ON 'RED LINES' BEING CROSSED IN SYRIA: PART TWO
"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 www.nytimes.com.
"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 www.stratfor.com 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. 1Given 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. 2The 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". 3It 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 www.csis.com. 2. Joshua Landis, "Should the Use of Chemical Weapons Prompt a US Attack in Syria?" Syria Comment. 26 August 2013, in www.syriacomment.com 3. Daniel Byman, "Syria Crisis and Military Action: What Should Be Done, Why and How." The Brookings Institute. 27 August 2013, in www.brookings.edu.