President Obama says he hasn't yet made a decision about intervening in the Syrian civil war as a response to last week's devastating chemical-weapons attack. And if he hasn't, why would you have, especially since it's Labor Day weekend and you're trying to figure out how to grill scallops, exactly, like, just throw them on there, or what? Well: We're here to help. Here are four opinions you can have about the U.S. options:
Opinion 1: Do not bomb Syria
Who believes this: Most of the U.S., depending on how you read the polls; most of the U.K. and especially the Labour party; pacifists; non-interventionists like Rand Paul; Syria's allies.
What it entails: Depending on which person is espousing this opinion there are a few different flavors of not-bombing Syria, but all of them share an essence, which is "not shooting missiles at anything." Maybe you're a pure isolationist who thinks the U.S. shouldn't get involved at all; maybe you think the U.S. should limit itself to providing weapons to rebels; maybe you're the kind of person who has noticed a pattern of bad results when "the West" gets itself involved in "The Middle East"; maybe you're Vladimir Putin and you want to troll the U.S. by supporting Assad; maybe you're on the Iranian Supreme Council and you want to prop up another Shi'a regime. The point is, you all agree: Let's not bomb!
The problem with this opinion: According to intelligence from the U.S. and other countries, Assad's forces have used chemical weapons on a civilian population, in violation of international law and really any decent sense of morality. Refusing to lift a finger (...to press the "Cruise Missile" button) in response represents an abdication of U.S. responsibility not only as a member of the global community broadly, but as a singularly powerful force on the world stage. Speaking more practically, an attack could prevent further chemical-weapon use—and, furthermore, refusal to act allows more civilians to die in Syria, and more weapons to fall into the hands of the extremist groups who have set up shop as rebels.
Opinion 2: Bomb Syria to punish Assad for using chemical weapons
Who believes this: By most indications, the Obama administration; France.
What it entails: This seems to be the option currently favored by Obama and his foreign-policy team: A time-limited series of strikes intended to "punish" Assad for chemical-weapons attacks, and warn him against using such weapons again, but not necessarily concerned with toppling or removing him from power. The idea here is that Assad still maintains fairly broad support inside the country, and the ideal end result is a peace deal between rebels and the government—not a potential power vacuum that could allow extremist groups to flourish, and certainly not deep U.S. involvement in a multifaceted sectarian civil war.
The problem with this opinion: Setting aside the fact that there just isn't an coalition or broad international support for this option, which undermines the idea that it's about "international law," this is just kind of bombing for bombing's sake, isn't it? Without a specific set of goals other than a vague idea "punishment" and "warning"—of a regime, we should note, that's made up largely of a religious sect, the Alawites, that likely believes at this point that it's fighting for its very existence—why bother?
Opinion 3: Bomb Syria to remove Assad from Power
What it entails: Shoot cruise missiles at Syrian targets with the specific intent of removing Assad from power entirely, not only "punishing" him for using chemical weapons but helping end the civil war in the country and opening up the possibility of a democratic, peaceful Syria.
The problem with this opinion: "Regime change" has not, historically, worked out super well for the U.S., and really not super well for the countries whose regimes the U.S. has decided to "change." There's no indication that Syria would be any different—and some indication that, absent Assad, the country might be less stable. (Among other things, the Alawite/Shi'a minority could face violent retribution if removed from power entirely.)
Opinion 4: Fuckin' invade
Who believes this: Actually, surprisingly, no one, really? Assad's son? The Onion, maybe?
What it entails: "Boots on the ground": Actual U.S. (and whichever other nations are dumb enough) soldiers (and tanks, planes, and so on) engaging with the Assad regime's forces and enforcing peace across the country.
The problem with this opinion: Nothing. There are no problems with this.