Saturday, April 27, 2013

Analysis: No good military options for U.S. in Syria

Before we can identify military options we need to develop a strategy. 

Some say the US military is to tired for another operation while others in the military say they are ready to ruck up and go right now.  Here is my response to each.

With all due respect we should not confuse enthusiasm with capability.  While I have no doubt that you and your Marines (as well as Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen) can and will march to the sound of the guns when given the word to go that does not necessarily mean we can or should.  There is no doubt that our forces  will go anywhere and do whatever is necessary for our national security.   

However,  it is not that the military is necessarily too tired from operations per se (though there are many who are worn out from multiple deployments) that they could not conduct a contingency operation such as in Grenada, Panama, Haiti, The first Gulf War or even Libya.  Our military is ready and able (and always willing) to execute contingencies on the scale of those operations.  What we cannot do is embark on more decades long wars.  That is what we are tired of doing (and tired from doing).  

This is why I stress the strategy and the need to develop balanced and coherent ends, ways, and means.  I have heard no real strategy articulated by the proponents of Syrian intervention.  And I fear from what little I know about the situation in Syria that if we were to intervene for any of the reasons I have heard ( from securing WMD to ousting Assad to to a no-fly zone to supporting resistance groups)  we will end up with another Iraq 2 and/or Afghanistan. The only way to avoid another long term commitment of major combat forces is to get the strategy right (or as close to right as possible) at the beginning and be honest in our analysis about the likelihood of a long term commitment.  

So in the end I agree you can and will march to the sound of the guns and I agree that we are tired of decade long commitments but if we get the strategy right (based on sound policy) then we can do what is necessary to support out national security objectives (assuming again someone can articulate them in terms of Syria). And objective strategic analysis might lead to the opposite conclusion: e.g., perhaps we should not intervene.

Analysis: No good military options for U.S. in Syria

3:50pm EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite President Barack Obama's pledge that Syria's use of chemical weapons is a "game changer" for the United States, he is unlikely to turn to military options quickly and would want allies joining him in any intervention.

Possible military choices range from limited one-off missile strikes from ships - one of the less complicated scenarios - to bolder operations like carving out no-fly safe zones.

One of the most politically unpalatable possibilities envisions sending tens of thousands of U.S. forces to help secure Syrian chemical weapons.

Obama has so far opposed limited steps, like arming anti-government rebels, but pressure to deepen U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war has grown since Thursday's White House announcement that President Bashar al-Assad likely used chemical weapons.

After fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon is wary of U.S. involvement in Syria. The president's top uniformed military adviser, General Martin Dempsey, said last month he could not see a U.S. military option with an "understandable outcome" there.

"There's a lot of analysis to be done before reaching any major decisions that would push U.S. policy more in the direction of military options," a senior U.S. official told Reuters.

That caution is understandable, given the experience of Iraq where the United States went to war based on bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. The Pentagon has made repeated warnings of the enormous risks and limitations of using American military might in Syria's civil war.


One form of military intervention that could to some extent limit U.S. and allied involvement in Syria's war would be one-off strikes on pro-Assad forces or infrastructure tied to chemical weapons use. Given Syria's air defenses, planners may choose to fire missiles from ships at sea.

"The most proportional response (to limited chemical weapons use) would be a strike on the units responsible, whether artillery or airfields," said Jeffrey White, a former senior official at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency and a Middle East expert who is now a defense fellow at the Washington Institute For Near East Policy.

"It would demonstrate to Assad that there is a cost to using these weapons - the problem so far is that there's been no cost to the regime from their actions."

It is not clear how the Syrian government would respond and if it would try to retaliate militarily against the U.S. forces in the region. U.S. military involvement would also upset Russia which has a naval facility on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

Another option that the Pentagon has examined involves the creation, ostensibly in support of Turkey and Jordan, of humanitarian safe areas that would also be no-fly zones off limits to the Syrian air force - an option favored by lawmakers including Senator John McCain of Arizona.

This would involve taking down Syrian air defenses and destroying Syrian artillery from a certain distance beyond those zones, to protect them from incoming fire.

Advocates, including in Congress, say a safe zone inside Syria along the Turkish border, for example, would give needed space for rebels and allow the West to increase support for those anti-Assad forces it can vet.
(Continued at the link below)

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