Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"On Syria, even Washington's hawks don't want to go further than Obama!"

"...At this point, it is safe to say that -- short of definitive evidence of large-scale regime-directed chemical weapons use, or threats to Turkey, a U.S. treaty ally -- it is highly unlikely that the United States will intervene militarily in Syria's civil war. There are many reasons for this, including an American populace exhausted with nearly a dozen years of continuous warfare, senior military officials deeply opposed to an open-ended mission while still fighting in Afghanistan and confronting the threat of Islamic militants regrouping in southwest Libya, and a president who adheres to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates's semi-serious dictum: "Every administration gets one preemptive war against a Muslim country."However, the most significant explanation of America's unwillingness to attack Syria is that the level of military force that officials and policymakers are willing to employ would not materially change the outcome of the civil war. The threshold of force that would have to be used -- as well as the sheer numbers of advanced, lethal weapons that would have to be supplied to the armed opposition -- to assure the toppling of Assad, will not be forthcoming. The course and outcome of Syria's civil war is simply not that important of a national interest for the United States to take the lead and catalyze a military coalition or weapons-supplying role.
Even the most prominent and vocal advocate of intervention, Sen. John McCain, has proposed military options that would be wholly insufficient to defeat the Syrian Army, associated paramilitary forces, and foreign fighters....
When it comes to enhancing the lethality of the Syrian rebels -- beyond deciding who receives the weapons, or wondering where they go after Assad falls -- intervention advocates are also unwilling to provide the advanced weapons that could tip the battlefield in their favor. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez, has introduced legislation that would permit a range of lethal and non-lethal support to "properly vetted" opposition members, but "no man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) will be transferred as part of the assistance." Meanwhile, former State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter has proposed: "The key condition for all such assistance, inside or outside Syria, is that it be used defensively -- only to stop attacks by the Syrian military." Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice endorsed arming unified rebel groups "with defensive weapons," while Truman National Security Project president Rachel Kleinfeld proposed sending "antitank weaponry calibrated to pierce lower-grade Syrian armor, not higher-level Israeli, NATO, and U.S. tanks." I am not aware of a definitive categorization for "defensive" battlefield weapons, but providing them while withholding the MANPADS that the rebels demand does not increase the likelihood of a march on Damascus to end Assad's rule.
Syria intervention advocates rarely describe how modest military options or defensive weapons transfers would plausibly achieve some strategic objective -- which is almost never articulated. Rather, the goal of intervention is to "do something," while limiting America's exposure -- in troops, treasure, and reputation -- to the outcome. The U.S. military is exceptional at planning and conducting regime change campaigns, and the CIA could ensure that the rebels were supplied with the advanced offensive weapons necessary to defeat security forces loyal to the Assad regime. However, most advocates remain unenthusiastic about recommending that President Obama authorize any of the steps that would ensure Assad is removed from power. We are deluding ourselves if we believe that we need more time to "think through" U.S. military intervention options for Syria. We have an excellent understanding of what those options are, and a vast majority of officials, policymakers, and the American people do not believe they are worth the effort. ..."

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