As the US prepares to rain down cruise missiles on Damascus, the Labor government has declared its support for unilateral action, claiming that a targeted airstrike is the only way to send a message to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad over his widely reported use of chemical weapons. But deep down, some on the Labor frontbench may be squeamish about toeing the party line.

On Saturday in Sydney hundreds of protesters waving "Hands off Syria" placards took to the streets to warn US President Barack Obama off military action, joining thousands in London and Washington. Foreign Minister Bob Carr was unbowed, claiming a strike was warranted and that the Obama administration could be trusted to carry out the attack: "We think that if a government in this day and age uses chemical weapons against innocent men, women and children, it deserves a response."