It's only decision time for the West because we set a rather arbitrary decision point of chemical weapon use by Assad.
We are about to fight a three way war in Syria against Assad and against Islamists which are fully entrenched in the Syrian Opposition forces. The Opposition has no clear objectives other than to bring down Assad. There is no clear side and this it is impossible to differentiate on the battlefield. Who is going to bring about a liberal democracy and who is out for a Islamist dictatorship? We don't know. If we intervene we'd have to fight off Assad then weed through the Opposition and take out the Islamists. Essentially our task would be either to stage an invasion of Syria. Or to end the civil war going on now and then fight another one.
Opposition forces wanting a Islamic State are not the sort of people democracies should back.
Militarily our fight would also be impossible. We will be fighting enemies that are being armed by Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Assad's force would be the hardest to win against because of the strong air power he possess. Furthermore, if he is willing to use chemical weapons against his own people he will almost certainly use them against any interventionist forces. These forces would have to be composed of ground troops as well as planes based in Cyprus. A Syrian style air umbrella and the occasional weapons drop will not work because the Opposition forces are much weaker than in Libya and Assad's army is much stronger than Gaddafi's. It's very unlikely we could win, so the conflict would just continue.
Gaddafi for political reasons kept his military very weak. Assad for political reason has made the Syrian army and air force very strong.
And speaking of the outcomes, what are our objectives? Is it to protect civilians from dying? If that was the case we should have intervened at least one and half years ago when it was clear this was going to become a civil war. Nor is our intervention going to stop more deaths because more people are going to die in the future whether Assad or the Opposition win. If Assad win's he will ruthlessly oppress Opposition supporters. If the Opposition win there will be a split and another civil war, or at the very least mass civil disturbance for years.
There is also the risk, which is greatly underplayed, that this whole civil war could spill over. In its simplest form this could be because of the mass movement of refugees into Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. The war could follow the Syrian people when Assad get's desperate. It is worth remembering Assad attacked Turkey.
Intervention in Syria is going to be like putting a match in the tinder box of the Middle East where a Cold War already rages.
But when looking at the Syrian war it is clear to see that this is a proxy war going on between Saudi Arabia (and co.) against Iran. These countries having been involved in a serious Cold War for a number of years as to who controls the Middle East. Intervention in that fight is likely to cause a conflict that would seriously implode the region. This will put the safety of our allies in the democratic Iraq, Israel and NATO ally Turkey at serious risk. We too will not escape this war as in defence of our allies we'd have to fight Iran who would respond on the battlefield as well as in our streets. It is clear such problems would occur because Turkey hasn't set up protection zones in Syria or gone to war with Assad when he attacked them. This Turkish inaction is caused by the realisation of very likely Iranian attacks, despite intervention in Syria being fully discussed and having many advantages for the Turks.
We do not want to act in Syria just to save lives. We want to act in Syria to bring about democracy.
What we really want and what the Syrian people as a whole want is to have a new democratic government in Syria. If that is the case it would be pretty stupid to gamble, with loaded dice against democracy. The Opposition may choose to appoint a new Assad. What has to happen in the Opposition, if they wish to win this war, is they have to become organised and that involves an internal power struggle where we will find out whether the Opposition is going to be made up of liberals backing democracy or Islamist Terrorists backing a dictatorship.
It is for the Syrian people to decide of what type of government they want after Assad has fallen. This decision should have been taken early on in the formation of the Syrian Opposition if they wanted a chance of winning and forming a government after Assad's downfall. This chance now seems to be fading away.
But there is another opportunity with this new turning point of mass use of chemical weapons. Gas attacks show to the Syrian population that Assad is becoming more desperate not because a over 1,000 people died. Bear in mind that over 100,000 people are sadly dead already. The Syrian people will be more so looking for an alternative to Assad so an organised and clearly democratically motivated Opposition would get support that could crumble the regime. This move is one for the Syrian people to make whether they are civilians or in the Opposition. It is not one we can help with either, and certainly we cannot help by intervention.
This was the most important move made in Libya with the setting up of the National Transitional Council as it showed clearly that a Libya without Gaddafi would be one of democracy. Our intervention did save the city of Benghazi, but it was the Libyan Opposition that spilt blood and did the fighting. Our light touch still caused some problems in the new democratic Libyan Government. It didn't allow for the sorting out of tribal differences that a longer period of war may have allowed for. Overall however this is not an unsolvable problem and Libya, unlike Syria, is likely to have a successful form of democracy.
People need to free themselves. Syria is only solvable by the West if it intends to invade and set up a proxy government which it intends to defend. This of course completely disregards the fact that militarily this scenario is impossible. If we could defeat Assad we'd be in there for a much longer period than Iraq. Oh and as an added bonus we could cause a regional war with Iran. It's the people of Syria's choices, both civilians and those in the Opposition, that can bring about a Syrian democracy.
The choice to have democracy can only be brought about by people fighting hard for it themselves.