Obama’s Limited Options: Bombing Syria unlikely to be Effective

As pressure on President Obama to bomb Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons ramps up, it is worth revisiting parts of a post I did last June in response to a similar push by the Clintons. It should be remembered that Israel has already bombed Syria a few times, to little apparent effect.

… Obama has also been getting substantial pressure from the French and British to do something, and French intelligence has been the most vigorous in pressing the case that the Baath regime in Syria crossed the red line of chemical weapons use. France and Britain have longstanding imperial interests in the Levant, and both fear that the Syrian civil war could produce terrorism that spills over onto Western Europe. Unstated is that it may also produce a refugee crisis in which tens or hundreds of thousands of new immigrants wash up on European soil. Immigrants and terrorism are two key issues in French and British politics, and may be spurring them to action.

Likewise, the Baath and Hizbullah counter-attacks against the opposition in the past two months have yielded battlefield victories and the reassertion of Damascus over parts of the country that had been lost. Russian support appears to have increased in kind and quality, and Iran is playing the Shiite card. If someone doesn’t intervene soon on the rebel side, Washington hawks realize, the war might soon be over and the pro-Iranian regime will survive (just as Algeria’s did).

Obama seems to be attempting to find a face-saving way of getting a little involved but not too much, by sending light weaponry (which of course is not what the rebels need). [and now by a few strategic strikes from the air.]

[Bill] Clinton compared what the US could do in Syria to Ronald Reagan’s effort against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But that covert operation of giving billions of dollars and high-tech weaponry to Afghan jihadis was a huge catastrophe, contributing to the creation and rise of al-Qaeda and setting the background for the emergence of the Taliban. It surely would have been far preferable to let the Soviets try to build a socialist state in Afghanistan, as they tried in Uzbekistan. The whole thing would have fallen apart in 1991 anyway. (There is no truth to the notion that the Afghanistan war bled the Soviet Union or contributed to its collapse. Soviet military spending was flat in the 1980s). The Reagan jihad destabilized both Afghanistan and Pakistan and left us with a long term terrorism problem. We let the Soviets alone in Kazakhstan, and we never worry about today’s Kazakhstan.

You never, ever want to encourage the rise of private militias and flood a country with high- powered weaponry.

[This week the NYT was told that a model for bombing Syria could be found in the 1990s ] bombing of Serbian forces in the Balkans to protect the Bosnians.

But the situation in Syria is not like that in the Balkans, in these ways:

— Syria has stockpiles of chemical weapons, the exact position of which is unknown; indiscriminate bombing raids on Syrian military facilities could release those chemicals on civilian populations. [That is, responding to use of chemical weapons with indiscriminate bombing could inadvertently become a deployment of … chemical weapons!]

— Unlike in Bosnia, this is not a war by an outside force like the Serbs of ethnic cleansing against a neighbor, but rather it is a civil war. The Alawis, Christians and secular-minded Sunnis in Syria are afraid of the rebel forces and either support or are neutral toward the Syrian government; together they may well come to half the country. That isn’t exactly a mandate for outside intervention.

— Syria’s tanks and artillery are inside cities such as Homs and Damascus, and couldn’t be destroyed from the air without risking hitting civilian apartment buildings. If you want to see a war go bad real quickly, just kill dozens of innocent civilians in their own home from the air.

— The backing for the regime of Russia and Iran makes this more like Vietnam, where the Russians and Chinese supported the Viet Cong, than like the Balkans in the early 1990s when the Russians were weak and supine.

— Flooding Syria with medium or heavy weaponry could destabilize it and its neighbors, including Israel & Palestine, for decades, as the CIA did to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Often in the past, US intelligence actually urged locals involved in covert wars to grow and peddle drugs to get money for weapons, creating long-term problems of narco-terrorism, which still plague Afghanistan and Pakistan.

— The prominence of the Nusra Front and other hard liners affiliated to al-Qaeda in the opposition ranks means the US could end up arming terrorists and helping them take over a whole country.

Given the logistical and tactical difficulties of intervening from the air, and given the lack of a UNSC resolution authorizing the use of force, Obama … encouraging the [ opposition] to create a long-term civil resistance instead of going the militarization route. Some struggles have to be fought over a couple of decades, and those typically only succeed if non-violent. [Tunisia’s use of nonviolence and its elites’ resort to bargaining and compromise are the success story, not the more violent struggles in the region.]


