It is pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that, for better or worse, the United States (read President Obama) has been slam dunked by the Russian Federation (read President Putin) over Syria. Obama was days/hours away from ordering a pre-emptive strike only to have Putin finesse him with the proposal to have the Assad regime destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons. It will be fascinating to see how that unfolds.
But it is interesting to step back and reflected on the dynamics of how this played out. On one hand we have the United States with tacit support from many others (mainly western countries) align with the 'moderate' so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), itself a disparate grouping of mainly Sunni Arabs (Assad's supporters are mainly Alawis), committed to toppling the Baath Party regime, supported by Russia which is committed to protecting its extensive economic and military interests in that country at risk from any change of government.
But it's not quite as simple as that because another opposition player is Jabhat al-Nusra (The Support Front for the People of Greater Syria). The leader of the Front, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, has affirmed its allegiance to Al Queda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. In June this year the Front was designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations.
One can understand where Russia is coming from with their fear of Islamic radicals in any new Syrian Government. They have enough experience of radical Islam at home. The United States should be equally fearful.
It is my judgement that both sides in this civil war are capable of committing atrocities. That's what happens in civil wars. You overlay that with the volatile nature of Middle Eastern politics, you factor in a war weary 'West' and you come to the conclusion that the risks associated with outright intervention (the law of unintended consequences) far outweighs any likely gain. I firmly believe the West would be well advised to stand back and let matters take their course.
I will be interested in the debate this posting throws up.