We’re, what, T minus a few days from bombing Syria because, (says FP – emphasis added):
… in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services… And that is the major reason why American officials now say they’re certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime — and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days.
The revolution may have been televised, but the alleged violation of norms of customary international war will be Youtubed. The science is settled. But are they actually sure which intelligence service did the overhearing? You should listen to NPR interview Representative Mike Rogers (R – Michigan, HPSCI Chairman) and hear him stutter slightly about sources and methods. Rogers has received the full brief of everything we know about this ‘declared event’, but doesn’t Robert Siegel, who’s seen none of it (officially), seem much more confident about the narrative than Rogers, even to the point of seeming to feed him his lines?
Look, we could unpack, deconstruct, analyze, and tear apart what the FP and the rest of the allied official press are doing all day. Booooring. And to what end? None. The bombings are going to happen and nobody can stop it now, Insha’Obama. The Syrians know this and they’re doing the best they can to prepare.
Where should the allies strike in their advertised ‘limited, temporary’ way?
No, no, don’t try to evaluate this matter strategically in terms of geopolitics; it’ll just make you nauseous trying to decide which unknown devil is slightly less demonic than the others.
Instead, just assume with me and Luttwak that, whatever anyone does, some group of awful hellions is eventually (albeit temporarily) going to come out on top of this pile.
You shouldn’t really care about the extent of territory or population the new bosses will tyrannize. That’s not very Realpolitik.
You should care about the nation-state capabilities to which these folks will win access along with their victory. And not just the victors, but when the ability of the regime to secure its special facilities collapses and the situation becomes a chaotic free for all, anyone first past the post in the mad scramble to loot the arsenals will obtain some very nice and dangerous trophies.
Like, for instance, the materials and arms of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Program. (Small and medium guided missiles, alas, all already all over the place).
Now, putting aside the question of whether or not anyone in the regime military chain of command actually ordered the use of any of these weapons, and whether those orders were executed, there is little doubt that the SCWP exists and has is its possession some very nasty stuff. Including the equivalents of the good ol’ M687.
You just don’t want anybody getting their hands on that stuff, or anything in the supply-chain leading up to it, and unless you destroy it (oh, I don’t know, sometime in the next week?) somebody awful will. Your Counter-Terrorism advisers are also ready and keen to tell you exactly who that might be and exactly how long it will take them to get it to lower Manhattan or Le 1er arrondissement de Paris.
So, that’s what you should bomb. And, since there are only really a few handfuls of Syrian chemical ammunition supply points, research laboratories, and manufacturing facilities, this really would be a ‘limited, temporary’ campaign. And after ‘punishing’ them and ‘sending a message’ with a ‘strong international response’, you can let all the proxies of proxies go back to annihilating each other for the sake of themselves and their sponsors with a little less long-term anxiety.
And not less anxiety just for the allies, but for everybody in the region. In fact, maybe that’s what certain local nations wanted all along. It’s not that they particularly object to the idea of their being a Syrian Regime more-or-less of the structure it was before Mohamed Bouazizi turned himself into the spark that set off the forest fire (as usual with forest fires, the particular spark itself was inconsequential because inevitable, it was the long-term building up of combustible fuel that created the danger).
In fact, most players in the game would like Syria to have something like the Egyptian-Junta which can be bought off with aid to maintain peace and stability, and which will keep the Jihadis and other fanatics under their thumbs. They just don’t want that junta to have special weapons (which might neutralize certain ‘qualitative military edges‘), and to stop suckling from Iran to feed Hezbollah. A harmless kind of North Jordan would be fine.
So find and bomb all the CBRNE in Syria to smithereens, then let the fight resume until only one side has any military aged males left. That’s probably the best outcome from an allied perspective. And really, who’s the say that wasn’t the plan all along?
The problem being war is walking into a Dark Room.
most players in the game would like Syria to have something like the Egyptian-Junta which can be bought off with aid to maintain peace and stability
“We” had that! Who is Assad? He sure looks like that—a conventional, moderate Middle Eastern authoritarian. And if “we” wanted to be able to buy people off, why are “we” going around deposing, imprisoning, and sodomizing with bayonets the people “we” previously bought off? It seems like a fair bet that “we” aren’t particularly trying to do any of the things Handle wants done.
The best plan from the perspective of basic sanity and human decency is to go back in time and not start the ridiculous war in the first place. But “we” seem to lack those characteristics.
“We” didn’t have that. Iran had that.
i honestly dont see what the diff is in this case. assad had no possible interest in doing anythign against US security. his beef etc is with israel and others in the region. he presented NO threat to the US unless your defintion of US is the oh so boring one that includes Israel.
i guess this is where i hop off this blog.
Apparently the weapons are not likely to be located and disabled.
The Syrian military has the capacity to hit American and British bases in the region using its arsenal of Scud B missiles, but analysts believe Bashar al-Assad’s regime is more likely to respond indirectly to any Western strike.
This could entail staging attacks on neighbouring American allies such as Turkey and Jordan, or even action by groups supported by Syria’s key ally and regional power, Iran.
“They [the Syrian regime] don’t want a new front, a new war,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria academic with good contacts in Assad’s ruling Alawite sect. “A third-party assassination, or a car bomb or two, that is much more likely.”