Posted in Syria | 57 Responses | Print |

57 Responses

  1. This article by the professor is informative and coherent. The professor however fails to account for the massive amount of weaponry already in circulation in Syria now. This may well include chemical weapons as well. The present farrago started off as a demonstration only, but quite suddenly these demonstrators had large amounts of weaponry hardware. Where did this stuff come from. In London a years or so ago we had demonstration against the government which started off being quite severe, but they petered out soon enough and weapons were out of the question. I believe America and we British armed these people through our proxy partners in that bastion of democracy, Saudi Arabia and others, just as we have done in places like Libya and Afghanistan to name but a few. It seems to me we provide fuel for the fire and then march in like heroes to put it out.

  2. I have been concerned at the way our Western governments have been looking to get involved in the conflict in Syria especially over the last few months.
    I am an ex soldier and although I dont pretend to understand the political history or issues that surround this conflict or the true interests of those involved and more importantly our governments who are trying to get involved,: I do consider this latest issue regarding the alledged chemical attack as an excuse to bring about sanctioned destabilisation of the Syrian governemnt and leadership.
    From my own point of view I cannot see why anyone who is taking control of an area and starting to turn the tide of rebel successes and more importantly knowing the worlds response and result of any Chemical weapon usage would authorise its use in such a large scale way and in such a way its consequences could not be seen or reacted upon. It makes no strategic or tactical sense as well as no political sense.
    I can only draw one conclusion from this incident and that is that it could only have been perpetrated by those whose interest it would serve and the last group that is served by such actions is the Syrian government.
    It is clear the resources for such attacks are available to many groups including the rebel forces and it seems more logical that when they are in an unassailable tactical position militarily that they would contrive to use such weapons to initiate and certainly provoke a reponse of support both militarily and politically by western governments… just redaing how the French are salivating at the prospect of getting involved is almost imperialistic.
    I am aghst to think that we in the UK and especially our government could consider any action under such circumstances. I do not support and will continue not to support any actions that use unsubstantiated reports of use by the Syrian government of chemical weapons. I see no reason why at this stage any Government should be sabre rattling until such time as independent and objective proof is found. I have had the mispleasure of seeing and being involved, indirectly, the lengths a government will go to, to find a reason and created propaganda to move thier own agenda forward at the expense and lives of thier own personnel.

    • “I see no reason why at this stage any Government should be sabre rattling until such time as independent and objective proof is found.”

      Perhaps, we could check with Colin Powell.

  3. I’m thinking the pressure to save face (they clearly crossed my redline), is going to be too strong to ignore. Then it comes down to finding the least risky facesaving gesture. I expect some sort of symbolic strike -presumably hit a few Syrian government or military fixed targets, then call it a day, is the most likely response.

    As much as we can’t stomach the thought of Assad surviving, I think we are at least as afraid of an opposition victory as we are of a return to something resembling the ante-bellum state. So I doubt we want to do anything truly effective.

  4. President Obama’s options are limited regarding military intervention in Syria because he rejects full-scale military involvement, the American public rejects it, and American national interests do not require it. Yet, the kind of limited involvement being considered (cruise missiles fired from ships and submarines in the Mediterranean; missiles and bombs fired from stand-off aircraft into Syrian targets) would neither alter the correlation of forces in Syria nor advance US interests.

    Neither US national interests nor humanitarian considerations would be advanced by such limited involvement. Regardless of who comes out on top and rules Syria–the Assad regime or the likely rebel leadership–neither will be a friend of the United States. The US military should not be used for what would amount to a “feel good” gesture. And lobbing cruise missiles would be just that: a “feel good” gesture, accomplishing nothing of substance.

    The US does not have a dog in this fight and should stay out of it. Some conflicts should be allowed to burn themselves out with one side or the other prevailing, and Syria is one. We should restrict our involvement only to helping support and sustain the refugee population in Turkey and other surrounding countries.

    • I happen to agree with the best to let it slide crowd. However a admittedly weak case can be made for limited punitive action punishing the use of chemical weapons. Maybe the regime would then change its calculation about the value/cost of using them in the present conflict. If that happened, we just might make the conflict slightly less awful.

      The worst outcome, is one that allows the war to drag on indefinitely. It seems to me the current approach of supplying some not very effective weapons to the rebels, does just that. We’ve seen how much this conflict adds to regional instability. Maybe Israel is happy to have chaos keeping its potential enemies weak? The rest of us should see this conflict as both a humanitarian catastrophe, and a source of future problems.

