Some questions before we bomb Syria

Posted by: Phineas on August 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm

**Posted by Phineas

Syria_Topography

Threat Matrix, the blog of The Long War Journal, has some questions that need answering before President Obama, having decided Syria has crossed his ill-advised “red line,”  gives the “go” order. Here are a few of most interest to me:

3. Is there a possibility that the Aug. 21 attack was an accidental hit — of chemical stocks belonging to either the regime or the rebels — by the undisputed massive regime bombardment in the area at the time? It is known that the regime has been frequently moving its chemical weapons to keep them out of rebel hands, and it is also known that rebel fighters, including al Qaeda-linked groups, have sought and reportedly had access to chemical weapons also. The Al Nusrah Front is known to have pursued chemical weapons; credible reports of the group plotting to conduct sarin and mustard gas attacks have emerged from Iraq and Turkey over the past several months.

(…)

6. The regime has much to lose by mounting chemical weapon attacks, and especially while UN inspectors are in country and the world’s eyes are turned toward Syria. Why now? Is the basic vagueness of the US’s accusation due to a Western decision that now is the time to intervene militarily, regardless of who perpetrated the attack, since there is clearly a very distinct danger of the spread of chemical warfare in the region at this point?

…and…

8. What happens if the US actually succeeds in killing Assad and overthrowing the government? Will Islamist terror groups such as the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq dominate the political scene in Syria, as they have dominated the fighting? Is that in the best interests of the US and the West, or, for that matter, those of Syria and the region? The West’s efforts for a resolution to the conflict in Syria ultimately hang upon the fragile hope that moderate forces will prevail, in a situation where the two strongest forces, the Assad regime and its largely Islamist opponents, each offer only harsh alternatives.

These are darned good questions, especially that last one. In one sense, it’s easier to deal with brutal, but secular, dictators; one can find mutual interest and cut a deal, even if that interest is simply survival. But apocalyptic minded fanatics who think conquering or destroying you is a divinely ordained mission? They simply don’t operate in the same paradigm we do, and coming to a genuine modus vivendi (other than “we surrender”) is usually impossible.

In the Telegraph, Tim Stanley asks a question related to number six, above: Why would Assad do something that would guarantee Western intervention in a war he’s winning?

Second, why would the Assad regime do something so stupid? It must know that by using chemical weapons it would isolate itself from any international support and invite a Western military response. More importantly, Assad was already winning the war – so why bother to use WMDs during the last lap to victory? Indeed, the only people who have anything to gain by Assad using chemicals are the rebels, because that would internationalise the conflict in a way that they have long lobbied for.

And yet there is a good case for intervention. Daniel Hannan weighs the arguments pro and con from a British national-interests point of view and, while he finds the interventionist arguments inconclusive, he concedes their strengths. Meanwhile asking a question for the pro-interventionists, Jim Geraghty (sorry, newsletter only) asks: If Assad has used chemical WMDs, are we prepared to accept the consequences of doing nothing:

The world has actually made good progress at eliminating existing stockpiles of chemical weapons. Most regimes have concluded the diplomatic and public relations cost isn’t worth keeping their aging stockpiles around. But . . . if an embattled regime like Assad’s successfully uses them to put down an insurrection with no major consequence short of rote international denunciation . . . how quickly will the cost-benefit calculus change? How certain could we be that Pyongyang, or some other embattled regime, wouldn’t feel the temptation? These sorts of weapons are cheap and relatively easy to make using regular civilian chemical equipment.

That’s not an easily dismissed possibility. It’s not for nothing that chemical weapons have been called the “poor man’s nukes.”

I myself have no good answers, though I’ve favored some sort of limited intervention since the civil war started, since hurting Assad hurts his patrons in Iran, the real source of much of the trouble in the Middle East and which, as Michael Ledeen persuasively argues, should be the focus of our efforts.

As for the administration having the answers…. Heck, I doubt they’ve even asked the right questions.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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9 Responses to “Some questions before we bomb Syria”

Comments

  1. Drew the Infidel says:

    In “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu states, “All warfare is based on deception” as one of his lead tenets. This will be the first mistake the Obhammud administration will make due to the fact they cannot STFU about delicate items. Al-Qaeda is sitting patiently waiting for our globally broadcast ’14 withdrawal date from Afghanistan to eventuate.

    The administration is talking up the fact an engagement in Syria will be over in two days. On what intel is this based? There is no way this may be unequivocally stated. Again Sun Tzu, “There is no instance of a country having benefitted from a prolonged war.”

    As stated above, if Assad goes, will his eventual replacement be more desirable or in our best national interest? Case in point, will someone be so kind as to refresh my memory on what was so wrong with our ally Mubarak?

  2. Tango says:

    …Drew, you don’t get it. These people (the Obama entourage) are the smartest people in the room. How can this (stupidity) possibly fail?

  3. Steve Skubinna says:

    Obama’s out of his depth. He knows nothing about foreign policy and cares even less. His big mouth “red lined” him into having to do something about Syria, despite the fact that there is no good outcome for us whatever happens there, and despite that anything he does will be to the benefit of equally bad people.

    Anyway, let’s just wait for the massive protests as the antiwar left takes to the streets… yep, any second now… get ready, here they come… getting those giant papier mache puppet heads all set…

  4. JoyO says:

    The war in Syria is a war between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims– both of which hate us as much as they hate Israel. The Administration has done little about the 160,000 Syrians killed by guns, bombs, etc.; yet, it is going to bomb because chemical weapons were used to kill 2,000 people. Why are these killings so much more important than the other deaths? Is the President going to get Congress to vote on this or is this going to be another one of his unilateral violations of our Constitution? If Congress continues to let him violate our Constitution, we will be lucky to still have a Constitution in 2016 when Obama is supposed to leave office. Read Article II, Section 4.

  5. Carlos says:

    and coming to a genuine modus vivendi (other than “we surrender”)

    The rest of that parenthesis should read: “…until we can regain enough strength to continue this fight.”

    The Muslims never, ever give up on a war, only giving ground when it’s to their advantage.

  6. Great White Rat says:

    Regarding Tim Stanley’s question, there’s some question whether it was Assad the Reformer who used the chemical weapons. There’s some evidence, albeit inclusive, that the rebels did it precisely to provoke the sort of intervention Obama is considering.

    In any case, JoyO found the most relevant point:

    The war in Syria is a war between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims– both of which hate us as much as they hate Israel

    Bingo. If there were any actual pro-western and democratic groups trying to take out Assad, I’d look for ways to help. That’s not the case. No matter who wins, we will have a dedicated enemy in charge in Damascus. So as far as I’m concerned, let them kill each other off.

  7. ST says:

    Steve wrote:

    Anyway, let’s just wait for the massive protests as the antiwar left takes to the streets… yep, any second now… get ready, here they come… getting those giant papier mache puppet heads all set…

    Heh …

  8. ST says:

    GWR wrote:

    Bingo. If there were any actual pro-western and democratic groups trying to take out Assad, I’d look for ways to help. That’s not the case. No matter who wins, we will have a dedicated enemy in charge in Damascus.

    Sad but true. Usually just trading one poisonous apple for another. :(

  9. ALman says:

    I draw no consolation that Obama is on the verge of “playing” with our national firearms.