Syria Has Used Chemical Weapons. Now What?

Chuck Hagel confirmed what was suspected by Israeli, British and French intelligence: Chemical weapons were used in Syria. Some policy questions this raises

This, of course, will set off a great deal of punditry. After all, President Obama himself said that the use of Chemical weapons would be a “red line”for the the USA.

So if this red line has been crossed, what does it mean for the next phase of US policy?

Some, (e.g. John McCain et al) are already calling for either direct military involvement in Syria, like a No-Fly Zone or supplying the rebels with US arms. But those advocating these policies really need to grapple with some key questions about the implications of scaled up American involvement in Syria’s civil war.

For example, how can we be sure that the USA is arming the right rebels; and not the jihadis or groups that sometimes kidnap UN peacekeepers? Also, if the USA starts arming the rebels, doesn’t that suggest that Washington is entering into a proxy war with Russia, which is arming Assad? And if so, what does that augur for the chances of success of the rebels? And what does an indirect war with Russia mean for America’s other international priorities, like Iranian and North Korean proliferation?

Also, if the USA implements a no-fly zone it would almost certainly do so without the support of the Security Council as Russia would almost certainly veto such a measure. We saw what happened the last time the USA fought a war in the middle east without solid international backing. Is the Obama administration willing to undermine the United Nations in pursuit of launching a military intervention in Syria?

It seems to me that anyone who uses this opportunity to advocate for deeper American military involvement in Syria has to first start by addressing some of these questions.

PS: Here’s a good discussion this morning on HuffPo Live in which I participated.