    • alarmingly, large scale migration of Kurds into Iraq was reported last week

      link to voanews.com

      BEIRUT — An estimated 30,000 Syria refugees, most of them Kurds, have fled in the last three days to Kurdistan areas of Iraq or on the border waiting to be allowed access, according to United Nations aid officials.

      The U.N. officials warned Monday that the exodus shows no signs of slowing down and that it is straining their resources as well as those of Iraqi relief agencies.

      which may have some tertiary destabilizing effect on the Shiite Iraq government ….

      My impression had been that the Kurdish area had been relatively stable, being sufficiently remote from much of the fighting … yeah, that was a few months ago.

      • The Nusra Front has been attacking Kurds and trying to establish a zone of control in the north of Syria. They don’t seem to have been able to take over the rebellion as a whole, or establish their own areas in the Syrian National Council areas.

        • I agree with your observation with the following qualification:

          “Syrian National Council” is the longtime Istanbul-based Syrian exile group headed by George Sabra, an Orthodox Christian and Central Committee member of the Syrian Communist Party since 1985.

          The Syrian National Council holds about 35% of the seats in the Syrian National Coalition, a Qatar-based exile group that the Free Syria Army has professed allegiance to and whom the international community generally regards as the Syrian government-in-exile.

  5. Dare one question the initial premise, that “Obama,” as the personification of our Empire, has to Do Something About Syria? Or do we leap over that, right to diddling and dabbling over which are the least bad options?

    It’s obvious that “he,” nominally on our behalf and “for the greater good,” will “do something,” actually a whole lot of somethings, that are applauded by Apologists as Appropriate Engagement in the Current Round of the Great Game. What’s the test of reason that will be applied to these many somethings, like open-checkbook military procurement and deployment and sales/gifts, privatization of “security,” encouraging “friendly” autocrats, lining up “Cover” for Imperial Action by getting tame fellow potentates to affirm the planned actions, making sure Raytheon stockholders are protected by rolling over the inventory of cruise missiles, link to en.wikipedia.org and link to cbsnews.com, the whole train of idiot stuff that Seems All Serious And Well-Thought-Out? And, of course, the mostly out-of-control, blowback-inducing initiatives and stratagems of our Sneaky Petes with their own little plots and intentions and “needs” for off-the-books funding sources ‘n ‘stuff. Oh wait, because “the Empire” is itself just a convenient reification made up of so many oddly assembled parts, and acts through so many different, disparate, largely independent rulerships and constituencies all drawing off the Imperial treasury that the rest of us create out of what could go to feeding and housing and healing ourselves, and because the commercial interests that get to whisper in the Imperial Ear 24/7 and have the Important Numbers on speed-dial, there is no “test of reason” that applies. Just a general trend of Generals’ Behaviors, all in the direction of growing and metastasizing the malignancy.

    Don’t ask me, then, what “we” should be doing. The folks, generally the Apologist breeed, who make those kinds of challenges know that the Juggernaut is crushing its way ahead, and that any ideas about even marginal changes to the overall behavior of the Mil-Mil Aristocracy and its feedlot partners have exactly zero chance of effecting any change in the vector of velocity or the momentum of the mass… My answer is “dismantle the whole thing,” which like a lot of complex Rube Goldbergian machinery it is, and we are, inevitably doing to itself and ourselves, thanks to Murphy, FUBAR and entropy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics Must Be Obeyed — too bad for the crush-ees in the path, so nice, however, for those who Live So Large and get their jollies and livelihoods out of the Ineluctable Inexorability of Service to Moloch… link to en.wikipedia.org

    • I was listening to CNN on Friday … they made it sound as it Obama was shamefully tardy in failing to have acted already, y’know “decisively” … they seem to have become the McCain Network. … nevermind that the last gas attack investigation is unfinished but wasn’t looking all that great for the rebels.

      Gee, the Libyans only had to warn of an impending massacre of 6000 in Misrata (which we then savior like “prevented”)

      Our official outrage is selective and disproportionate … We don’t care about Mazar al Sharif and we don’t care about 2000 dead POW afghans, or untolled victims of Iraqi death squads, but by god we care about some alleged nerve gas deployed by someone.

    • “Dare one question the initial premise, that “Obama,” as the personification of our Empire, has to Do Something About Syria?”

