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Monday, August 26, 2013

A strike against Syria won't be a one-off and it won't be surgical

Unlike Israeli strikes against Syria like the one above, which was a one-time surgical strike. Eliot Cohen writes that an American strike against Syria will not be over in a day or two and will not be surgical. On the other hand, for the US not to strike Syria now would erode whatever prestige the US has left in the Middle East (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
The temptation here is to follow the Clinton administration’s course — a futile salvo of cruise missiles, followed by self-congratulation and an attempt to change the topic. It would not work here. A minority regime fighting for its life, as Bashar al-Assad’s is, can weather a couple of dozen big bangs. More important, no one — friends, enemies or neutrals — would be fooled. As weak as the United States now appears in the region and beyond, we would look weaker yet if we chose to act ineffectively. A bout of therapeutic bombing is an even more feckless course of action than a principled refusal to act altogether.
A serious bombing campaign would have substantial targets — most plausibly the Syrian air force, the service once headed by Assad’s father, which gives the regime much of its edge over the rebels, as well as the air defense system and the country’s airports, through which aid arrives from Iran. But should the Obama administration choose any kind of bombing campaign, it needs to face some hard facts.
For one thing, and despite the hopes of some proponents of an air campaign, this would not be surgical. No serious application of air power ever is, despite administration officials’ claims about the drone campaign, which, as we now know, has killed plenty of civilians. A serious bombing campaign means civilian casualties, at our hands. And it may mean U.S. and allied casualties too, because the idea of a serious military effort without risk is fatuous.
The administration would need congressional authorization. Despite his professed commitment to transparency and constitutional niceties, Obama has proved himself reluctant to secure congressional authorization for the use of force, most notably with Libya in 2011. Even if an authorization is conferred retroactively, it needs to be done here because this would be a large use of force; indeed, an act of war.
And it probably would not end cleanly. When the president proclaimed the impending conclusion of the war with al-Qaeda, he disregarded the cardinal fact of strategy: It is (at least) a two-sided game. The other side, not we, gets to decide when it ends. And in this case neither the Syrian government nor its Iranian patrons, nor its Hezbollah, Russian and Chinese allies, may choose to shrug off a bombing campaign. Chess players who think one move ahead usually lose; so do presidents who think they can launch a day or two of strikes and then walk away with a win. The repercussions may be felt in neighboring countries; they may even be felt in the United States, and there is no excuse for ignoring that fact.
Despite all these facts, not to act would be, at this point and by the administration’s own standards, intolerable.
Read the whole thing.

The President who got the US out fled from Iraq and Afghanistan is now going to get the American military bogged down in an occupation of Syria, because he boxed himself into a corner and simply has no choice. While it's tempting to suggest that they ought to just launch a bombing campaign that destroys enough infrastructure to set Syria back a couple of centuries, and leaves al-Qaeda with a prize not worth having, the reality is that would kill so many people as to leave the US totally out of the picture in the Middle East.

Can Obama do nothing? Right now it sounds like the British and the French are willing to act without him, and that could mean that the US loses whatever leverage it has in the area.

The mess that is America's status in the Middle East is all Obama's making. He can't blame this one on George Bush (not that he won't try).

What could go wrong?

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At 6:55 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

Uh, Obama can't just start a big war by executive order, can he? There's basically no direct threat to the US from the attack on civilians in the Damascus 'burbs, is there? And, given that the US did exactly ZERO, or actually less than zero, for the decade that Israeli civilians sat under rocketfire... All he'll want is to use the US military to remove the opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda Black Flag Cannibals, al Shabaab, Sudanese Islamic Slavers, etc. Does Israel realize this?

SIMPLY HAS NO CHOICE? What do you mean by that? And you guys ***want*** your executioners in charge? The US should protect Israel and maybe Jordan. And get the Gaia people out of the way of US energy production so that we can have a different kind of less sniveling presence in these wild killer countries... I don't EVER want to see a Bush president dancing for the Saudis again. EVER. And Israel should NOT be aligned with the Progressives. But you're obviously making your own evaluations, risk and cost/benefit calculations, and you must live on a different planet than I do.

BTW, no one has offered an explanation as to one of the Bashar Assad team would gas their own 'burb.


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