I have not met, or heard, very many people who quickly answer this question "yes" or "no," myself included. There are many, many variables as to whether the United States should engage in some sort of military action against the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against Syrian citizens which killed hundreds of women and children in addition many more men.
When the allegations of chemical weapons being used in the Syrian civil war first arose my immediate thoughts went to something I have said often in the past. It is in answer to a question no one in the press seems to be asking, "where did Assad get the sarin nerve gas?"
My answer is the same answer I had when no chemical or biological weapons were found in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003: from Saddam Hussein. Separating oneself from the vitriolic emotions that many experience regarding President George W. Bush and the Iraq War and just looking at times lines and past history there is a strong case to be made that Hussein supplied Assad. With months, even years, to prepare for some sort of international action against him for biological and chemical weapons (WMD or weapons of mass destruction), Saddam had plenty of time to move weapons across the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Without delving into intense detail, those with a good sense of recall will remember that Hussein had used chemical weapons against Iranians and Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war, told the United Nations after the first Gulf War that he had stockpiles of biological and chemical agents that were weaponized, later when UN inspectors went into the country they were often stalled or refused the ability to inspect sights for weeks or months if at all, and several foreign intelligence agencies besides our own reported that Hussein had chemical and biological weapons.
So how did an arsenal of WMD agents that Hussein acknowledged having, that several countries confirmed him having and that he had previously used suddenly disappear? Suddenly is not the right word as Hussein had months between the UN passing a resolution calling for inspections and that Hussein better comply or else. Or else was Congress voting to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq. There was plenty of time between the UN debates and vote, the debate in the U.S. and subsequent Congressional vote and the invasion for a man who controlled every aspect of his nation to move weapons across the border to a very friendly and receptive dictator in Syria.
So back to the question at hand: Should the United States use military force against Syria? My answer is yes. But...
I firmly believe that the United States has a moral imperative to strike against anyone who uses chemical and/or biological weapons. While many Americans are uncomfortable with the idea, we are the world's "policeman." I see no other nation in the world with our moral compass and our power to ensure everyone plays nice, and for those who don't impose penalties. While nice to have support from other nations when undergoing our duties enforcing moral imperatives, I do not feel it is necessary. Because of this I strongly feel the United States must act against Bashar al-Assad and his military for the chemical attack(s).
What complicates the answer to this question is the recent history, i.e. since Obama has been President, in the Middle East. In 2002 then Senator Obama spoke out against the Iraq War, not because Hussein may or may not have had WMD, but because he felt it was "a dumb war." Saying Hussein "...is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power" Obama also acknowledged Hussein's possession and use of WMD. His argument against the war was that Hussein "...poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors."
Since becoming President the threshold for military force (which in my opinion is the same as war) has loosened considerably. Obama called for bombing in Lybia to assist rebels in deposing dictator Muammar Gaddafi--there was no imminent and direct threat to the United States or Lybia's neighbors. While using bombs to get rid of one rogue government, Obama did nothing to assist a growing revolution in Iran, a government that does pose a threat to the United States with its funding of terrorists. Obama cheered from the sidelines while Egypt's long term ruler Hosni Mubarek was toppled and refused to express concern when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. Later when elected President Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the Egyptian military the Administration issued a fairly meek protest. Syria has been engaged in a civil war with three parties vying for power and until earlier this year when the United States began supplying weapons and training to some rebel forces there was no effort to unseat Assad.
What is the filter through which Obama picks and chooses who to assist in deposing and who to let fight it out? How is Assad any less worthy of being ousted with strong and direct military assistance than Gaddafi? Perhaps the answer lies to the north of Syria and Assad's ally Vladimir Putin. If only Gaddafi had stronger alliances with other dictators he may still be alive and in power.
The primary source of my hesitancy for the United States striking against Assad is my concern the scope of our action will be too limited and inconsequential. Will the action be akin to bombing an aspirin factory, a la President Clinton in the Sudan? Unless our military action is strong, severe and has a lasting negative impact on Assad's ability to wage war against his own people then I feel any action we take will be to prop up Obama's "red line" statement. Anything less than an plan of action that takes out Assad's air force, significantly damages his army and/or takes out Assad and/or his top military officials to me bombing just to bomb.
A limited missile strike against a few targets is akin to spanking your grown drug addicted son in hopes it will change his behavior. Assad needs more than a swat on the butt, and does the world community. Slapping Assad on the wrist by killing a few members of his military, who he sees as expendable anyway, gives tacit consent to future despots who want to use chemical or biological weapons.
Assad needs to be removed from power, either by terminating him or capturing him and putting him on trial.
As for the power vacuum this would create, from all I have ingested over the past few years on the Syrian civil war there are three factions: Assad and the government, Al-Qaeda and a "Free Syrian" or secular faction. It is the latter group that the United States should support and act accordingly.
The financial cost to the United States, how the Arab street or other dictators will "feel" about the United States and threats from Putin should not factor in our decision to punish, convincingly, Bashar al-Assad. What makes the decision to engage militarily in Syria is the moral principles of our nation, using chemical weapons on civilians, whether with missiles or as part of ethnic cleansing is wrong and anyone who engages in such murder needs to be eliminated.
My hope is that very soon President Obama personally lays out the imperative as well as Secretary of State Kerry did in part of his statement on Sunday. My hope is that President Obama will provide a clear objective as to the intended result of military action in Syria and that the objective is nothing short of removing Bashar al-Assad from power.