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Sunday, September 01, 2013

That about sums it up

One of the few things that most people can agree upon regarding Syria is that there are few, if any, good choices... at least as far as foreign intervention of any sort goes.  Yet that doesn't stop people from holding forth very loudly and criticizing both action and inaction (often in the same, convoluted, rant).

I've actually taken to challenging taxi drivers, office pundits and amateur political analysts in cafes when I hear them carrying on about what should and/or shouldn't be done vis-à-vis Syria.

Like placing a piece of sheet music in front of an electrical guitar player, there is apparently no faster way to get a know-it-all to turn down the volume on their opinions than to ask them to 'play the melody' of their so-called solution.

It turns out pretty much everyone is big on criticizing what is or isn't being done, but when asked to outline specific alternatives (and the consequences of those alternatives), they get very quiet, very quickly.

To be clear, I don't envy President Obama his current position, having haplessly painted himself into a corner with last year's ill-advised 'red line' speech, and now having had to take a step back and pull Congress into the corner with him to wait for the paint to dry.  

I think that, probably for the first time, Vice President Joe Biden - standing off to the side while Obama slowly twisted in the wind - was genuinely relieved to hold an office with few, if any, real responsibilities.

As private citizens, we hope/trust that the free world's elected leaders have access to better intelligence, advisers and resources than we do when tackling the big problems.  Surely what looks like a Gordian Knot to us down here must have some sort of solution when viewed from the lofty heights of power... right?

So it is frustrating to hear the leader of the free world admitting in a globally broadcast speech that he wants to ask around a bit more before deciding what, if anything, can be done to punish Syria and keep them, and other despots, from repeating such a massacre.  

Yes, I can already hear some of you saying that in a democracy like the US, the Executive Branch can't act alone. The President has to consult with the people's elected representatives; the US Congress.  

And I accept that answer.  

But I can't help wondering why Obama didn't consult Congress two weeks ago while the bodies of the victims were still warm... or a week ago when his intelligence sources had concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Assad's regime had indeed carried out a massacre using chemical weapons.

So, lacking a ready solution from Washington, London or Paris, I've been scanning the media for someone - anyone - to offer sounder opinions than I've been hearing on TV or forming for myself.  And I've been coming up empty.

I can't conceive of a good plan, for action or inaction, that will have the smallest impact on Syria's (or any other player's) potential future use of unconventional weapons.  Short of performing an Etch-O-Sketch-esque reset of the whole sandbox (not a reasonable option at present) there just aren't any good plans.

But I did get a chuckle out of an observation, quoted in today's New York Times, provided by a Syrian citizen after watching Obama's speech on TV:

"... for Homs resident, Abu Bassam, 31, the only possible response was black humor.

Man, I wish Bush was the president,” he said. “He would have reacted right away. He may have invaded Cyprus or Jordan instead of Syria by mistake, but you know he would have done something at least.

That about sums it up.

Posted by David Bogner on September 1, 2013 | Permalink

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If the technology works, the answer to your question is here:
http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military/weapons/how-the-us-could-take-out-syrias-chemical-weapons-14826307

Shana tova!

Posted by: Moish | Sep 1, 2013 2:10:02 PM

Moish... that's science fiction. It's not that I don't think such weapons are in development (heck, some might even be deployed already). But there is no distance between military and civilian areas in most of the Syrian targets, so the idea of getting most of the WMDs, much less all of them is a pipe dream.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 1, 2013 4:09:56 PM

IMO The US should act against Iran and that will have a consequence if isolating Assad.

Posted by: Steven | Sep 1, 2013 4:19:21 PM

Steven... Okay, no problem. Are you or anyone in your immediate family serving in the US military in a combat role? Let me tell you that having skin in the game tempers ones appetite to 'act'. Iran and its proxies have the ability to inflict massive damage on anyone that attacks them. I'm not saying they won't have to be attacked. I'm just saying that Iran isn't going to be Iraq or Afghanistan. Not by a long shot.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 1, 2013 4:23:14 PM

Didn`t Russia supply Syria with the Sarin and the missiles and shells to deliver it? Is it a suprise that with so much Sarin and the means to deliver it, it was used despite international treaties. What to do? Degrade Syria`s offensive capability and supply the rebels with enough arms to keep the conflict going until Assad sees the need to negotiate on acceptable terms.

