Since Russia is providing air support for Assad, attacking Assad might just lead to more confrontations in the skies between US and Russian aircraft. Indeed, these folks are aware of this:
Um, some magical thinking here--we don't want more tensions with Russia, we just want to be striking those that Russia is supporting. Is Syria worth the risks of US-Russian conflict? Sorry, but no.The memo acknowledged that military action would have risks, not the least further tensions with Russia, which has intervened in the war on Mr. Assad’s behalf and helped negotiate a cease-fire. Those tensions increased on Thursday when, according to a senior Pentagon official, Russia conducted airstrikes in southern Syria against American-backed forces fighting the Islamic State.The State Department officials insisted in their memo that they were not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia,” but rather a credible threat of military action to keep Mr. Assad in line.
What we have learned from the past 15 years of intervention is that coherent local allies with compatible interests are key ingredient in reaching some level of success. Any of those here? No. Maybe earlier? Not so sure.
All I know is that making threats without really being able to back them up is a mistake Obama has already made in Syria (chemical weapons anyone?), so he is not going to repeat that. If Hillary Clinton wants to do this next year, then she can do so. But this current President has been burned by those who have advocated for the use of coercive diplomacy--threats via air strikes--in Syria and also has found past interventions to be far more problematic than advocates of said interventions have recommended.
Oh, a side note: I have seen safe havens bandied about again. Unless one wants to create killing fields a la Srebrenica, safe havens require someone, which would end up being the US, to go to war--to push back forces and keep them back to create a relatively safe space in Syria. So, if you want a safe haven, just go ahead and advocate war. Otherwise, you safe haven fans are trying to fool everyone else in addition to yourselves.
And, yes, I used to be an advocate of intervention (in some cases, not all), but I have a learning curve.