“Prospects for a Western-led military strike on Syria appeared to grow Tuesday as the American defense secretary said United States forces were ready for any contingency, the British military drafted plans and the Arab League joined the powers that have accused the Syrian government of a mass killing of civilians last week with a chemical munitions attack,” the New York Times reports.
A bipartisan group of 66 former U.S. government officials and foreign policy experts today urged President Barack Obama to take a “decisive” approach in responding to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, through direct military strikes against key pillars of the regime and “accelerated efforts to vet, train, and arm moderate elements” of the opposition.
“Left unanswered, the Assad regime’s mounting attacks with chemical weapons will show the world that America’s red lines are only empty threats,” the group warned in an open letter. “It is therefore time for the United States to take meaningful and decisive actions to stem the Assad regime’s relentless aggression, and help shape and influence the foundations for the post-Assad Syria that you have said is inevitable.”
Signatories included exiled Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid, Elliott Abrams, Dr. Fouad Ajami, Paul Berman, Senator Norm Coleman, Stanford University’s Larry Diamond, Dr. Paula J. Dobriansky, Dr. Robert Kagan, James Kirchick, Bernard-Henri Levy, Dr. Robert J. Lieber, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Dr. Joshua Muravchik, Arch Puddington, Leon Wieseltier, and Dr. Radwan Ziadeh (right), a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
“Assad has emerged unscathed from every reprehensible escalation of violence he has committed against his own people,” says Ziadeh, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy:
The United States, in concert with an international coalition of the willing, must bring a hasty end to the Syria conflict and prevent horrific chemical attacks like those inflicted on Eastern Ghouta last week. Targeted airstrikes should be conducted and a no-flight zone enforced in order to protect civilians from further regime bombardment. Maybe then, the age of impunity in Syria could finally end and a new of era of hope and accountability could begin.
But the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Robert Satloff writes that Syria “offers no good options, only bad and worse – and the worst of all is victory by the Assad/Iranian/Hezbollah axis, which a brief but fiery barrage of cruise missiles is liable to bring about.”
“A global power thousands of miles away cannot calibrate stalemate to ensure that neither party wins; we have to prioritize the most negative outcomes and use our assets to prevent them,” he argues in Politico.
The Obama administration “faces two mortal dangers from Assad’s in-your-face chemical brazenness,” the Atlantic Council’s Frederic C. Hof writes in The New Republic: “doing nothing, for the edification of actors in Pyongyang and elsewhere; or checking-the-box militarily in a manner that permits Bashar al-Assad to proclaim victory. For a president who has tried to hold Syria at arms-length, hoping it would just go away, the moment of truth has arrived.”
Moral and deterrent value
“The world can ill-afford a reprise of the 1930s, when the barbarians were given free rein by a West that had lost its will to enforce global order,” the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens writes:
Yes, a Tomahawk aimed at Assad could miss, just as the missiles aimed at Saddam did. But there’s also a chance it could hit and hasten the end of the civil war. And there’s both a moral and deterrent value in putting Bashar and Maher on the same list that once contained the names of bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.
The U.S. needs more than an immediate response to the latest tragedy in Syria, says Brookings analyst Michael O’Hanlon.
“We need a long-term strategy. And while it will not be risk- or cost-free, it will be a far less daunting effort than either Iraq or Afghanistan, even if it will be substantially harder than launching a few cruise missiles,” he writes for Politico.
The Obama administration appears close to launching a series of surgical strikes on Syrian targets, but a key architect of the strategy is questioning its wisdom.
A former U.S. Navy planner responsible for an influential and widely-circulated proposal for surgical strikes tells The Cable that too much faith is being put into the effectiveness of surgical strikes with little discussion of wider goals.
“Tactical action in the absence of strategic objectives is usually pointless and often counterproductive,” said Chris Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “I never intended my analysis of a cruise missile strike option to be advocacy even though some people took it as that.”
“I made it clear that this is a low cost option, but the broader issue is that low cost options don’t do any good unless they are tied to strategic priorities and objectives,” he added. “Any ship officer can launch 30 or 40 Tomahawks. It’s not difficult. The difficulty is explaining to strategic planners how this advances U.S. interests.”
“Punitive action is the dumbest of all actions,” he said. “The Assad regime has shown an incredible capacity to endure pain and I don’t think we have the stomach to deploy enough punitive action that would serve as a deterrent.”