Since its beginning, the Syrian war has been marked by confusion, misleading information and hints of promise of assistance for one side or another, which was extraordinary in view of the danger of escalation beyond the borders of that once noble, civilised country.
And now it is happening, an intensification of events including Israel’s carrying out air strikes in the heart of Syria because of her fears over Hezbollah, and further indications that nerve gas and chemical weapons have been used by both armies in this bloody, unwinnable conflict. It is likely that western governments and the UN have greater proof of what is happening on the ground than they are willing to admit, perhaps because to do so would render them liable to fulfil their premature pledges of support to the rebels. Instead, because of their past statements they look indecisive and weak, even though caution now is very justified.
It is a sad fact that all the options available to Obama and his allies carry risk and probably would not help Syria – indeed, they could worsen and expand the situation, whether it were arming the rebels, air strikes, ground involvement or air exclusion zones. No doubt pressure for action from short sighted, bellicose politicians in Congress and elsewhere will increase and it will be a big test for the President as to how far he can resist the calls and the blame in face of a desperate situation for the people of Syria and an unstable Middle East.
The fifth option is to do nothing, and it may be the best choice, for now, albeit a difficult one. Watchful passivity is not necessarily negative, and it is a time for wise judgment not hasty action: so doing may not seem to help those who suffer so much in Syria, but it will not worsen their situation either, as direct involvement could do. It really is the time to keep our powder dry.