Everyone should be able to agree that Bashar Assad is a turd of a human being, following closely in the bloody footprints of his old man. The Alawite regime in Syria is overwhelmingly outnumbered by a Sunni population, and like Saddam Hussein, can only hold power by the most ruthless of means, since they don't actually represent any real constituency other than themselves.
But the trick here -- and this is where Obama and the would-be humanitarians need to pay close attention -- there are no good guys here. Americans hear "rebels" and they think of George Washington's ragtag bunch at Valley Forge, or valiant "freedom fighters" striving for Good in the cruel face of ineffable evil. Or they think of Star Wars.
But all indications of the Syrian rebels are of loose militias of jihadist animals -- one cell was busted in May in Turkey with a couple kilos of sarin gas. Whether or not Assad actually used sarin, it appears that the rebels would be more than happy to give it a spin as well, should the opportunity present itself.
(And not to play devil's advocate for horrible forms of weaponry, but why precisely is sarin so much worse than, say, cluster bombs? Either one seems like a pretty miserable way to go. The idea that the use of cluster bombs is somehow acceptable or moral because we "deeply regret" the civilians and children who come across unexploded bomblets is pretty monstrous in itself.)
So there are no good guys in this, and we have a consistent recent history of going into places we know nothing about, blundering through and fucking things up. If Obama thinks this might be his Kosovo, a quick in-and-out six weeks of air sorties followed by a peacekeeping camp of Burger Kings and workout gyms, he's almost definitely wrong, to the extent that you could bet serious money on it.
Remember when the Arab Spring was a thing? Good times. How's all that turning out now? The problem is that we know nothing about these countries, or how their people feel about us, or how the best move for us is to stay the hell out of their shit altogether for a while. Yes, Russia and China will step in and reap the rewards -- and the headaches. Let them, they'll learn soon enough.
In fact, this has all the makings of a serious clusterfuck -- Iran will almost definitely do something in response, probably send Hezbollah over the Lebanese or Syrian border to provoke Israel to jump in. Not to mention that Russia and China have registered their vehement disagreement, so a supporting UN resolution will be practically impossible.
Hegemonists will respond -- rightly to some extent -- that it shouldn't matter what asshole governments think if we're trying to do the right thing, the humanitarian thing. And no, we don't let Putin or anyone else dictate our foreign policy for us.
But we also don't (in theory, anyway) go rushing into military action if the risks outweigh the potential benefits. And here, as we finally wind down and limp away from two costly, ill-conceived wars, as the world economy is precipitously positioned, there is almost zero upside and massive potential downside with this.
So of course we'll do it. We can't help ourselves, and more importantly, we haven't yet internalized that the world is no longer unipolar like we'd prefer, but apolar, with no clear single sphere of influence, just large competing interests, all ultimately at the service of transnational merchant princes with no particular loyalties.