      If you have been reading my comments on whether or not the US should intervene in Syria, you might find that this is one area where we are in agreement, although I suspect for different reasons. You may have noted that I stated the US does not have a dog in this fight, we are neither legally nor morally obligated to intervene, neither the Assad regime nor the likely rebel leadership will be “friends” of the US, and thus the US should not intervene militarily. We should stay out of it and let the conflict eventually burn itself out when one side or the other prevails. However it ends, it will not be advantageous for the US. And we can only get burned ourselves if we intervene.

    • “It’s obvious that “he,” nominally on our behalf and “for the greater good,” will “do something,””

      Like the “surge” in Afghanistan.

  6. That was a great piece then, and it’s a great piece now.

    Except for this addition: Obama seems to be attempting to find a face-saving way of getting a little involved but not too much, by sending light weaponry (which of course is not what the rebels need). [and now by a few strategic strikes from the air.]

    Obama doesn’t “seem to be attempting” a few strategic strikes from the air. He seems no more enthusiastic about bombing Syria now than he did last June, or this past January.

  7. Get ready for the slow tilt to George W. Obama. Erdogan’s got to be thrilled to see his dream of a Sunni Islamist Syria to complement the new Turkey.

  8. Thank you Professor Cole. There are so many pithy pull quotes I can’t decide which one to use when I share this. As we try to figure out just what just happened, I think it would tell us a lot just to know who lived in that neighborhood. I hate the term “false flag” because of its tin hattieness,but until we have UN evidence, we know nothing. Too bad our great arms inspector is “retired” back to Egypt. :-)

  9. Last Wednesday, within three hours of the attack, over 3,600 people showed up at three area hospitals all exhibiting obvious signs of a chemical weapons attack. 355 of them died.

    Yesterday, Obama and Cameron had a 40 minute phone call and agreed Assad is “almost certainly” to blame for the attack. John Kerry told the Syrian govt. to stop “delaying and destroying evidence.” Today, the Syrian govt. guaranteed the UN inspectors safe passage to the various attack sites.

    I expect to see confirmation of Assad’s using chemical weapons.

    I seriously doubt the west will allow Assad to get away with this chemical weapons attack, especially one on civilians. The United States and the UN would lose credibility if they do. How, not if, they respond is the real question. If they don’t, what happens if Assad uses chemical weapons in another much bigger attack that kills thousands?

    What would he have to lose?

    • Where I can get no rational answer is from the question “Why are chemical weapons so much worse than high explosives and small arms?” How many childrten have been killed by bombs, bullets, mines, rockets, missiles? When you get your lower jaw blown off, or lose a leg or two in an explosion, or get castrated by flying shrapnel, or paralysed from the neck down by a bullet, do you feel grateful that you have escaped being gassed? Do you say “Oh how lucky I am – i did not breath in chlorine based poisons!!” Why is gas defined as a WMD and not bombs? Is a MOAB or a Daisy Cutter so much more humane when it dills hundreds? Why is the use of chemical weapons so much worse than the use of explosives on civilians the “Red Line” that has been crossed? Must we intervene when chemical weapons massacre hundreds, but not when bombs kill thousands?

      • The answer to this one is very simple, and it ought to be more closely considered by everyone writing on this thread: chemical weapons are DELIVERED in a precisely similar way as BIOLOGICAL weapons are. Biological weapons are the next step for any desperate dictatorship that is plunging into chaos and losing its grip on power. Nuclear weapons are more complicated and more expensive to produce. Biological weapons, however, although delivered in a fashion similar to the way chemical weapons are (rockets that open on impact, but don’t explode; water sources polluted, etc.), also deliver a poison that CANNOT BE CONTAINED. Biological weapons are the next step on the scale of “weapons of mass destruction.” If the chemical weapons are not forcibly rejected, regimes like Assad’s will develop and deploy biological weapons. This progression must be foreclosed, by force, if necessary.

        Also, all of those suggesting that the rebels committed this war crime are not considering the threat to the Assad brothers of losing Damascus and of having their military man-power more and more reduced. The younger Assad brother is a psychopathic killer, and he probably doesn’t take very many orders from his milquetoast brother.

        • chemical weapons are DELIVERED in a precisely similar way as BIOLOGICAL weapons are

          Please provide evidence for this assertion and no your unsupported word is not evidence.

          Also something is either precisely the same or very similar but not precisely similar (sic).


