The planned short-lived bombing is meant to send a stern warning to Damascus, any idea about overthrowing tyrannical Bashar al-Assad being discarded. The US administration fails to be reassured by an opposition torn by internal rift and subject to heavy influence from Islamic extremist forces. Israel stands too close to commit a blunder.
The US policy in the Middle East has always been guided by the paramount goal of preserving its close ally against potential threats from neighbours. Betting for a clear objective in a region where treacherous quicksand prevails seems the safest option. Against formidable odds it has found its way in surrounding Israel with a belt of countries no longer committed to throw the Jewish population to the sea. The military coup in Egypt has further ensured that safety net, the Lebanese Hezbollah fraction standing as the only exception. A threat Tel Aviv can cope with on its own.
Even the Iraq invasion was to some extent influenced by that long term policy. Many observers rightly denounced as utterly immoral to wage a war based on false probes linking Saddam Hussein to the daunting 9/11 terrorist attack and to fake mass destruction weapons. Yet, the Iraqi regime had enough missiles to launch a devastating attack on Israel and showed its readiness to make full use of them.
Ousting expeditiously Bashar al-Assad would create a power vacuum in Syria easily exploited by terrorists as the Libyan imbroglio shows. Until the opposition provides firm assurances to run the country in a sound way, avoiding any demagogic attempt to destabilise the current cease-fire in the Golan borderline, Mr Obama would be well advised to refrain from any action beyond a punitive expedition.
Right now, preventing the chemical arsenal from being used or falling into the wrong hands seems the key objective. A missile bombing will fail to fully address that serious challenge. Clamping down on those weapons may at the end of the day force a land intervention for all the US reluctance to involve itself so closely in the Syrian conflict. In that part of the world any Western move is likely to backfire.