Let's play You Are the President.
There are reports that Syria has used chemical weapons — sarin gas, to be specific — against its own citizens. Rebels claim they were attacked by a Scud missile that released the gas. Reports indicate between 15 and 40 deaths, and there seem to be third-party confirmations. The Syrian government says that it was the rebels who carried out the attack, not the government. But, it is also public knowledge that the Syrian government restarted its chemical weapons program some time ago, and it seems logical that the government fired on the rebels and not the other way around.
Iran condemns the attack. Russia seems to stand with the Syrian government. All of Syria's neighbors, including Israel, are nervous that this attack means Syria has both the means and the will to use chemical weapons against other countries.
And yet, there are questions. Why such low numbers? Typically, if you release gas in a battlefield situation, you want to kill or injure many more than a few dozen. Could this have been an accident? Could someone have fired a missile they thought was conventionally armed, only to see it release gas? And, even if this was intentional, does it indicate that Syria doesn't have a well-formed delivery capability, and isn't really a threat if it has to rely on Scud missiles to deliver the gas?
So, if You Are the President, what do you do?
Fortunately for us, President Obama is not known for hair-trigger decisions. If you look up “deliberate” in the dictionary, there is his picture. I think we can trust that his administration is gathering knowledge and intelligence, doing assessments, and trying to put as many jig-saw pieces into the puzzle as possible.
Having said that, I hope the President and his advisors have something we used to use on trucks: a Granny Gear. This is an ultra-low, ultra-slow gear, used when the load is extra-heavy. You can rev the engine all you want, and you will never go faster than a crawl.
This is the gear the US needs as it considers what to do in Syria. It's not that we should never act; it's just that this is one of those situations that requires “deliberate” on steroids. Rev the engine with activity and analysis and even rhetoric, if need be; just take extra time to make the final decision.
Find your granny gear, Mr. President.