      • You’re obviously not paying sufficient attention to the on-going investigations–to what they’re looking for, and, especially to WHY. The U.N. investigators and others want to see the un-exploded shells of whatever missiles may have delivered the sarin. This is because such missiles are designed to release their chemicals before hitting their targets, and to continue releasing them upon impact, but not to explode. Biological toxins could be released into the atmosphere in very similar fashion. (And, yes, of course, there are other ways of doing it, but they involve getting much closer to the enemy.)

      • What would he have to gain?

        The continuing credibility of the 90-year-old taboo on using chemical weapons in warfare.

        The one that saved many thousands of American, British, and Russian lives during World War II.

        It’s become fashionable in certain quarters to assume that opposition to chemical warfare must only be a pretext, but there are very good reasons to believe that the West is honest-to-God opposed to chemical weapons returning as an instrument of war.

        • Chemical weapons aren’t very effective against protected military, but can be very effective against civilians, especially those trying to survive by hiding in basements. Also they can cause horrific damage short of killing. So if your strategy involves terrifying populations they can be effective.

  10. The precedent of allowing chemical weapons to be used with impunity would be disastrous for world politics. Whichever side in the Syrian War used chemical weapons against innocent civilians MUST be punished. If Professor Cole is correct, that Kosovo-like strikes against the Assad OR the rebel side would be futile, then the next best thing is the assassination of the entire Assad family (since the psychotic brother is rumoured to be the actual perpetrator, if the government did it) or the assassination of the leadership of whichever elements of the insurgency committed this war crime. But it must NOT be allowed to go unpunished. Do you folks who are advocating doing nothing want to someday be the victims of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. THIS time there really are “weapons of mass destruction,” and “weapons of mass destruction” are the instruments of genocide.

    • I’m already seeing self-proclaimed progressives arguing that chemical weapons usage is no worse than any other kind of warfare.

      Unsurprisingly, this is coming from the same people who invoke international law in every other sentence in discussions of the drone program.

      • As I recall, even in this space, it is the apologists who invoke “law,” Imperial and international, to justify the use of drone launched weapons, more so than “self-proclaimed progressives.” What’s the phrase? “Unlawful Enema Combatants,” decreed to be thus by recourse to something called “AUMF” and some bit of the UN Charter? So “we” invade a place, people shoot back, and all of a sudden, if you follow the published videos, anyone moving around outside, or showing up as a hazy IR image inside a tent or mud building, is a “target” or is “deplorable bugsplat…”

        As to Revulsion Weapons and the “Chemical Ali” arguments used selectively to justify favorite Imperial activities like shooting up Syria maybe, including pre-emptive verbal strikes against anyone arguing that chemical weapons kill people just like explosives, our Imperial rulers have no qualms about adding far worse things to the Imperial arsenal, on the argument that the sickos who think and act like them, in fact on behavior are virtually indistinguishable from them, over there amongst The Present or Potential Enemy: link to hartfordbusiness.com

        But then stuff like that is like the Security State: developed and grown essentially out of sight, by persons with ugly motives, unremarked except by a few Alarmists with in their tinfoil hats, then slowly sprung on the populace that paid unknowingly for their own shackles and nooses… what does the word “inhuman” actually mean? link to noblesandcourtiers.org

      • Well, JT, it started out with the opponents talking about law – you can go back and look at Professor Cole’s earlier posts – to which the “apologists” wrote replies, but you’re right: after a certain point, the opponents dropped the subject of legality entirely, and began treating the entire topic as some sort of dirty trick.

        I wonder what that could mean?

    • Your premise is quite illogical.

      Regardless of which faction may have employed them, chemical weapons are certainly not being used with “impunity.”

      Think for just a single moment. All participants in the Syrian Civil War are suffering badly, and all sides face grave danger at the hands of the others. Every faction in the Syrian Civil War is being severely punished by the others, every day.

      The use of any particular weapon system cannot be separated from the war as a whole. And war is politics.

      If a proposed intervention by the Western Bloc does not provide a clear and direct remedy for the political issues which underpin the Syrian Civil War, the that proposal can only be wrong–politically and morally.

      On the positive side, I would suggest the following, as a superior policy for the USA and its Western Bloc allies:

      1. Ceasefire without any preconditions.

      2. Roundtable talks, to include all domestic and foreign participants in the war.

      3. General Amnesty proclaimed immediately, with the credible promise of generous and honourable treatment for all Syrians, regardless of their allegiance or of the part they may have played during the war.

  11. So, the British and French are urging us to do something. Weren’t those two countries far more involved than we were in establishing the present conditions of that unhappy region?

