U.N. inspectors are to be let out of their hotel to look for evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria. But this is a sideshow and an irrelevant one.

In this Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, file citizen journalism image provided by the Media Office Of Douma City, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a Syrian man mourns over a dead body after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists, in Douma town, Damascus, Syria. Humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, some 355 people showing "neurotoxic symptoms" died after a suspected chemicalweapons attack in the Damascus suburbs earlier this week. The group says three hospitals it supports had reported receiving about 3,600 patients with such symptoms in less than three hours that day.
A Syrian man mourns over a dead body after an alleged poisonous gas attack fired by regime forces, according to activists, in Douma town in Syria.  (Associated Press)

The Obama administration, we are told, has “very little doubt” that chemical weapons were used. So why bother for a report from the United Nations days or weeks after the chemical residue may have been scrubbed? The Post quotes an administration source as confirming the meaninglessness of a U.N. inspection: “If the Syrian government had nothing to hide and wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in this incident, it would have ceased its attacks on the area and granted immediate access to the U.N. five days ago. At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the U.N. team is too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted.” There was little doubt last time and yet no decisive action was undertaken.

We are further told that the president is considering “options.” His options are much more limited than they were two years, or even one year, ago. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute observes that after “dithering” for so long, we have no good choices. The situation is a “nightmare,” she says, a sentiment widely shared at this stage in the Syrian civil war.

That is not to say there is nothing that could be done to improve matters, although the probability of this president doing them is slight. A former U.S. official of other administrations makes a strong case for eschewing half-measures. “If the attack is symbolic, everyone will understand that — in Syria, Iran, Russia, and among our allies too,” he tells me. “It will be seen as a gesture of personal political self-defense, not of American strength.” He urges that we strike at  “the chemical weapons infrastructure and Air Force fields and assets.”

If we had done this six months ago, there would have been a good chance that chemical weapons would not have been used. Now it appears essential for us to destroy those chemical weapons caches (provided we know where they are) not only to deprive Bashar al-Assad of WMDs but also  to prevent al-Qaeda-linked rebels from acquiring them. It is far from clear, however, that we can accomplish this (in part because Assad has had more than two years to move them around), and it is unlikely this president will engage in any sustained military action. He “ends wars,” you see.

As the president moves four Navy destroyers into the area, we are reminded, contrary to the president’s claims in the third presidential debate that a shrunken Navy was fine (“we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed”), we still need a robust Navy and Air Force. And that “pivot to Asia” isn’t happening; we need to be able to handle multiple conflicts in different parts of the globe. But most of all, America remains the indispensable nation. Waiting for the civil war to run its course, entreating the United Nations to act, issuing empty threats and pleading for help from Russia haven’t worked, as unbelievable as it may seem to some on the left. It turns out that when knotty conflicts arise, which are not susceptible to “soft power” resolution and which threaten our security interests and our moral stature, the only “atrocity prevention board” that works is the U.S. military. But without a commander in chief equipped with better judgment and a steelier spine, that, too, is insufficient.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.