NEW YORK (CNN) - President Obama says he is still considering how to respond to Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack against its own people.
In President Obama’s own words, if he orders military action, it's likely to be, "limited and narrow" and many are asking, given how he doesn't want to change the balance on the ground in Syria’s civil war and simply send a message, is the benefit of launching a strike large enough to justify the significant blowback America will likely see to itself and its allies in the region.
The question isn't can America strike Syria, but how hard?
“The Syrian Air Force is on the verge of collapse, in my opinion we could destroy the Syrian Air Force in its entirety in 30 minutes,” said Christopher Harmer, Fmr. Deputy Director for U.S. Navy 5th Fleet in Bahrain.
Harmer drew up on paper a light missile strike plan, similar to what Obama may do, but now harmer, and other analysts, think it would be a bad idea, unless part of a wider military strategy.
“If we start punishing him, if we do punishment strikes without a consequential impact, those chemical weapons are likely to be transferred to Hezbollah,” said Hammer. “As you know, Hezbollah is a foreign terrorist organization; the worst possible outcome for the United States and the west in general is for these chemical weapons to transfer from Assad to Hezbollah.”
According to Matt Levitt, Washington Inst. for Near East Policy, “My fear is that if there's only a very, very limited attack and there's no follow on, that the Assad regime could come out of this thinking okay so long as I no longer use chemical weapons anymore I can do anything else I want.”
However, the U.S. strike will cause catastrophe in the region. That's long been the calling cry of Assad supporters here at the United Nations, but with so many of Syria’s neighbors already edging towards the precipice after over a year of savage civil war, there is a real risk that U.S.. intervention will unleash a host of unintended consequences.
Syria's regime may be overstretched to pick another fight. Their backers Iran, or Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, may instead. It depends on how threatened they feel by the strike.
“If it's a limited attack, I think the likelihood of Hezbollah responding is much, much less but if Hezbollah interests are hit, if key interests are hit, and Hezbollah believes that this is really affecting the Assad regime's ability to stay in power, you could see Hezbollah do any one of a number of things. They could fire some rockets at Israel, they may do that anyway. They could engage in asymmetrical warfare terrorist attacks abroad and theoretically, if there are severe attacks and Hezbollah is really threatened, they could decide to target western interests most likely in the region,” said Levitt.
“So we're at a point now where no matter what we do there's going to be negative blowback against the United States. There are really no perfect options here, there are just a lot of bad options, and we've got to choose the least bad one,” said Hammer.
After two years of not intervening until the unconscionable moral outrage of chemical warfare, means the U.S. looks forced to choose when there are no good choices left.
Now, of course many analysts say the Syrian regime and its allies are simply too overstretched to respond in any meaningful way to a limited U.S. attack, but you have to bear in mind these aren't necessarily rational actors. The Assad regime, using chemical weapons on a large scale, it's alleged against, its own people potentially even realizing there could be an international response.
Also, bear in mind in this region so many different armed groups, all of whom might choose to use the U.S. intervention as a way of widening the conflict in their own interests.