|Commander K. + Cannon|
How would Commander Kelly advise President Obama on the current situation in Syria?
President Obama, though I did not vote for him, is my President too and I have great respect for the office that he holds. Decisions of war and peace are the most serious challenges that any President can face. These are the times that try men's souls and give American Presidents their grey hairs. Assad's regime has used chemical weapons on its own people (see...http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/moral-obscenity.html). A civil war has been raging there for three years with over 100,000 casualties -- more than in all Arab-Israeli wars combined. Neither side in the conflict is untainted by terrorist connections.
Assad is allied with Putin's Russia which has supplied millions worth of arms and the Mullahs of Iran where the centrifuges continue to spin. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has colorfully described America in the Middle East as acting like "a monkey with a hand grenade".
|What would Winston do?|
Second, I would counsel that he expand the range of military options.
What are the military options at the disposal of the U.S. Commander in Chief?
1) CRUISE MISSILE STRIKE. This is the one that everyone is talking about and the Syrians are expecting. U.S. Navy destroyers and submarines (including one form the UK) are already in place. The upside is that this is easy to execute and would cost no American/Coalition lives -- at least in the short term. The downside is that a series of cruise missile strikes were of limited military value when utilised by the Clinton administration. If cruise missiles are used against the chemical weapons stockpiles they risk many civilian deaths and will certainly cause collateral damage. They will stir up the hornet's nest but not rid us of the Assad regime.
2) A DECAPITATION STRIKE. Presuming that the CIA has any kind of accurate intelligence (granted a big "if"), there may be the possibility of a decapitation strike directly against Assad himself with either drones and/or cruise missiles. The upside of this would be swift regime change with relatively few Syrian casualties. The downside would be that much of the world would be horrified by the gross immorality and cynicism of the act. Assad, the brutal dictator would become a martyr for generations to come. Then again, how many people today remember JFK's role in the assassination of the Diem brothers in South Vietnam -- certainly few visitors to the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas (see http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/jfk-6th-floor-museum.html). Note, however, that this approach was tried and failed at the beginning of the 2003 war in Iraq.
|Commander K. with Lawrence|
St. Pauls, London
4) U.S. GROUND TROOPS. Let's face it, this is a non-starter for so many reasons. Reagan's deployment of U.S. Marines to Lebanon in 1983 followed by the death of 241 American servicemen was, perhaps, the greatest debacle of his administration. Our subsequent withdrawal led directly to Saddam Hussein's perception of the U.S. as a "paper tiger" with disastrous consequences. The use of U.S. ground forces would merely create "targets of opportunity" for Assad and all those hostile to the West. Any use of American ground forces would be tremendously unpopular at home and strategically foolish.
5) CYBER WARFARE. There is a Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) that is actively spreading disinformation throughout social media and the Internet right now. Do not, for example, trust anything you see on Facebook about what is going on in Syria right now! What are we doing to help counter the SEA and to undermine the Assad regime? Can we step up our Psy-Ops activities? Perhaps. The downside here is that this would largely target Syria economically and the Syrian Economy is already in a shambles after three years of civil war. Moreover, the economy and particularly the oil markets are likely to become a "second front" in any open conflict with Assad's Syria. Spiralling gas prices and the disruption of a fragile economic recovery are rightly viewed as the West's Achilles heal in this potential conflict.
6) AIR AND SEA BLOCKADE. This would involve A) the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria and B) a naval blockade of the country. The Syrian air force, Assad's main advantage over the Rebel army would be taken away. The flow of Russian arms into Syria would be stopped. This is the Python approach that would slowly constrict Assad's ability to fight the rebels. This strategy plays to U.S. military strengths in terms of air and naval power. It would cause the least collateral damage and civilian casualties. The downside is that it requires patience, determination and leadership which seem to be in short supply. It would also require the deployment of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean which would be a rich target for Assad's regime. Technically a blockade is an "act of war," but, then again, so is a cruise missile attack.
|Commander K. in Churchill War Rooms|
If pressed for a recommendation I would urge the President to pursue a combination of 1), 3), 5) and 6). Targeted cruise missiles would be useful in degrading the Syrian air forces, radar and airbases. Aid to the rebels must be increased in spite of their evident imperfections. Churchill said, "It's not only the good boys who help to win wars. It is the sneaks and stinkers as well." The only way for the U.S. to have any influence in the region is to pick a pony and resolutely stick with it. Non-intervention has already cost 100,000 lives. Cyber Warfare will be important as the SEA tries to kick into high gear to disrupt the West and its economy with propaganda of their own. We must also be careful about maintaining good relations with friendly powers such as Turkey who have long term interests in the region. The imposition of 6) will be required in order to effect lasting change in Syria.
If we yield to "war fever" as Churchill stated, we must expect "ugly surprises", reversals, hurricanes and disappointments. There will be a cost to our actions, but also to our continued inaction. If ultimately we do not have the intestinal fortitude to effect regime change with a coherent long term strategy for winning in Syria over a prolonged campaign, then the West is better off staying out.