    • The eastern end of the old Ottoman empire is as dangerous today as the western end was a century ago. 99 years after “The Guns of August” exploded, opposing sides seem to be lining up again.

      The Shias, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah plus Russia and China against the Sunni countries, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar plus the United States, England, France–the west.

      It’s tough for me to see how either side gets away from this. Do nothing and Assad will correctly see that as weakness. He might even use chemical weapons again, but on a larger scale. What if he wipes out a whole town like the elder Assad did in Hama but he uses sarin gas instead?

      Act forcefully and the Syrians say it would be “no picnic.” The Iranians have also warned Obama against crossing the “red line” in Syria.

      There are no easy answers.

    • That’s the cool thing about colonialism and the Great Game — you get to kick down other people’s doors, steal their stuff, boss them around, trash their societies, carry off their women and children, crap in their living rooms and then guess what? no consequences, ‘cuz the dudes that did it all are long gone when Current Events heat up: “IBG-YBG,” and now there’s talk about the best way to “recycle” dictators: Qaddaffyduck/Mussolini fashion, or let them slink away on their private jets (that are nice little sales coups for certain corporations all in themselves), with billions in stolen wealth or payoffs from Great Geoployitical Entities to play with in their dotage. link to gq.com

      And it ain’t just the guys, either… link to thedailybeast.com

      And the Game goes on: link to thedailybeast.com

  12. You say –

    You never, ever want to encourage the rise of private militias and flood a country with high-powered weaponry.

    Is this not what happened in … Libya?

  13. Syrian conflict has almost from the start been hijacked by various factions as proxy war. The analogy to Kosovo conflict against Serbs holds here so far as it also had a Russian-US proxy war angle to it.

    With the Assad forces on the offensive and its government accepting a UN inspection of previous Chemical attack acquisition (in which the rebels may have had a hand in) it make no sense for pro Assad forces to deploy chemical weapons right in neighborhood of the capital.

    On the other hand it makes a lot of sense for the rebels. If there are evidence of them have used Chemical weapons, ample evidence of Al Queda elements among them plus their losses on the battle field will end all their hopes of changing the regime in Syria. They need a game changer.

    For Obama administration, still hurting from Snowden’s asylum in Russia this may be an opportunity to a) challenge Russia militarily (as it did in Kosovo conflict with General Clark ordering attack on their positions) and a pay back for Snowden, b) distract attention from NSA leaks. They need a game changer also.

    As has been said before “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”. But August may be a good time to start a false flag operation for the real marketing of the war in September. As a bonus our favorite Generals in Egypt and folks in NSA would also get a relief.

  14. The turning point in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is when the Central Intelligence Agency was able to supply Islamic fundamentalist rebels with anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft missiles – these were effective in destroying Russian-made tanks and and helicopter gunships which caused Red Army casualties to mount. The Soviets withdrew and the Marxist regime collapsed shortly thereafter – Operation Cyclone was declared a success.

    Whatever the Obama administration does, it should ensure the conflict ends as quickly as possible to avoid severe humanitarian crises and regional destabilization such as that which enveloped the areas contiguous to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the largest opium producer in world accounting for 87% of international opiate products.

    • The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was just that–a foreign occupation. Eventually the Soviets lost sufficient blood and treasure that they concluded the game was not worth the candle and departed. Syria is an entirely different situation. The problem is not foreign occupation, as was the case in Afghanistan. Rather, this is a civil war pitting various factions of rebels against the Assad regime. There is nowhere for any to go, and none want to go, as all claim Syria as their nation and home (save for the foreign Jihadists, who are the best fighters and commanders). This sets up a very different dynamic.

      The statement: “Whatever the Obama administration does, it should ensure the conflict ends as quickly as possible to avoid severe humanitarian crises and regional destabilization…,” is a nonstarter. The Obama administration does not have the will or the capacity to “ensure the conflict ends as quickly as possible.” Moreover, the United States is under no legal or moral obligation to do so. That whoever prevails in this fight will be no friend of the US, whether the Assad regime or the likely rebel leadership; coupled with the almost total lack of US interests in Syria, argue for diplomatic maneuvering (likely to result in nothing unless Russia turns around) but no military intervention.

      A few Tomahawk missiles lobbed at assorted targets make us look feckless and weak. Better not to do it at all. And full-scale military intervention is out of the question (and should be). This is a case where it would be best to let the civil war run its course, regardless how long it continues, until one side or the other prevails.

