Even while President Obama and John Kerry assert that the death toll of innocent civilians in the chemical attacks by the Assad government in the suburb of Damascus has reached 1,429, there is the possibility of a larger terrifying scene that could spread to the entire region -- and possibly the world -- if there is no military intervention not only by the US, but potentially by others in the international community.
The casualties of the conflict are growing with the death toll of over 120,000 civilians, 2 million refugees in neighboring countries, and 4 million internally displaced. Jordan and Lebanon are barely able to cope with the refugees. The conflict has triggered a larger Middle-East sectarian and proxy war between the Sunni- and Shiite-dominated countries that is drawing in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and even jihadist fighters as far away as the Caucasus and Pakistan. This actual sectarian conflict has now spread to Lebanon with Sunni attacks o Hezbollah targets for their military support of the Assad regime. Iraq, which saw one of the most costly and questionable interventions by the U.S. in recent history, could also be destabilized with the minority Sunni population unleashing even more mayhem on the Shiite dominated government which could include affecting the vital oil production in that country.
The increase in energy prices alone could cause another global recession or worse as we are barely out of the great recession. Iran is getting involved in the Syrian conflict that could spiral out of control with increased military support to not only the Assad regime, but also with weapons that could cause mass destruction to Hezbollah and could threaten Israel who would respond with military action.
If there is no outside intervention in Syria, the prospect of a stable Syria coming out of this conflict seems increasingly remote. What may well be the eventual outcome is a fractured country with different Sunni, Alawite, Christian, and Shiite forces creating their own safe havens within the country's borders. This is a recipe for some parts of Syria replacing the tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen as the newest playgrounds for al-Qaeda and much closer to Europe and the West in terms of launching their terrorist activities.
This fact alone should have prompted the US and its NATO allies to intervene much earlier in the conflict before the appearance of the Ji'hadist forces intervened in the conflict and started gaining both support from the local more moderate Muslim population and territory.
The cost of non-intervention includes the further delegitimization of the UN Security Council, especially in the face of the largest use of chemical weapons against civilian populations in twenty-five years. It has repeated in Syria its dismal failures in East Timor, Rwanda, and Bosnia and faces being bypassed, as in Kosovo, due to the intransigence of Russia and China. There are terrifying consequences to the failures of the UN Security Council in the face of indiscriminate use of chemical weapons against rebelling civilians. It could become the weapon of choice for authoritarian governments against their troublesome civilians or even against neighboring countries who support opposition forces. These weapons could become easier to use and cheaper to acquire creating the global nightmare undermining the global convention against the use of these weapons.
Many military and geopolitics experts warned against early intervention in the Syrian conflict by pointing out the differences between the intervention in Libya by the UN Security Council and NATO and the much stronger military resources of the Assad regime along with the potential spill over into regional conflict. However, the regional conflict has been triggered without outside military intervention. The potential for global terrorist activities centered in Syria is a national security issue for the US and its allies. What the failure to act early and especially in the face of the worst forms of violation of international criminal law by the Assad regime has shown is that sometimes the failure to act in such a situation is in fact acting by omission with devastating consequences for the country, the region and the entire global community.