I have two proposals for how to deal with Syria and in fact, every other country which is engaged in a civil war. First, let's focus on Syria.
At the end of World War I everybody got together and decided that chemical weapons were a bad idea. If our soldiers were in trenches near your soldiers, and if the wind changed, poison gas could wind up doing my side in, as opposed to yours. It didn't take a great leap of brilliance to understand that outlawing chemical weapons was good for both sides, and neither was really giving up anything.
Now, Obama has painted a line in the sand (a red one at that) suggesting that the use of poison gas has gone beyond the pale and Assad, by stepping over that line, must be punished. Frankly, I don't get it.
The reasoning suggests that if Assad agreed to "not kill his citizens with poison gas, but rather to spread gasoline over them and light them all on fire, it would be ok." Dead is dead. Painful death is painful death. Do we really care how atrocities are committed? Does it really matter?
Now, one could make an argument that some weapons (so called "weapons of mass destruction") are so lethal (for their size) that they should not be in the hands of certain people (or governments) since they might fall into the hands of terrorists. This argument I buy. But it leads therefore to a different position for the US, one that is in fact more similar to our position with respect to Iran. Specifically, we could be saying to Assad: "Regardless of whether we believe you or not concerning your prior use of chemical weapons, we've all decided that you shouldn't really be owning them. And, if you aren't going to use them anyway, then we would like to take possession of them and we will dismantle and destroy them for you. If you don't agree, then we will bomb you, until you agree."
It is even possible that this is a position for which one would be able to get a consensus for from other countries in the UN, possibly even Russia (who, by the way, has agreed to allowing us to help them dismantle and destroy nuclear materials that they own for exactly the same reason.) We all share a common desire to keep terrorist organizations from obtaining these types of weapons.
The current plan of bombing them, after telling them that we're going to bomb them seems ludicrous, and in fact it invites them to move their children and women as shields into harm's way, just to get the photos onto TV.
A better way to deal with Civil Wars
It's time for us to agree that trying to fix war with war isn't working. Clearly our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan hasn't been stellar. Instead of killing a whole bunch of people and indoctrinating the children of a society into a belief that the only way to win is with violence, here's an alternative.
The UN, with our leadership, should agree that for any country in which there is a civil war, the UN will establish one or more "Safe Cities" or "Safe States" in areas that can be easily isolated and defended. Citizens are invited into the Safe City on the condition that they cannot bring weapons and will be expelled if they engage in, or incite violence. The UN will provide building materials and protection, including a no-fly zone, and the citizens will provide labor. The intent it twofold: to provide a safe haven for those who want it, and to leave the rubble to those who prefer to fight.
This is a clearly better alternative than providing refuge camps which are typically located in a neighboring country who has no desire to house these people in a location that the residents only see as a temporary landing spot, and one that they therefore should not invest time and energy into building a new life.
We should start in Syria.