Secretary of State John Kerry has declared it "undeniable" that Syria used chemical weapons against the anti-government rebels in a suburb near Damascus. So now the world awaits the reaction from the United States and other Western powers who have declared the use of chemical weapons a tripwire for their intervention in the Syrian civil war.
No one defends the use of chemical weapons, but we shouldn't pretend that they have been off limits since World War I, when chemical weapons killed thousands and left thousands more wishing they were dead. Survivors suffered horrible problems, including disfigurement and scorched lungs that robbed victims of oxygen.
The World War I experience prompted nations to ban chemical weapons, and the ban has been largely effective, with chemical bombs used only in a few conflicts since 1918. But Syria has a huge stockpile of chemical weapons that can be used against rebels, or, perhaps worse, can fall into the hands of the Islamist fighters eager to find new ways to terrify their enemies and kill more "infidels."
What can the United States and its allies do? If they intervene in Syria's civil war with direct combat against the Assad regime, they will sink their fortunes into Syria's cesspool of hatred and intrigue from which there is no easy escape. The United States badly misjudged the cost in time, money and lives of its intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, so claims of an easy and simple intervention in Syria is not reassuring.
Western sentiments are with the populist Syrian rebels, despite the fact that al-Qaida fighters are a large segment of the rebel forces, and against the despotic and brutal Assad regime. Regardless of which side ultimately prevails, there is no positive outcome from the West's perspective. If the rebels win, a fractured, sectarian regime allied with Islamist terrorists is likely to emerge through years of violent infighting. If Assad prevails, he will rule over a country shattered by years of war and economic catastrophe, and he will have even more reason to oppose Western principles.
The United States cannot win in Syria, no matter who prevails.