McCain: Bomb Syria; But Iraq and Russia oppose Intervention

Senator John McCain called on Monday for US air strikes on Syria, but the Obama administration pushed back.

McCain said on the Senate floor,

“Foreign capitals across the world are looking to the United States to lead, especially now that the situation in Syria has become an armed conflict . . . But what they see is an administration still hedging its bets — on the one hand, insisting that Assad’s fall is inevitable, but on the other, unwilling even to threaten more assertive actions that could make it so.”

An unnamed senior Obama administration told Jake Tapper of ABC News that while he sympathized with Senator McCain’s frustration over the massacres in Syria, the White House did not view McCain’s suggestion as practical. He pointed out that Syria is not like Libya:

““There aren’t air attacks on the opposition, nor are large sections of country in control of the opposition …”

The official noted that the Syrian army is deploying snipers on rooftops against demonstrators, who could not be dealt with by a foreign air force from the air, and that Syria’s armor and artillery is inside densely populated cities where it can’t be bombed without killing large numbers of civilians.

This Obama administration position is the only practical one. What in the world could you bomb in Syria from 30,000 feet that would help the revolutionaries succeed? I can’t understand how McCain’s proposal could work, tactically.

Unlike the Obama administration, I am also concerned with international law, and there are no legal grounds for the US to bomb Syria! Since Syria hasn’t attacked the US, that action would require a United Nations Security Council resolution.

The horrific pictures of the Syrian army’s weeks-long siege and ultimate reduction of rebel-held Baba Amr in Homs devastated us all. But the real lesson of that horrid episode was that the revolutionaries in Syria erred in attempting to hold urban territory. The defectors from the military in the Free Syrian Army don’t appear to have taken any armor with them when they departed the Baath barracks. They are therefore small guerrilla bands with light weaponry. It was a big mistake for them to hunker down in a particular city quarter and to stand and fight there against tanks and artillery. The only advantage guerrilla bands have is in hit and run tactics, and that requires a hideout not known or accessible to the government, from which raids can be made before the guerrillas fade away again. Those needs, which underpin any guerrilla war, may not be capable of being met in Syria.

In which case guerrilla military activity may not be very useful in Syria.

In my view, the most successful movements so far have been the persistent, peaceful demonstrations by civilian forces, and I think the revolution has more chance of success in Syria if it stays peace-oriented. Only a peaceful movement could allay the fears of the Christians, Allawis and moderate Sunnis, about what kind of regime would come to power after the fall of the Baath. Syria is more likely to be liberated by a peace movement than by a rump defectors’ army.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave an interview in which he said, “I do not believe Syria is in the throes of an end to the crisis.” He added that some say it will all be over with in a month or two months. He disagreed: “Take a year or two.” He said, “I expect the crisis to last a long time. The regime exists. It will go on existing.”

He also defended Iraq’s vote at the Arab League against the Saudi and Qatar proposal that the Syrian opposition be given weapons. He said that most AL states voted against the Saudi/Qatar proposal. He could not understand why critics of Iraq called it “isolated” in that vote, since Iraq was actually in the majority.

Al-Maliki sharply criticized Turkey, accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party of posing as a defender of Sunni Muslims in the region. He said that Sunni Arabs don’t need Turkey to defend them, just as Arab Shiites don’t need Iran to defend them.

The Arab League has managed to agree that Bashar al-Assad should step down as president in the wake of the massacre at Homs. But the Saudi-Qatari plan of sending weapons to the revolutionaries was rejected by the rest of the League.

The Arab League hasn’t been able to convince the BRICS nations even to support the call for Bashar to resign.

India refuses to call for Bashar’s resignation, saying that the Syrian people should make their own decision about who should be president.

Likewise, Russia’s Vladimir Putin continues his support for the Baath government in Damascus.

And, China is sticking to its guns in insisting on a negotiated settlement of the issue

Much less a military intervention, the international community can’t even agree to insist that Bashar step down.

