I am on the record as saying that I think punitive strikes to dissuade Assad from the future use of chemical munitions is the best of a bad lot of policy options. The problem is going to be how much force is too much. A worse outcome than leaving the chemical attacks unpunished could well be to give material advantage to the opposition groups.

Those who support a punitive strike rather than a balance-shifting military operation in favour of the opposition had further reason to strengthen these views with some recent media stories highlighting the brutality of elements of the opposition, who summarily execute prisoners. More recently, some jihadists from the Caucasus revealed that they were splitting from the al Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Perhaps one of them wasn't sufficiently pious or jihadists for the other. It's always hard to tell.

For an insight into exactly how confusing Syria's armed opposition is, this recent article provides a good reason to be cautious in believing that anyone controls its many factions.

But there are people trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear as far as the anti-Assad armed elements are concerned. Secretary of Sates John Kerry presented the State Department's assessment, which appeared to give the opposition an 'improving, but could do better' report card. This seemed to be at odds with other government assessments, which took the view that Islamic extremists are still on top.

Some people aren't burdened with the weight of nuance or doubt. Senator John McCain is continuing his role as the hawk's hawk on Syria, advising the US to change the military equation on the battlefield, and Salim Idriss, the person nominally in charge of some elements of Syria's opposition, also called for something more substantive than President Obama's proposed limited strike.

Anyone still wondering why Obama decided to share with Congress the political responsibility for using military force in Syria?

Photo by Flickr user Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.