  15. We have difficulty accepting that nothing can be done when something should be done.

    The world knows this is the worst kind of human tragedy. There is no sane reason to inflame it further. I think President Obama should project great sadness and restraint.

    We can encourage people to flee.
    We can help Jordan handle refugees.
    We can focus on future relations.

  16. No, Western Military might can topple Assad; there is only the off chance of “blow back” for the planners to think about.

    Russia, China? They can hurt the West, but won’t over Assad.

    Iran? They aren’t suicidal.

    The people of the West? They are force marching to slavery, and cannot be relied upon for anything.

    The planners have nothing to personally fear.

  17. I don’t like the idea of US intervention but I also dislike the smug nature of the comments on this board. Fact is that civilians are dying by the thousands – whether the result of chemical & biological weapons or just gut old gun shots to the head, knives to the privates or rifle butts to the head. And so what do we – we, as in THE WORLD – do about that?

    Nothing? OK, but then don’t come whining three years from now when some do-gooder organization publishes the final body count of civilians massacred by this barbaric regime.

    It’s a lousy situation and maybe we’re just fated to watch the two sides bleed each other white. Another 30 Years War scenario, perhaps? No worries, there’s the World Cup next year to look forward to.

    Human beings. What a disgrace.

    • I can certainly see where you’re coming from, I used to occupy that position myself some years ago.

      But then I noticed how many times our interventions, though justified or rationalized as humanitarian endeavors, had just turned out wrong. Either made a bad situation worse, either placed monsters in power or kept them there, or simply lead to exploitation later on by self-perceived saviors.

      At the best of time it’s not easy to predict the outcome of our actions on the world stage, in a scenario like the Syrian civil war where we don’t really know what’s going on, or what some of the factions represent, it’s even chancier.

      There’s a temptation to pick a side and jump in, the possibility of it going horribly wrong is too great. It would be a different equation if the fight had any impact on us.

      But after the last decade I’m just not interested in seeing my country – or our allies – jumping into another fight, whether rationalized by national interest or noble principles and then realizing just a few years later that we’ve only added to the charnel legacy we’ve so carefully crafted in the region.

  18. The Syrians have 21st century Russian air-defense systems, with with Russian technicians manning them in many cases. After the 2007 Israeli strike on Syria’s alleged nuclear reactor, the Russians learned all about US air technology, which allowed them to beef up their technology and supply it to Syria, just like in 1982 when the the Israelis revealed US plane technology by bombing Lebanon.

    The first thing we’d have to if we intervene would be to take out these sophisticated air-defense systems, and we don’t even know what they’re like yet, or even if we can do it at all.

  19. Actually substantial US involvement is justified but in humanitarian, not military, ways. The crisis affecting children, the burdens refugees create for Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and deteriorating long-term prospects for the refugee and displaced populations all foreshadow creating an environment where extremism thrives and the West is understood to be indifferent to human suffering.

    Unfortunately a major humanitarian push satisfies neither the hawks who once again are convinced that if only we spread enough weapons around and do some surgical bombing all will be well nor the military contractors who see an opportunity to expend military stockpiles that must then be replaced. Our unshakeable belief in our ability to “fix” things overlaps our outrage when things refused to be fixed meaning we need to up the investment. Arming al-Qaeda, morally and militarily, does not seem to make much sense but neither does letting millions of innocent people suffer hunger, illness, and desperation. As the military options are limited at the very least we could address the suffering. And that is what we are least likely to do.

    • There’s no brakes on the fright (not sic) train, and it’s running downhill and picking up speed…

      If you google “other options for Syria,” you get 229 million hits. The first four pages are mostly about what Dempsey and others are advising Obama to arm or blow up or shoot down, or not, as if B.H. Obama has the actual power to autonomously decide. Get back to page 5 and you start to run across some articles on stuff that falls outside the usual range of tactical options that generations of Idiotic policies and related stratagems have helped build on top of the immensely strong foundation of basic all-too-humanity. Here’s the first one I found: link to raleightelegram.com

      I’m sure there are thinkers out there, with some depth of knowledge of human behavior and the details of culture and history and current issues and technology, who might have the exact prescription for how to wiggle a butterfly wing in Damascus or Teheran or Foggy Bottom to accomplish some sea change, eventually, after more blood and treasure are wasted. link to en.wikipedia.org But nobody with any influence listens, when the excitement of planning a big operation, overt or covert, is in the air, with naming rights and career boosts on the table, and the financial interests of those who make and peddle weapons and certain noisy personality types are yapping for their favorite Continued and Extended Idiocy. What someone else here reminded us was identified by Barbara Tuchman as the inevitable ingredients of “folly.”