Posted by: Ed | Sep 1, 2013 5:11:55 PM

Ed... Ain't gonna happen. Not this year or any time in our lifetime. The French set up a tiny Alawite minority to rule over a largely Sunni population, and that ruling elite has ruled with a bloodthirstiness that can scarcely be believed. No, there are going to be some serious scores settled (what the poli-sci crowd is calling balance correction), and the west would be wise to stay out of it. And now that the jihad kids of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and various other groups have showed up to kick some secular government @ss, don't expect things to settle down any time soon.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 1, 2013 5:20:32 PM

I think Obama should bomb quickly. Just, to be fair, hit both sides.

Posted by: Fred | Sep 1, 2013 8:56:57 PM

Maybe the Assad extended family will never negotiate, but there could be some among the elite and high command that do not want to be led over the cliff by the Iranians and their surrogates. But if the heat isn`t turned up on the regime,we`ll never find out.A division of Syria into ethnic enclaves is a future possibility.

Posted by: Ed | Sep 2, 2013 2:42:30 AM

Ed... Are you suggesting that any outside force has the ability to turn up the heat on the Syrian government more than the rebels have already done? Not sure how. As to the suggestion that some outside power could come in and impose order by carving the country up into ethnic enclaves smacks of the worst remnants of colonial arrogance. The European powers made the mess, but now the locals have to come to some sort of arrangement that they can live with. If anyone tries to impose anything on them it will only lead to more fighting.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 2, 2013 9:16:03 AM

The rebels have been out gunned from the start and certainly since the Iranians and Russians became more heavily involved. Supplying the rebels with more firepower and degrading the Syrian AF by the US would be a start in turning up the heat. As for the enclaves, they might take place as each side consolidates its areas of strength. There have already been large population movements and expect more as the war intensifies.

Posted by: Ed | Sep 2, 2013 9:56:21 AM

They called Bush a chickenhawk. Obama's just a chicken.

Posted by: asb | Sep 3, 2013 2:10:06 AM

The best plan would have been to do what we did during the Iran-Iraq War in the '80's. Supply one side (then the Iraqis) with just enough to keep the war going for as long as possible, thus keeping both bad actors off the world scene for as long as possible. Not going to happen here, because a) the human rights violations won't go away, and b) Obama had to open his big mouth last year.

As a side note, Obama never seems to fail to respond to every international situation in the worst, most awkward way possible; and the reason he didn't go to Congress until now was because, as usual, he thought he knew what to do better than anyone else. I don't feel bad for him at all. He made his own bed, and is now having nightmares in it. And everyone knows it.

Posted by: psachya | Sep 3, 2013 11:43:07 PM

I guess this thread is a bit old but here's my 2 cents.

I think there are several things the US could do.
I would only favor airstrikes, like in Kosovo.

One thing the US could do is take out all of Syria's
missiles and as much of their rockets as possible and
their facilities for producing chemical and biological
weapons.

One could complement this by taking out Syria's airstrips.
My understanding is that much of Syria's resupply from Iran
comes by air.

This would be a set of limited attacks lasting a few days
and then that's it.

Obviously Assad would rebuilt the airstrips
but this would interfere with his resupply for a few months.
(The rebuilding would take less than a few month, assuming
he as the needed materials and equipment, but a large backlog
would be created in the interim which would hurt his operations
for months, not weeks.)

That's a reasonable cost to impose on him without threatening
him to the point that he would do something rash.

(If he does something rash, the US could then escalate to
taking out his air force and armor. So I don't think Assad
will want to go that route.)

Taking out Assad missiles greatly reduces his ability to project
power outside his border. It may be hard to rebuild the chemical
weapons plants in the midst of the civil war.

WMD is not nearly so threatening without a long-range
delivery platform.

If the US had acted quickly, they could have gone after the chemical
weapons themselves but now it is too late.

I don't think the US should get involved in the Syria's
civil war, but he should be made to pay a price: one that does
not decapitate his regime but one that, at a minimum, reduces his
ability to project power outside his borders.

My view is that none of this will actually happen, but
that's what I would have done.
-Jonathan

Posted by: Jonathan | Sep 22, 2013 5:57:04 AM

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