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Gen. Wesley Clark, commander of NATO forces during the Kosovo war, says that campaign began slowly, but escalated and eventually lasted 78 days before Serbian forces withdrew from the territory. "There must be diplomatic weight behind the first military strike in Syria, he warns.
"You have to make sure ... that your adversary knows that it's inevitable the escalation will follow and there'll be no relenting on the pressure," he told al Jazeera. And if the logic of the strike, as some have suggested, is simply to deter future chemical weapon use, the Kosovo logic may not apply, since that campaign had a different objective: to force a Serb withdrawal from the rebel province.
But the diplomats around Obama -- Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and U.N. ambassador Samantha Power -- are countering the military's caution, says Perry, who calls the trio "cruise missile liberals."
"In some respects, they're worse than the conservatives," he says. "They think they can use power to affect good, they see [the military] as a tool."
Joshua Foust, former intelligence analyst for the Pentagon, calls limited intervention "comically futile." Obama, he says, faces a politician's dilemma: "Doing something is better than doing nothing, even if doing nothing might be more constructive."
Limited intervention will barely affect Assad, Foust argues, while a massive intervention would fracture the regime and allow "some of the scariest militants on the battlefield" to receive most of the weapons and push to the fore.
There is the wider regional consequence to consider as well. Israel, concerned it would be the target of Syrian retaliation to a U.S. military strike, says it would respond "with force" of its own.
Gulf states who have been supporting rebel forces, want to see the regime dealt a blow sufficient to topple it.
But hobbling the regime runs the risk of empowering rebels who, Foust says, are dominated by radical groups. "The people being armed are scary, the worst people are getting money," he argues. "The people controlling territory are all Islamists, they're the only ones left at this point."
Russia has signaled strong opposition to military action against Syria, which makes it unlikely that any intervention will receive U.N. Security Council authorization.
And there is Iran.
Alongside reports that Iran has sent thousands of its Republican Guard to beef up Syrian military ranks, there are now accounts that members of the Corps are manning Syrian chemical facilities. Should they also become collateral damage in the wake of a U.S. military strike, it will open another front in the conflict, and Obama's Syrian conundrum becomes even more byzantine.