Wednesday, August 28, 2013


"WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the use of chemical weapons in attacks on civilians in Syria last week was undeniable and that the Obama administration would hold the Syrian government accountable for a “moral obscenity” that has shocked the world’s conscience. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking on Monday, accused Syria of cynical efforts to cover up what he called a “cowardly crime.” Mr. Kerry’s remarks came hours after United Nations weapons inspectors were allowed access to one of the alleged attack sites. In some of the most aggressive language used yet by the administration, Mr. Kerry accused the Syrian government of the “indiscriminate slaughter of civilians” and of cynical efforts to cover up its responsibility for a “cowardly crime.” Mr. Kerry’s remarks at the State Department reinforced the administration’s toughening stance on the Syria conflict, which is now well into its third year, and indicated that the White House was moving closer to a military response in consultation with America’s allies."
By MICHAEL R. GORDON and MARK LANDLER, "Kerry Cites Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use in Syria." The New York Times. 26 August 2013, in
"A war on chemical weapons has a built-in insanity to it. The problem is not chemical weapons, which probably can't be eradicated from the air. The problem under the definition of this war would be the existence of a regime that uses chemical weapons. It is hard to imagine how an attack on chemical weapons can avoid an attack on the regime -- and regimes are not destroyed from the air. Doing so requires troops. Moreover, regimes that are destroyed must be replaced, and one cannot assume that the regime that succeeds al Assad will be grateful to those who deposed him. One must only recall the Shia in Iraq who celebrated Saddam's fall and then armed to fight the Americans. Arming the insurgents would keep an air campaign off the table, and so appears to be lower risk. The problem is that Obama has already said he would arm the rebels, so announcing this as his response would still allow al Assad to avoid the consequences of crossing the red line. Arming the rebels also increases the chances of empowering the jihadists in Syria. When Obama proclaimed his red line on Syria and chemical weapons, he assumed the issue would not come up. He made a gesture to those in his administration who believe that the United States has a moral obligation to put an end to brutality. He also made a gesture to those who don't want to go to war again. It was one of those smart moves that can blow up in a president's face when it turns out his assumption was wrong. Whether al Assad did launch the attacks, whether the insurgents did, or whether someone faked them doesn't matter. Unless Obama can get overwhelming, indisputable proof that al Assad did not -- and that isn't going to happen -- Obama will either have to act on the red line principle or be shown to be one who bluffs. The incredible complexity of intervening in a civil war without becoming bogged down makes the process even more baffling".
George Friedman, "Obama's Bluff." Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 27 August 2013, in
The fact of the matter is, that the Americans and their allies the British and the French are for reasons, which would be characterized one-hundred years ago as 'prestige politics', are about to become involved, perhaps seriously involved in the Syrian morass. Having danced around intervening in the Syrian civil war for about two years now, last week's alleged chemical weapons attack by the Assad Regime or elements of the Assad regime has now seemingly pushed the Americans into a corner where they 'must' intervene. Regardless of the fact that any such intervention is most likely, at least in terms of its stated rationale bound do fail. Perhaps fail miserably. As the American defense expert, Anthony Cordesman cogently noted on Monday:
Chemical weapons alone are not a reason to use force. Even the most successful cruise missile strikes would not destroy Syria’s holdings. There is no credible chance the U.S. can locate or destroy Syria’s entire holding without a massive air campaign and some kind of presence on the ground. Even if the Assad regime has not done the obvious, and used the last few months to covertly disperse a large portion of its weapons, cruise missiles simply don’t have that kind of destructive power. 1
Given the above likely outcome of the upcoming air campaign, which is supported by the American online intelligence outfit, Stratfor, how possibly can any American military intervention, especially from the air, remedy the problem that the American President and his administration has boxed themselves into? Unless, one is itching to use any excuse to become involved overtly in the Syrian imbroglio (as I suspect is the case with the American Secretary of State, Senator Kerry), the 'let us bomb Syria because Assad used chemical weapons', has little or no logic to it. As Cordesman correctly notes: in the overall context of the over one-hundred thousand dead and several hundred thousand wounded, and several million refugees, why should last week's attack (assuming that Assad / elements of his regime did in fact launch said attack), change the dynamic of the prior policy of studied non-to-limited intervention by Washington and its allies? As was noted earlier this week in Joshua Landis' Syria Comment, the reasons why the West should avoid like the plague getting involved militarily in Syria are a legion:
The reasons why the US should avoid a wider intervention is that it has no partner within Syria or the international community to help shoulder the burden of nation-building. All the countries of the region want Washington to solve their Syria problem, but none want to send in troops. The Syrian opposition is dysfunctional and composed of over 1,000 militias, the strongest of which are radically pro-Islamist and virulently anti-American. Most are not prepared to work with the US or provide responsible government for the country. The barbarism of the Assad regime is horrifying, but the US cannot solve the bitter ethnic, sectarian, and factional rivalries in Syria. 2
The fact of the matter is, if (and even this hypothesis is not entirely proven) if, there ever was a time for the West to intervene militarily in Syria, that time has passed. Perhaps eighteen months ago, a policy of military intervention, would have worked and worked quickly. Now with the fragmentation of the opposition and the renewed strength of the regime on the ground, all bets are off. However, unfortunate that might appear given the horrible loss of life and destruction that is occurring in Syria, that is an empirical fact. Any series of American air and missile strikes will not change the dynamics as it relates to either the Assad regime or its opponents. As one American commentator noted yesterday:
"A limited bombing campaign against Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure is likely to produce the worst of all worlds: raising expectations and further involving the United States in the Syrian civil war without significantly altering the balance of forces on the ground". 3
It is the height of misfortune that the Western powers will have to burn their hands clutching the Syrian tar baby before discovering a fact which seems reasonably clear if one looks at the situation squarely in the face right at this very moment.
1. Anthony Cordesman, "Choosing the Right Options in Syria." Center for Strategic and International Studies. 26 August 2013, in
2. Joshua Landis, "Should the Use of Chemical Weapons Prompt a US Attack in Syria?" Syria Comment. 26 August 2013, in
3. Daniel Byman, "Syria Crisis and Military Action: What Should Be Done, Why and How." The Brookings Institute. 27 August 2013, in

