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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Will the US attack Syria? Should it?

Will the United States of Obama attack Syria, which is an Arab Muslim country? Should it?

The views on this question are all over the map. In my view, whether Obama should attack depends on what he hopes to accomplish, whether he can accomplish it, and whether the price he will pay by attacking (or not attacking) is a price worth paying. I'll elaborate on that toward the end of this post, but first, let's look at how some other people see it.

Robin Shepherd:
The reason why this effectively guarantees military action, and why military action is right, is that the West simply cannot allow a precedent to be set in which the use of chemical weapons is brushed over and ignored. This does not, and must not, mean boots on the ground. Ultimately, the Arab world should sort this out, not us.
But we can do something. Extensive cruise missile strikes against Assad's military infrastructure (plus a nice little one on his presidential palace) should be sufficient to make a very necessary point.
In terms of the calculations, of course, there's the issue of the humiliation of Barack Obama having set red lines and then allowed them to be crossed. But that wouldn't be a problem for Obama whose foreign policy credentials are rightly ridiculed even by many hard core Democrats.
The problem is that there's just too much at stake, and there are too many people around Obama in Washington, and in London, Paris, Berlin etc that know there's no choice but to act.
I absolutely disagree with those who think that the fate of Syria is any of our business in terms of its possible (fantasy world) transition to democracy if Assad is deposed. I'd love to see him go, but I'm pretty certain I'd dislike his successors just as much. No, that's not the point; which is that we have to adopt a long term strategy that is in our own interests.
That means making a decisive statement that psychopathic dictators who think they can "normalise" the use of weapons of mass destruction via our own apathy or cowardice are proved wrong.
Jennifer Dyer:
Bret Baier laid it out in his Fox News broadcast this evening: the opposition to intervening in Syria is by far the highest amount of public opposition to any proposed intervention or other military operation in the last 30 years. The numbers against Syria bear no resemblance to the numbers on anything Americans can remember, whether Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, Somalia, Haiti, Panama, or Grenada. Americans aren’t sold on the necessity or wisdom of a military attack on Syria; in fact, opposition to it, in the absence of conclusive proof that Assad used WMD, is a whopping 60 percent.
The fact that most Americans are opposed to a strike is not and will not be dispositive. Obama does not have to face reelection, and he has shown before (see Obamacare) that he is willing to do things that most Americans oppose. If he does that and he's right, it's called leadership. If he does it and he's wrong, he ought to pay a political price.
There are brief, cogent things to say about Syria, about the threat its civil war poses to stability, and about the security problem of chemical weapons use by Assad. But no one in the Obama administration, from Obama himself down through his cabinet-level representatives to Jay Carney, is saying them. We literally do not know the administration’s answer to the most basic question about this whole thing: what would we be conducting a military attack on Syria for?

There is a big difference between proposing to punish Assad, with no decisive end-state in view, and proposing to take action designed to shape or at least promote a particular end-state. The different goals would entail different levels and types of military action. Ideally, they would entail different packages of non-military action as well: principally diplomacy, to lay out, sell, and negotiate any end-state we had in mind.
Yes, there has to be a plan (and the one that Robin Shepherd laid out above sounds reasonable) and no, I'm not convinced there is one. That, unfortunately, is typical of this administration. It makes decisions to get into (Libya) or out of (Iraq) hostile situations in this region with no strategy and no endgame. I'm not sure that there's time for diplomacy, but there's definitely time for Obama to make the case to the American people that it's in America's interest not to allow rogue regimes like Assad's to use weapons of mass destruction with impunity.

The problem is that for Obama, the great communicator, to make such a case, he would first have to respect the American people and believe that their opinions matter. He doesn't. It's plain to me on so many fronts that Obama has no respect for the American people and no empathy for the things with which ordinary Americans have to cope on a day-to-day basis. See, for instance, Obamacare, the Obama family's numerous and exorbitant vacations at taxpayer expense, and the repeated golf games at times when the President's critical judgment is necessary (How many hours a week does this guy work anyway? I'd bet it's less than the average corporate lawyer).

Bottom line on this point: The reason that Obama is not making the case for attacking Syria to the American people is that he has no respect for the American people (nor for their elected representatives). Chew on that one for a while.

Jennifer goes on to outline three ways of looking at an attack on Syria: in terms of how much it will disrupt peace in the region, in terms of the damage to Obama's (largely non-existent) credibility in the region, and in terms of what Obama's goals are and whether they can be accomplished. Jennifer frames it this way:
With these three frameworks laid out, we circle back to the problem that the U.S. administration has addressed none of them before the public or Congress. We don’t know how much or if Team Obama, or our eager allies, have thought about what it will mean to the peace to cross Russia and Iran with a military action in Syria. For all we can tell, it has not even occurred to them.

We don’t know what their thinking is on the choice between evils: the evil of intervening or the evil of failing to after defining a red line.

And we don’t know what the driving objective of an intervention would be. That said, we do have an informative (if disquieting) data point from 2011.

Given all these factors, most of us can form a pretty solid opinion of whether we should intervene, and if so, for what purpose. What I have been unable to predict is what Obama is going to do.
Read the whole thing.

What will happen? First, Obama will not say anything to the American people until the attack (or its initial wave if there's more than one) is over. Since the attack is likely to take place under the cover of darkness in the pre-dawn hours (rumored to be tomorrow), I am looking for the same kind of midnight announcement that Obama made when Osama Bin Laden was killed (which did wonders for my traffic, but not much for anything else). And even then, only if it's successful. If a strike is unsuccessful, look for Obama to try to keep the lid on it for a couple of days until he can figure out what to say.

But yes, I believe that there will be an attack. It won't happen because Obama wants it to - he's long past caring about his credibility (if he doesn't respect the people who elected him, how do you think he feels about the rest of the world?). It will happen because like in Libya and like with the disclosure of the Iranian nuclear plant in Qom, the Europeans will push him to do it, and will largely take responsibility for it. Obama will 'lead from behind' again, possibly even with the same 'responsibility to protect' rhetoric that he used in Libya.

The attack will be inconclusive. Some chemical weapons facilities will be hit, and maybe some symbolic targets like Assad's summer palace in Latakia. But the attack will be low-scale enough to keep Russia and Iran out. With all of his scorched earth talk, Assad will not respond either so long as the attack does not threaten his rule. Israel has already proven that with its raids on Assad's weapons shipments. While an attack like the one I'm describing will not stop Assad from using chemical weapons again, although it might make them weapons of an almost-last resort rather than a primary weapon.

And I agree with the Israeli intelligence assessment that Israel will not be hit either. The last thing Assad needs right now is Israel destroying what's left of his weapons - both conventional and unconventional.

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