28 Responses

  1. Dear Mr Cole,
    Thanks for a great informative blog.It may not be fashionable but , removing the Assads regime ability to deploy ;aircraft,artillery and tanks would make snipers mice between the paws of a cat.I agree with Senator McCain.
    Save one life and you save the world.
    Thankyou Professor

    • McCain was taught early on that US (oops, now “NATO”) aircraft dropping bombs on little Asian people was the way to “victory.” How’s that been working out? Why can I buy shirts and slacks in Walmart labeled “Made By Commies In Vietnam?” Just because “we didn’t bomb them back to the Stone Age,” which was one doctrinal strategic theme in the late ’60s-early ’70s? Many Americans today are still convinced that “losing Vietnam” was all because traitors refused to “bomb the crap” out of North Vietnam. Including failure to use “our” nuclear weapons on the “gooks.” A noble sentiment.

      What’s going on in parts of Syria is not some simulation or the latest “Call of Duty” release. The military types there have some pretty decent air defense weapons, better than Libya’s. I doubt that even our smartest Networked Battlespace Managers have a likely scenario to “deploy” any of their really cool war toys in a way that would “save” even one life of a Syrian “we” would find worthy of the effort, which of course would happen only at the cost of killing a whole bunch of “the enemy Syrians.”

      There’s apparently no “Goldeneye,” a laser in orbit that could be used to pick off snipers (who likely would not be “on rooftops” in the open, but in cover and concealment, and might as easily be “insurgents” — who are Good Guys THIS time, showing the comfortable elasticity of “precise” language and thought.) That’s a great tag line, a noble thought, but in the world of Experienced Players, it’s not even on the long-range tactical radar.

      The world is the way it is because arrogant, greedy, dominating people have made it that way. Farmers and shopkeepers and office and factory workers don’t generally play negative-sum games, barring “leaders” who amplify and play on their fears and tribal instincts. Syrian kleptocrats and parasitic military types are doing what they do now because the Players have set it up that way, maybe not intentionally but as a necessary excrescence of their self-serving behaviors, focusing on hegemony and controlling the flow of resources and hence lots of pleasure- and power-producing money.

      There’s oil in them thar hills, and who knows what rare earths in the ground?

  2. It’s a tad bit difficult to keep the movement peace oriented when the government shells marches and then shells the funerals of those it had already killed.

    For your hawkish views on Libya I’m surprised with your stance on Syria? Did you just get too much flak for supporting NATO? It’s difficult to see how Libya is a worse situation than Syria. In terms of body counts it certainly isn’t.

    • The difference between Syria and Libya isn’t the scale of the problem. As you say, things in Syria have now reached the same level of awful that confronted the world in Libya at this time last year.

      The difference is in the likelihood of success. The physical and military situation in Syria makes it unlikely that an intervention could actually succeed in improving the humanitarian situation. When you’re talking about whether a war is just or not, the likelihood of success goes beyond being a mere pragmatic concern, to a moral imperative that has to be met.

      • And since precise linguistics are so important, so much turns on just which precise definition of “success” one chooses to work from. Or “victory.” Or “winning.” Or, compound concept, “Mission Accomplished.”

        For instance, the latest war, whatever that terms means, on Iraq, has resulted in the transfer of some $1.5 trillion from present and future Real Wealth Creators/taxpayers in the US to the various pieces of the MIC. And you don’t have to read very far into the “defence industry” trade press (which trumpets “victories” by one contractor or another in the mostly invisible battles over huge procurement packages) or the WSJ to see just how happy that “success” has made a very few of our fellow humans. While killing (__________: fill in your own non-zero number) people, increasing instability, breeding an Imperial security-state that’s killing what’s left of the Republic, and all the other patent, devolutionary externalities that are the real substance and nature of “war, the enterprise.” Which, as I bet you know, does not give a flying fig for any “moral imperative,” having lots of willing Jesuits happy to define what the Battlespace Managers want to do anyway, for personal profitability and ego satisfaction, as “moral.”

        It’s costing “us” what, half a billion to kill each person identified as an “al Quaeda effective?” “Gooks” in my war came cheap — only a few hundred thousand apiece. And the same class of creatures “won” that “war,” big effing time, a “victory” for which the wealth transfers and the interest payments still go on. And on.