  20. This might be an opportunity to ground Assad’s Air Force by tearing up his airfields, and destroying his fighters and helicopters. Show him there is a price to pay.

    As for Israel’s recent strikes, they were aimed at destroying stocks of anti-ship missiles being delivered to Hezbollah, and there is no talk of their having been delivered.

  21. Most commenters here are for the Unted State not intervening. This is the same as no intervention by any government. This means governments are Gods and people are chattel.

  22. “Nothing? OK, but then don’t come whining three years from now when some do-gooder organization publishes the final body count of civilians massacred by this barbaric regime.”

    How about 11 years from now, when people are still dying in Iraq from car bombings due to the civil war we unleashed because of the naivety of do-gooders who screamed ‘Something must be done!’ but didn’t have any idea of how to actually do anything productive in the real world? Who supported corrupt, greedy, narcissistic politicians who went to war for all the wrong reasons, and somehow weren’t actually fighting the war for the right reasons you hoped they would?

    And Iraq didn’t even have weapons of mass destruction. Imagine “Doing something!” in an area of the world which does, imagine Al Qaeda affiliated organisations, the leader of which is filmed eating the organs of his dead opponents, capturing military bases where chemical weapons are stored, and then mysteriously they start being used on the civilian population… smaller scale at first, and the UN itself says the rebels were probably responsible for the smaller ones… and then there’s an attack which kills thousands.

    Can you IMAGINE the final body count is tallied 11 years from now, but the ‘Must Do Stuffs’ are whining that ‘That’s ancient history, now we Must Do Something about the hundreds of other places in the world that are starting to burst into flame today!’

    Certain human beings. What a disgrace.

  23. The Mil-Mil MIIC-MIIC is busily and profitably producing kilotons of weapons of all types that are happily and profitably being delivered to “gunmen,” whether you call them ‘militants’ or the formerly popular ‘insurgents’ or of course Terraists and other friendly and foe-ish nomenclature. The dudes in Syria now really seem like a bunch of anomic nihilists, and there’s plenty of video evidence to show that they will shoot anything at anyone in a kind of free-for-all game of Capture The Flag. Here’s one recent pic allegedly of “irregulars” plopping mortar rounds into “civilian” areas: link to presstv.ir

    Note that the tube ain’t even your standard military-issue and in this and other visual evidence, these dudes don’t bother with sighting even, since the rickety launchers have no sights and no base plate or precision-adjustable legs. They just sort of point and shoot. Note how the round is dropped down the tube, using a string as a trigger. Mil-spec cord, no doubt.

    Lots more of anomic violence at link to syriavideo.net

    And this is the acme, the pinnacle, the apogee-whiz, of “civilization, Euphrates-style…”

  24. Define “effective.”

    A NATO air campaign would probably not be effective at winning the Syrian Civil War. It probably wouldn’t be effective at stopping the bloodshed.

    Whether it would be effective at punishing Assad’s government for using chemical weapons, and providing a significant deterrent effect for future governments that might consider using them, is another matter.

  25. Regardless of which side to support – US to attack or not attack Syria – the United States remains consistent in its hypocrisy as applied to foreign policy.

    This is from the transcript of John Kerry’s speech on Syria:

    “What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.” link to theguardian.com

    But shock and awe was appropriate against Iraq. Right, Mr. Secretary? Or should we say Senator Kerry who voted for the war on Iraq that makes this latest horror in Syria by comparison look like a fender bender? Chemical weapons are without question abominable, but what about the cluster bombs and the depleted uranium that are still taking their toll a decade later in Iraq?

  26. I was distressed to hear on France-24, that a “good” US strategy would be to shoot for a stalemate -because neither the current Syrian government, nor any likely revolutionary government would be our friend. So playing a game that only cares about geopolitical pieces, we want Syria to be prostrate as long as possible. That’s worse than cynical, its positively immoral. Its also probably wrong, as the so-called tertiary damage to the neighborhood only increases regional instability. I sure hope we can manage to put humanitarian considerations to the fore.

  27. Are we pretending that chemical weapons weren’t used against Iran when we speak of the need to prevent the return of chemical weapons to battlefields? Did we intervene in that instance? Oh right, of course we did. By providing satellite intel for Saddam’s troops.

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