Any discussion about a U.S.-led military intervention into Syria's civil war should begin with the articulation of what the United States intends to achieve strategically. The Obama administration has offered a wide range of objectives, including strengthening the opposition and its defense capabilities, marginalizing extremists within it and compelling its various elements to unify and participate in negotiations with President Bashar al-Assad's regime. The administration says it wants to prevent the large-scale use or movement of chemical weapons, preserve state institutions, and, as President Obama stated in June, help to ensure a Syria "that is peaceful, non-sectarian, democratic, legitimate, tolerant."
What is unclear, based on information that administration officials have leaked to journalists, is which of these half-dozen objectives the White House believes can be accomplished with a limited, stand-off military force against military assets controlled by President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Based on early reporting, it appears that the only objective of the potential use of force would be to prevent the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.