By Larry Shaughnessy
As official Washington, as well as its allies and the United Nations, debates the merits of an attack on Syria, one conclusion could easily be drawn: Little good and a whole lot of bad can come from such an attack.
A week ago, a chemical weapons attack killed nearly 1,300 people, including women and children, according to rebel leaders.
Since then, there have been calls for President Barack Obama to make good on his word that Syria's use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and require a direct response.
Obama is still weighing what to do.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday that, “The options that we are considering are not about regime change. They are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons."
Many officials think the most likely option is a series of cruise missile attacks launched from four Navy destroyers now deployed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Rep. Peter King, R-New York, told CNN on Tuesday that, “We lose our credibility if we don't act in view of how strongly Obama has warned Syria in the past not the use chemical weapons.”
But there is significant opposition to the cruise missile plan. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said such a strike would work against the U.S.'s interests.
“If it's just some strikes with cruise missiles, then it will not only not do any good, it may be counterproductive and help Bashar Assad with his propaganda,” McCain told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room." “So, I greatly am concerned about what kind of strikes these will be and what they will entail.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee also has his doubts.
“I am still highly skeptical of how effective it’s going to be to do a one-time strike on Syria. It’s not going to be that effective, he said on "CNN Newsroom" on Wednesday.
CNN Security Analyst Peter Bergen said later on Wednesday that the situation is a delicate balancing act.
"The United States cannot let stand the large scale use of chemical weapons. I think that's just a fact," he said. "They are sort of in a quandary because they don't want to actually overthrow Assad. The post-Assad Syria would look potentially even worse. The most effective groups on the ground are aligned with al Qaeda and the others are aligned with Iran, Hezbollah."
Iran has made clear it won’t stand by idly if the U.S. attacks.
"Starting this fire will be like a spark in a large store of gunpowder, with unclear and unspecified outcomes and consequences," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranian Cabinet members in Tehran on Wednesday.
Ken Pollack, a senior fellow at Brooking’s Saban Center for Middle East policy said not responding to the chemical weapons could have long-lasting implications.
“If the United States laid down a red line on Syria and if it doesn’t enforce that red line do other actors beyond Syria conclude that the United States is a paper tiger that is never going to live up to its word, never back its threats with force and obviously they can do whatever they want.”
Pollack also points out that we don’t have a real good picture of what’s happening in Syria. He says it possible that some rogue general, opposed to Assad, launched the chemical weapons and any U.S. response that hurts Assad could lead to more chemical weapons strikes as the rogue general tries to get Assad out of power so he can take over.
Call it a deadly example of the law of unintended consequences.