As more than one pundit has noted, President Barack Obama now has three choices in Syria: Bad, worse, and horrible. At least the evidence is steadily stacking up to suggest that is the case.
Last year, Obama made it clear that the United States would take action if Syria crossed "a red line" by using chemical weapons in its civil war. And there's evidence that it has.
What's not clear is what kind of action the United States will or should take.
Some of the players in that troubled country's civil war are more unsavory than others, but there appears to be no clear or reliable "good side" behind which the president might deploy U.S. military might at this moment.
Indeed, military, political, and diplomatic analysts widely agree that every potentially positive move on the table is freighted with negative side effects.
"I think there are no good options in Syria," says retired Army Gen. James "Spider" Marks, a CNN contributor. "There is an array of bad options and you have to take the least bad option that is out there."
So let's break down those options, including some that have already come and gone in this tortured march toward a possible military engagement:
Option 1: Ground troops
The White House called this a non-starter from the get go. You don't have to be a political scientist to know that American voters are exhausted by more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would show little or no tolerance for more boots on the ground in the Middle East.
Furl the flag, lieutenant; no one is going anywhere tonight.
Option 2: Establishing a no-fly zone
Yes, it might work, but the administration has shown little taste for that, either. Maintaining such a presence over the months it might take to have an impact would be hideously expensive, and would involve endangering U.S. pilots with highly uncertain results in a battle that many Americans find confusing at best, baffling at worst.
Option 3: Arming the rebels
This is a monkey trap in which the United States has been snared before.
Some brave rebel group proclaiming its love of freedom and democracy arises to oppose a distant tyrant. America rewards the rhetoric with training, missiles and munitions. The coup is accomplished and suddenly, to paraphrase Woody Allen, the oppressed start looking a lot like the oppressors and they no longer return your phone calls.
In Syria it is even more complicated.
As the civil war has droned on against President Bashar al-Assad, interlopers affiliated with terrorist groups have become big-leaguers.
"Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, is generally acknowledged to be the most effective force fighting," says CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen, who adds, "Al-Nusra's military prowess and close ties to al Qaeda make it a potentially serious threat to U.S. interests in the region."
Syria watchers roundly agree that no other rebel group is currently positioned to take control of the country. In other words, if the United States pushes too hard or too fast to overthrow al-Assad (even though in the long run, American officials do want him gone) the U.S. risks helping terror groups take power.
And you know what they say about the devil you know...
Option 4: Securing United Nations' support
Not going to happen without some other major developments in Syria. Russia and China have left no doubt that they will oppose any effort at the U.N. to approve a strike, and other countries have hardly shown much appetite for the subject.
President Obama calls it an "incapacity" on the part of the U.N., but there is no sign that the name-calling will change anything.
Option 5: Assembling a coalition without the U.N.
A week ago, newscasts were buzzing with speculation about a nascent coalition, perhaps born of NATO allies -- a daring group of nations ready to stand with the United States as it punished al-Assad.