It's been fascinating to follow what appears to be a foreign-policy-by-teleological-design argument emerge--does this explain it?--from the religiously inclined. Sullivan, in praise:
Obama has managed to insist on his red line on Syria’s chemical weapons, forcing the world to grapple with a new breach of international law, while also avoiding being dragged into Syria’s civil war.
Yes that is the quasi-outcome--for now; only "quasi," however, because our punishment of Assad was half of Obama's previous insistence (the other half being to "deter and degrade" Assad's future capabilities). It is a stretch to label a mere CW treaty-signing as "punishment." But to imagine the current outcome as but a manifestation of that which was presidentially intended? Well, that takes a lot of faith, although it's a brilliantly practical defense.
Sullivan also cites his agreement with this Beinart argument:
President Obama’s real strategic and moral imperative is not killing a few Syrian grunts to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. It is ending the Middle Eastern cold war that fuels Syria’s savage civil war, just as the global Cold war once fueled savage civil wars in Angola, El Salvador, and Vietnam. It’s possible that strengthening Syria’s rebels and sanctioning Iran could further that goal, just as Reagan’s military buildup showed Moscow the cost of its Cold War with the United States.
The thesis in short: Middle East conflicts as a variation of the Cold War.
Yet at their very core the Middle East's troubles lie in the internal, fundamental(ist) religious conflict between Shia and Sunni. This is not some cold-hearted, geopolitical struggle between two globally competing ideologies of increasingly unbalanced influence--it's a cosmic fight on Earth blessed by God Himself, on both sides, which means rational actors are bound, far too often, to be sidelined.
Furthermore it's a conflict with no known, and no knowable, outcome. To someday imagine some teleological foundation underlying, one hopes, its resolved chaos and bloodshed and misery may be a comforting thought to the religiously grounded, but global realism prevents my going there.