Israeli officials claim that Syria has missiles aimed at almost every part of Israel and the disputed Golan Heights. Israel has responded to the perceived Syrian missile threat by improving its Arrow Missile Defense system
Obviously missile defense is not fully effective – not that I ever heard of.
It seems Alawi have a deterrent and no one wants to * with them existentially. No, if they get in real trouble I think someone, actually everyone, will help them. The idea is to weaken them/ deprive them of inland Syria.
Also, it seems to me they may actually have done the recent attacks, though more likely not. The reason for that possibility, is that they do not look exceding weak to me: it seems they can deter genocide, and, maybe, invasion. But I kind of doubt they really want to get into the latter scenario. So, they probably did not do the recent gas attacks (or, some subordinate commander was bribed to do it, or had some particularist passion).
Modern Phased-Warfare 101: Regardless of what you eventually want to blow up, the first things you blow up is the capacity of your foe to blow things up. Especially if those things belong to you, or your friends. Most especially if they would destroy or impede your subsequent attacks, capacity to maintain close stand-off, or even eventually make contact under cleared avenues of approach.
Over to you hot-shot. Tell us where you think the tomahawks will land first.
Well, I see your point. But even if you can get air supremacy (I assume so), can you eventually apprehend most of the chem missiles without invading by ground? I don’t know. Apparently the below was the state of the art some decades ago:
Coalition air forces were also extensively exercised in “Scud hunts” in the Iraqi desert, trying to locate the camouflaged trucks before they fired their missiles at Israel or Saudi Arabia. On the ground, special operations forces also infiltrated Iraq, tasked with locating and destroying Scuds. Once special operations were combined with air patrols, the number of attacks fell sharply, then increased slightly as Iraqi forces adjusted to Coalition tactics.
Maybe there is more detail to this than I thought. One consideration is that the Iraqi units might perhaps have been liquid-fueled. A source I cited above says such fueling takes a long time and that Syria now has some solid-fueled stuff.
The (conventional) scuds that landed in Gulf War I certainly didn’t do much in the grand scheme of things, though they did come close to provoking invasion by Israel, which US was very anxious to avoid. Maybe affordable missiles have improved since then, maybe not.
The Scud missiles targeting Israel were relatively ineffective, as firing at extreme range resulted in a dramatic reduction in accuracy and payload.
Apparently chems were not used. It was feared that Iraq would fire missiles filled with nerve agents or sarin. Maybe Iraq was keeping that to deter invasion of Baghdad? –Rank speculation. They did use a lot of missiles and a lot of chems on Iran in that other war, not without effect — but I’m not sure if they used chemical missiles.
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We can’t destroy chemical munitions with bombs (well, not without setting them off and dispersing them over a potentially very large region.) Correction: we could with tactical nukes, but Obama won’t use them. The Air Force has been trying to develop penetrator warheads to take out chemical munitions for 10+ years, but they still haven’t proven effective. While you are correct that “we” didn’t have Assad, it was possible that Russia could have drawn him away from Iran. Just because he was in Iran’s pocket didn’t mean he had to or wanted to stay there, given a moderately attractive alternative. This is what Putin’s hope has been all along, since Russia sees the Muslim Brotherhood with a nation-state as the real threat. This of course is also the primary threat to the U.S. and Western interests, but Obama is a schmuck. Fortunately Putin figured out early in the Obama Presidency what a schmuck Obama is, and hasn’t been drawn into the Obamacrat idiocy. Unfortunately just because Putin is the enemy of the enemy Obama likes to pretend is our friend, doesn’t mean Putin’s interests are U.S. interests. It would be a lot better if the U.S. had some dog in this fight, but unfortunately Obama is a schmuck. At this point Obama has burned all possible diplomatic solutions for the U.S., so either Russia manages to work out something on its own (still a possibility, though the results probably will not be in long-term U.S. interests) or bad things happen.
As a global hegemon, the grand strategy of the U.S. is to prevent any regional hegemon from challenging U.S. supremacy. Balance-of-power politics in the Middle East worked for years, first for the British and then for the U.S. which took over. However following 9/11 Bush switched to a strategy of making the U.S. (or U.S. protectorates) the regional hegemon. Geostrategically, Iraq was a great candidate for this. However the Clinton-legacy military and defense apparatus systematically screwed the pooch, and Bush went along with their advice (and even foolishly doubled down.) By the time the military managed to get credible warfighters into positions where they could win (the surge), Bush was on his way out and it was too late to achieve any real geostrategic position in the region. Obama, being from the Alinsky school of politics, has no concept of strategy, only tactics. His tactic has been to universally promote the destruction of existing social orders, in the liberal-magical “hope that something better comes along,” which is a great song for the Muppets but a grand schmuck up for our schmuck of a U.S. President.
Anyways, as usual I feel I am largely in agreement with you; citing Luttwalk is a good move. However, I wanted to point out that the chances of being about to safely destroy Syria’s chemical munitions from the air are slim to none given proven existing technology. Of course, the PAW or crashPAD weapons _might_ work, this time. Maybe.
I suspect the best case scenario is that Putin gets Assad to bend over in exchange for meaningful support putting down the rebellion, probably with some conversation along the lines of, “You know Bashar, a couple tactical nukes would really sort you out if it came down to cases, and everyone knows Russia has trouble keeping track of that sort of thing, it would be a shame if a few ended up in the hands of some of your enemies” and Putin may have the credibility to make a threat like that stick.