Monday, August 26, 2013


"Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets. Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week. As the preparations gathered pace, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, warned that the world could not stand by and allow the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people “with impunity”. Britain, the US and their allies must show Mr Assad that to perpetrate such an atrocity “is to cross a line and that the world will respond when that line is crossed”, he said. British forces now look likely to be drawn into an intervention in the Syrian crisis after months of deliberation and international disagreement over how to respond to the bloody two-year civil war. The possibility of such intervention will provoke demands for Parliament to be recalled this week. The escalation comes as a direct response to what the Government is convinced was a gas attack perpetrated by Syrian forces on a civilian district of Damascus last Wednesday. The Assad regime has been under mounting pressure to allow United Nations inspectors on to the site to establish who was to blame for the atrocity. One international agency said it had counted at least 355 people dead and 3,600 injured following the attack, while reports suggested the true death toll could be as high as 1,300. Syrian state media accused rebel forces of using chemical agents, saying some government soldiers had suffocated as a result during fighting. After days of delay, the Syrian government finally offered yesterday to allow a team of UN inspectors access to the area. However, Mr Hague suggested that this offer of access four days after the attack had come too late. “We cannot in the 21st century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity, that people can be killed in this way and that there are no consequences for it,” he said. The Foreign Secretary said all the evidence “points in one direction”, to the use of illegal chemical agents by Assad regime forces. A Government source added that even if UN inspectors visited the site of the attack, “we would need convincing by the UN team that this was not the regime’s attack because we believe everything points to the fact that it was”.... The Prime Minister, however, is believed to have abandoned hope of securing any further meaningful response from the UN amid opposition from Russia. Labour said Parliament must be recalled if Mr Cameron was considering a military response, but Downing Street sources said this may not be necessary as the Prime Minister retained the right to act urgently if required. Mr Cameron will face criticism for any British military involvement from many MPs, who believe the Armed Forces are already overstretched and must not be committed to another distant conflict. Any retaliatory attack would be likely to be launched from the sea as the Syrian air force is judged to be strong enough to shoot down enemy jets".
Tim Ross & Ben Farmer, "Navy ready to launch first strike on Syria." The Daily Telegraph. 25 August 2013, in
After months, nay almost two years of discussions in the press and capitals of the Western Powers, the time it seems is coming when the same powers will abandon merely talking about employing the use of force and begin to employ force against the regime in Syria. Judging from what is being proposed, the military measures are those which more akin to say what the ex-Iraqi Dictator, Sadaam Hussein faced in the post-bellum, First Gulf War to the Second Gulf War (1991-2002), a series of pinpricks and isolated, air and missiles strikes, rather than a consistent endeavor to use military force to cripple and then oust the regime hic et nunc. As an unnamed official (probably the American National Security Advisor or Deputy National Security Advisor) quoted in to-day's Financial Times, noted:
"The three governments were considering a series of one-off strikes on Syrian regime military assets to make clear that much of the international community would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons in modern warfare, the official said. The official said that these strikes could take place as early as this week, but added that western allies were not planning a sustained military intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of the opposition rebels, something that has often been mooted in the past" 1.
The overall effect of such limited military intervention will be of course simply that: 'limited'. It will not change the overall calculus of the ongoing struggle between the regime and the opposition. It will faute de mieux, merely allow the Western Powers to 'save face' vis-`a-vis elements of its own and the international public opinion. Having been imprudent enough to introduce 'red lines', into its discussions of the Syrian Crisis, the Western Powers, the Americans in particular would look helplessly impotent and helpless if they failed to use force now, given the widespread belief that last week's gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus was delivered by the regime. Of course events being what they are, it could very well be that we will learn in x number of years hence that the gas attack was engineered precisely by the opposition in order to force the hand of the Western Powers. That is a supposition which at this stage cannot and apparently will not be proven nor disproven. All that one can indeed say is that on the surface at any rate, the proposed Western military intervention, will do little good, will (hopefully) do little harm and will accomplish little more than making bien-pensant Western public opinion feel better about itself. Something which au fond, says more perhaps about the limits of American power in the post bellumIraq, and approaching post bellumAfghanistan than anything else.
1. James Blitz, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Abigail Fielding-Smith, "West eyes air strikes on Syrian military." The Financial Times. 25 August 2013, in