There seems to be nothing good to say about anything coming out of Syria, as the government of Bashar al-Assad [and his visible allies, Hezbollah and Iran and his less visible allies, Russia] and "the rebels" [a wild consortium, almost certainly sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and
without doubt possibly the CIA], now accuse each other of unleashing a chemical attack on the Syrian city of Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus, which is estimated to have killed well over 300 people and sickened thousands... as the Obama Administration deploys some U.S. naval vessels ever closer to Syria... for some inadequately explained reason, because direct American intervention in Syria would probably start World War III be bad.
This Grey Lady op-ed by Edward Luttwak suggests that a prolonged unpleasant bloody stalemate is the only outcome favorable to American interests (he certainly cautions against-- and rightly so-- American intervention in Syria), noting that the Islamist extremists likely to emerge after a "rebel" win are not favorable to American interests, nor would an Assad regime that relied on assistance from Hezbollah and Iran (and presumably, Russia.)
Really? REALLY? Have we learned NOTHING? The list of our misguided and utterly f***ing DISASTROUS interventions seems endless, be they of recent vintage such as in Iraq... Afghanistan... Libya... Somalia... and our less obvious involvement in places like Egypt, and Bahrain, not to mention slightly older adventures in Southeast Asia, Iran (back when we overthrew a democratically elected government to install the Shah), and of course, all over the Western Hemisphere.
In short-- Mr. Luttwak is correct that American intervention-- of any kind, for any reason (other than perhaps giving humanitarian aid to surrounding countries like Jordan that have to deal with refugees)-- would be "ill-advised." And somebody's use of chemical weapons is, alas, just not a good reason for American intervention. And the presence of U.N. weapons inspectors already in Syria at the time of the attacks and the attacks just a few miles from their hotel-- makes me wonder about whether the Assad regime is that stupid (hint... I don't think so, though it certainly might be). Naturally, other than the rebels themselves, it seems the United States government is arguing the loudest that it is the Assad regime (rather than "the rebels") that is responsible for the chemical attack. None of us can say for sure, but right now, the evidence is inconclusive at best, and what American officials get out of stirring this pot (other than some really sweet contracts for whoever gets to provide support for the presumed sh*tstorm they're trying create)... is a mystery, at least to me.
Anyway, as awful as it is, Syria is unlikely to have a liberal, democratic government any time soon. I tend to think that a stable, albeit unpleasant regime like Assad's would be far, FAR better than either an Islamist sh*t-hole state (see how well that one just worked out in Egypt, for example) or an unstable, corrupt semi-failed state resulting in ostensibly permanent anarchy and civil war (of the kind we have installed and unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan). And this result would also be true for Israel, which, without doubt, wants stability on its Northeastern border, and would (presumably) prefer not to have an Islamist regime reminiscent of Hamas in control of an entire well-armed country.
At the end of the day, the Middle East is a tough neighborhood with no good prospects... American intervention in the region has achieved exactly zero unqualified successes (save arguably Israel's position as regional powerhouse... and even there, our support has not involved direct military intervention)... and getting involved in this one-- chemical weapons or not-- would be yet another bad idea.
Update (8-25-13): Syria will allow weapons inspectors full access to the site of the attack. Another strong hint as to its provenance... at least in my view. And yet... seeing as Assad's Syria is a client-state of, you know, Russia, I don't think American forces will be ordered to back off anytime soon.