After Secretary of State John Kerry's speech about Syria's chemical warfare on Monday, it's clear the US is going to attack Syria. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel says US forces are "ready to go''. Envoys are telling rebels that Western forces "could attack Syria within days''.
But even as the US prepares to strike, Syria is not really the heart of the issue. As Mr Kerry said in his speech: "The meaning of [Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapon] attack goes beyond the conflict in Syria itself.'' The goal will not be to tilt the scales in Syria's civil war or to put an end to the violence; rather, the US wants to retaliate against an affront to its credibility, and the unambiguous breaching of an international norm. But there is danger. What begins as a limited military strike to punish Mr Assad could quickly devolve into deeper engagement in Syria, or it could scuttle America's top regional priorities like its nuclear discussions with Iran.
Months ago President Obama made clear that he would not permit any chemical weapons abuses in Syria, calling it his "red line''. But despite evidence of small batches of chemical weapons being deployed on Syrians, Mr Obama sat idle for months. It's only now, after chemical attacks last week that left hundreds dead and more traumatised, that the US is moving to action. The chemical warfare became too large - and calls from the United States' allies too loud - for the US to remain a spectator any longer.
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