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?