  3. The “West” should stop beefing up with weapons and support, the Syria’s opposition, thus fomenting a civil war for the benefit of…we all know who.
    Obama is playing excellent politics under very difficult circumstances.

    • Should i take it that nations such as russia likewise should stop beefing up one side.

      Also the best way for the conflict to end would be for assad to step down and allow for free elections.

    • who?
      You mean Muslim Fundamentalist. But wait a Minute isn`t Bashar not backed by Fundamentalist from Iran and Iraq?.

    • “for the benefit of…we all know who.”


      I’m curious about exactly what variety of conspiracy theory we’re dealing with here.

  4. Rule of thumb…whatever McCain says you should do (Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran)…do the opposite and you’ll always do the right thing.

    • You right, Man. I used to think like ‘How could a man like Goober McCain ever graduate from the Naval Academy (896 out of 897 classmates) and become U.S. Senator?…but then ‘who was the previous president of AmerriKar?’

    • Rule of thumb…whatever McCain says you should do (Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran)…do the opposite and you’ll always do the right thing.

      Nah, John McCain isn’t like an opposite-facing compass, but a stuck one. He doesn’t just point north when you’re facing south, but points north all the time.

      Imagine that there was a war that was so just and necessary that even JT McPhee thought the United States needed to fight it. Do you think John McCain would oppose that war? Of course not! He’d be doing what he always does.

      The deal with John McCain is that his response to every war is exactly the same, no matter what the actual situation is. The only conclusion we can draw from John McCain’s support for a war is that it is, in fact, a war.

      • Even broken clocks are “right” twice a day. Depending, of course, on how one defines “right.” As with “just,” and “necessary.” As in “Just another war” is “necessary” for the MIC, e.g. Since of course “our” MIC is busily maintaining its hegemony as arms pusher to the ‘hoods of the world…

  5. I think you’re right in every respect, but you might want to change the statement about “What in the world could you bomb in Syria from 30,000 feet.” Strategic bombing is done from that altitide, but air support of ground troops that McCain is advocating is done from lower altitudes, often treetop height. That’s what was done in Libya.

    That doesn’t invalidate your point. With the forces in cities and mingled with civilian populations, air support is ruled out.

    • Just another aside to your aside that I wholeheartedly second, the myth is that close support, or in the armchair-warrior example in the current sight picture, ground attack, is a “precision” operation.

      It takes no serious searching to find even MSM reports “regretting” the many fratricidal and Ooopsie–Sorry! Failed Missions where those tactical dudes with the laser designators and night-vision goggles just fogofwar some heavy ordnance on “friendly” troops or “noncombatant” soft targets.

      Let alone that “NATO air asset forces” would lack even that degree of “interoperability” that can’t prevent targeting errors even when all the players have practiced together and use the same equipment.

      Two stupids do not make a smart.

  6. For those concerned about the niceties of international law, such as it is, maybe one should be aware of yet another Obama-sanctioned set of exceptions (under the rubric of the Imperial Presidency, “justified” by the Doctrine of “Prez Knows Best,” in the context of the exists-by-fiat “Perpetual Eternal War On Terrorists.) Per AG Holder, it is now just peachy for “our side” to murder anyone that the State Security Apparatus deems oughta be murdered: link to

    Or abducted and held forever until dead. See above.

    Resistance is on the way to being futile…

      • You mean this? link to
        Which includes this, from a participant:

        The problem was, how do you find the people on the blacklist? It’s not like you had their address and telephone number. The normal procedure would be to go into a village and just grab someone and say, ‘Where’s Nguyen so-and-so?’ Half the time the people were so afraid they would not say anything. Then a Phoenix team would take the informant, put a sandbag over his head, poke out two holes so he could see, put commo wire around his neck like a long leash, and walk him through the village and say, ‘When we go by Nguyen’s house scratch your head.’ Then that night Phoenix would come back, knock on the door, and say, ‘April Fool, [bad word].’ Whoever answered the door would get wasted. As far as they were concerned whoever answered was a Communist, including family members. Sometimes they’d come back to camp with ears to prove that they killed people… If Phoenix goes in and murders someone who was not Viet Cong, and they abuse the mother and the sister, well anybody in the family who survives is going to be a card-carrying Viet Cong by the next afternoon.”

