regime in any way on the UN Security Council.
Finally, military action must be surgical, shift and effective, most likely in a single multinational strike that reduces or completely eliminates Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future. It might even shut down his command ,control and communication capabilities as a signal to him.
It must NOT be about regime change. Simply attack and leave.
The Israelis have been doing this for years. We need to learn from them.