My inclination is to be a liberal humanitarian interventionist.
But I don't think that it works.
I am just as clear that the USA cannot be that cavalry -- the police force of the global system. The horrific situations where we are most tempted to intervene are horrific because they are the working out of longstanding conflicts. Our intervention only involves us in those conflicts.
The combination of the Cold War, oil wealth and the conflict with Israel brought a series of militarized dictatorships to power all across the Middle East: from Libya to Iran. Those have been going under. They are not being replaced by secular democratic governments but by more conservative Islamic movements. This is the tide of history, as they say. Democratic liberalism will develop out of those emerging conservative Islamic states in the future, if at all.
Our present dilemma in Syria comes from the fact that we don't particularly want either side to win. The result is a policy confusion -- we want to bomb somebody, but not change the dynamics of the civil war. The hope that somehow we could have intervened to bring about the victory of democratic liberals, a hope still held by Senators Graham and McCain, is a neocon delusion.
President Obama has proposed a liberal humanitarian intervention, much as he did in Libya. (Remember that he proposed a very limited engagement in Libya, but ended up assisting the overthrow of the regime there, so there is reason for thinking that he might intend more than he says now.) I have to say that I have a lot of confidence in President Obama
But a pinprick will do nothing.
Assisting in regime change will involve the US in a civil war which will go on much after Assad is gone, much as in Iraq.
Which leaves staying out of it. Which is where I stand.
The key thing is that he has proposed an intervention and asked Congress (and the rest of us) to approve it. Any attempt to force Congress to act like adults should be welcomed. Congress may be persuaded to approve the resolution before it; a lot of people are terrified of the prospect that any President might not get what they ask for in cases like this. Standing and credibility and all that. Voting to stay out of it will take a lot of institutional guts for Congress. There will be votes against authorization that are everything from principled and progressive anti-militarism to outright crazy anti-Obamaism. It will not represent a cohesive vision of a different kind of foreign policy.