A) I take as given, based on reporting from independent NGOs, medical professionals on the ground, and officials from multiple governments that:
1. Chemical weapons were used on a hospital, targeting unarmed civilians
2. When first responders rushed to aid the initial victims a second round of chemical bombs were dropped, striking the medical workers and civilian volunteers who were trying to aid the victims.
3. The weapons were launched by Syrian aircraft from the targeted base - they were seen on radar before, during, and after the attack.
I take as less certain, but do believe, that although a child killed by sarin gas is just as dead as a child killed by a barrel bomb, the reason chemical weapons were banned was because they are a qualitatively different type of assault than a so-called conventional weapon. Perfect would be to cease the murderous assault on civilians launched by the Assad and Putin regimes. The lack of a perfect solution should not dissuade us from taking action against a severe transgression of international norms.
B) I further believe that 45's act was illegal under US and international law. Congress has repeatedly refused even to debate authorization for military force, and the UN is logjammed by (among others) Russia, which I view as complicit in these crimes. So F them. It's possible that, if Congress had been willing to take up and debate a resolution on the use of military force, we as a country might have achieved further clarity in our policy around that multi-headed hydra of a war. Maybe the vote would have failed, in which case I would have opposed a President acting. But being unwilling even to put a resolution up for debate is an abdication of responsibility and unfortunately when Congress abdicates the other branches of government act. The perfect course of action is for the Executive to set out policy, the Legislative to debate and formulate that policy into law, and for there to be public clarity on both sides. As above, the perfect is the enemy of the good.
C) I believe, though with less conviction, that Obama's inaction and our lack of clear policy in regard to the war opened the door for Russian intervention and ultimately led to the escalation in civilian deaths we now see. I continue to be dismayed at how little we have done in the past five+ years to aid those victimized by the conflict. Our policy is unclear even in areas where I feel we would have great national consensus, such as funding healthcare, housing, food, and education for refugees living in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
D) So what happens now? The first strike is easy - what comes after is the hard part. The Russians have threatened to beef up Syria's air defense system. If they do so, I would support strikes to take out those defenses. I would support strikes against every Syrian military airbase or aircraft. As I said above, these weapons have been used as part of a systematic campaign against unarmed civilians. Deprived of such weapons, Assad will still find ways to slaughter people, but they will be fewer and harder and it will remove Russian plausible deniability. The rebels have been asking for anti-air weapons for some time now; I'm not happy about putting more weaponry into a war zone but taking weapons off the map I might well support.
IF, and here's the really big IF the US can put together a coherent policy. I don't hold out a lot of hope here - Obama's team couldn't, and the current bunch of militarists and amateurs isn't likely to do better. History has not been kind to American interventions in foreign conflicts and we often regret things decades down the line. But the future is uncertain and it does the victims no good for us to hand-wring about far-future consequences while the bombs are raining down.
We live in an imperfect world and I would rather live in a world with an imperfect, but at least publicly articulated and debated, policy. Such a thing might make recurrences of the past couple days' events less likely.
Cross-posted from Dreamwidth, at http://drwex.dreamwidth.org/947382.html. You can comment here or there.