Any military strike on Syria that stops short of removing Bashar Assad will be strategically useless.
Donald Trump says that he has not yet made a decision about possible action despite earlier tweets suggesting a strike was imminent.
US warships are positioning in the eastern Mediterranean, and the UK and France are building momentum toward punishing those responsible for launching chemical attacks on Douma.
But the perpetrators of those attacks, which killed 32 and injured hundreds, would have long disbanded and the military installations responsible for producing the chemicals have been dismantled and cleared.
So what are the options left for the Western countries to target?
The list could include more traditional targets such as military airfields, army bunkers, ammunition stores, antiquated regime surface-to-air missile batteries and radars.
But targets such as the elite units tasked with protecting Damascus and ensuring the safety of the president and his regime might yield more long-term results if the aim is to stop the regime bombing and gassing its own people.
But Western powers are unlikely to include eliminating the Syrian officers responsible for chemical warfare under Iranian and Russian experts’ guidance.
All of the above could amount to a slap on the wrist of the regime without a greater long-term impact. At the same time, the Russian, Iranian and some Arab propaganda tools will be at work to discredit the strikes as a colonialist and imperialist intervention and example of double-standards.
Syria’s crossing of “red lines” has become a sport in the seven years since the Syrian people rebelled against Assad’s regime.
The president has been emboldened by his closest ally, Vladimir Putin, who is a specialist at ignoring moral and legal boundaries when it comes to using chemical agents to remove opponents.
Just ask the British authorities who have laid the blame for a recent assassination attempt against a former Russian spy and his daughter squarely on the Kremlin.
Assad’s other closest ally, Iran, has never demonstrated much sensitivity in respecting international conventions about human rights or banning the use of non-conventional weapons.
Tehran is accused by Saudi Arabia and the US, among others, of transferring ballistic missiles to Houthi militants in Yemen to target the Kingdom’s capital and other provinces.
Trump has suggested he had little doubt that Syria’s regime was to blame for the attack on Douma on April 7.
The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons inspectors will visit Douma, the site of the attack.
But some chemical agents, such as chlorine, leave little trace over time. Last year, Washington responded to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack by launching dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in the north of the country, but this did not deter Assad from using chemical agents against civilian areas since.
Russian lawmakers have warned the US that Moscow would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime and that it could trigger a direct US-Russian military clash.
Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launching sites targeted — a stark warning of a potential major confrontation between global superpowers.
The Russian comments are mostly for media consumption: Israel has made several painful strikes against Hezbollah and Iran’s bases, and yet Moscow managed then to turn a blind eye.
If an extended campaign in Syria is launched, with apprehending Assad as its main objective — and to punish his use of chemical weapons now, and in the past — the same campaign must punish his use of torture against opponents, and hold him accountable for launching ballistic missile strikes on rebel cities across his country, or even dropping barrel bombs to terrorize civilians in rebel-held towns.
Above all, maybe a campaign by the West to uphold the “red lines” Assad is so quick to cross will bring an end to the international impasse in trying to resolve the conflict.
Perhaps such strikes could break the cycle and revitalize the search for a peace deal on Syria and elsewhere by all parties.