        Nothing new under the sun, or in the dark of night…

    • There is nothing in Holder’s speech that even comes close to violating international law.

      Name a single treaty or protocol that forbids shooting at the enemy in a war.

  7. “Unlike the Obama administration, I am also concerned with international law, and there are no legal grounds for the US to bomb Syria! Since Syria hasn’t attacked the US, that action would require a United Nations Security Council resolution.”

    And even IF there were a UN Security Council resolution it would not mean that an attack would be legitimate for the UN has a serious lack of legitimacy.

  8. al jazeera english demonstrated how the regime is shipping in new weapons from overseas via air cargo. airstrikes crippling airports would serve to block these shipments.

    didn’t the clinton/nato intervention into kosovo lack a UN mandate? what is stopping the US or turkey from employing the same approach? indifference?

    all of this blatant evidence of assad committing war crimes and yet hillary clinton refuses to refer him to the international criminal court? by failing to do so, doesn’t that, in effect, give assad a green light to ratchet up and commit even more crimes?

    you called for intervention into libya to prevent benghazi from being mowed over. massacres in syria evidences more need for intervention that libya had.

    i don’t see how armchair nitpicking of revolutionaries serves anything. that only underlines the fact how badly they need help!

    the world rarely agrees upon anything. lack of consensus isn’t a valid excuse to do nothing.

  9. You fail to point out that Maliki is a supporter of the Assad regime and that Iraq did not support the Arab League resolution calling for him to step down. Iraq just last week (or maybe two weeks ago, don’t remember exactly) signed an agreement with Syria giving free transport of goods bound for Syria across its territory — a clear effort to circumvent any blockade. Maliki’s security forces are attempting to prevent smuggling of weapons from Anbar to Syrian rebels. This, of course, is only exacerbating sectarian tensions within Iraq as Sunni Arabs support the uprising.

  10. Senator McCain says: “….. especially now that the situation in Syria has become an armed conflict . . .”

    It was a legitimate civil opposition, with help of Saudi/Qatar, etc it was made into an armed conflict, thus de-legitimizing the civil movement. Now he wants to bomb Syria.

    Furthermore, does this logic apply to Israel? Should US start bombing Israel next time they engaged in armed conflict on their territory?

    • how is taking up arms to defend oneself from attack delegitimizing? is it more noble, more ethical, to accept being massacred without protest?

  11. You have no clue how the security system in Syria cannot allow for any defectors to leave with heavy weapons and shame on those that continue to support the regime of the murderous dictatorship in that country

  12. via the hurriyet:

    Veteran diplomat Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, will offer “a last chance” to President Bashar al-Assad when he visits Damascus on March 10, a Turkish diplomatic source said yesterday.

    The offer will give al-Assad the chance to “honorably exit the scene,” the source told the Daily News. Annan will go to Damascus on the same day Russia joins an Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.

    link to

  13. Juan, I think you hit the nail on the head with this statement: “Only a peaceful movement could allay the fears of the Christians, Allawis and moderate Sunnis, about what kind of regime would come to power after the fall of the Baath.”

    I personally have a lot of faith in non-violent and mostly peaceful movements as presenting the best alternative/s to the present regimes that rule the region – almost all of which use a mixture of brute force combined with fear, corruption, active repression, and secret police state tactics to preserve their power.
    The peaceful successes in tunisia and egypt (even considering how limited they are. but these things take time…..) clearly point the way forward in the future for the region.

    imagine what would have happened in india had gandhi and his followers resorted to violence and guerilla tactics against the british, they could never had gained the bipartisan sympathies of the millions they did nor rouse the world to support their independence movement. I think many modern day people are very skeptical, and rightly so, of any talk of quick solutions to complex, real political and social problems by resorting force and violence….which in general only beget more violence, and often have unintended historical and regional consequences that go well beyond any one nation’s borders….

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