In "The Guns of August," Barbara Tuchman depicts the ways in which European powers blundered into what became World War I. A plot to kill Archduke Ferdinand while he visited Sarajevo, first botched, succeeded by the weird luck of one of the assassins rounding a corner at the same time as the Archduke's open-air car. Germany wanted an opportunity to use its military to gain hegemony in Europe. Various members of royalty wanted their countries to fight, as if war were a simple game for family pride. Few believed war would become a reality; that someone with sense enough to head off war would stop matters. Instead, we were treated to modern, all-out warfare, waged with poison gas and machine guns and primarily at stalemate over trenches that stretched in a jagged line across Europe. Thousands died in charges "over the top" that gained perhaps a few yards.
The United States did not exactly sit on the sidelines. We provided materiel to the fight. Our economy grew while other countries fought. As Richard Hofstadter wrote in "The American Political Tradition": "America became bound up with the Allies in a fateful union of war and prosperity." Prior to this country's entry into the war, over $2 billion worth of goods had been traded with France and Britain, although we traded with Germany, too. U.S. Steel made $348 million profit in 1916.
In 1914 there were a lot of guns in a relatively small place (Europe) with egos astir. Russia, this week, has dispatched naval vessels to the Middle East. Vladimir Putin is a man driven by ego and testosterone. He also has people assassinated and maintains an iron grasp on Russia. (In light of the comment that he has people assassinated, I just want to say: Vlad! Dude! Don't take that the wrong way. We're buds, okay?) He is a brutal dictator. So is Assad in Syria. There are a lot of guns there already.
We have sold much of the weaponry in the Middle East. As I understand matters, we sold chemical weapons and technology to manufacture chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein when we thought he was a "good" dictator in the early 1980s. That was under Ronald Reagan. Once Saddam became a "bad" dictator and we overthrew him, the chemical weapons and technology ended up in Syria. We already have contributed significantly to this mess.
Let us go a few steps farther. On whose side shall we fight? It appears that neither side wants to side with the world's biggest military power---because we have screwed up so much in the past (especially on both Bush II's and Obama's watches). Assad doesn't like us. We don't like Assad. But Assad has the backing of Russia and China and, therefore, we shall not be able to forge an alliance via the United Nations because Russia and China each hold vetoes on the Security Council. As for the rebels, we don't like them, either. They are connected to Al Qaeda, and other groups that hate us.
Syria has killed its own people with poison gas. That is tragic. We should not have sold the technology to Iraq, and then the question might be simpler. The "bottom line" though is that there is no strategic objective for us that would not entail potential confrontation with Russia. If there is to be "war," then let it be in the form of a declaration of war as required by the Constitution.