Big Red Car here and I fear I hear the tocsin of war in the future for the United States. Worse still, I fear the US enters the Syrian conflict having lost the advantages of tactical surprise.
Let’s review the bidding a bit:
1. The Syrian civil war has been going on for over three years. This is not a new development.
2. The ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is a bastard and a despot and whatever inflammatory curses and invective you may desire to launch in his direction. He is the dynastic ruler of Syria and his father was cut from the same bolt of cloth. He is a murderous bastard. No surprises here.
3. The rebels in Syria are not Jeffersonian idealists but rather the junior varsity of bastards including Al Qaeda grass roots organizations. This is always the problem in the Middle East — witness Libya and Egypt. The rebels are as bad as the despots.
4. The Syrian people have been butchered to the tune of over 100,000 dead and perhaps as many as 125,000 dead including 1,300 persons killed recently by Sarin gas unleashed by the Assad regime.
5. The Syrians are the last Russian client state in the Middle East. The Russians are still smarting from Henry Kissinger’s prying the Egyptians from their camp in the aftermath 1973 War. Do not underestimate the Russian proclivity for starting mischief. They are still smarting from the Cold War. They came in second in the Cold War.
This is a very bad situation which is deteriorating rapidly.
Does America have a real national strategic interest in Syria?
The issue at its core is very simple — what is the American national strategic interest in Syria?
The Big Red Car will not try to answer this question but will allow you to wrestle with it. Begin to wrestle. Now.
Writing checks with your mouth that you cannot cash
One of the dilemmas in international affairs is the making of gratuitous statements which cannot subsequently be backed up.
The President, in an unfortunate turn of a phrase, uttered the statement that if the Assad regime in Syria used chemical weapons in its civil war it would be crossing a “red line” with “serious consequences”. Sounded very fierce and presidential at the time.
This is like your Mother asking you during a road trip when you and a sibling are misbehaving: “Do you want your Father to come back there?” Your Father is, of course, innocently piloting the station wagon or Suburban down the highway listening to NPR and thinking about playing golf. He has no more intention of “coming back there” than the Man in the Moon.
Nonetheless, the President promised serious consequences based upon crossing a red line, that has apparently now been crossed.
This brings us to the heart of the issue — WTF, Mr President, what now?
It seems to the Big Red Car that if you are going to make threats, then you should immediately develop a plan to act upon that threat being called.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, America’s top military chieftain four star General Martin E Dempsey, sent a letter to certain Congressman decrying the ability of America to engage in combat operations — even with limited means and objectives — in Syria without deploying substantial assets at a substantial cost. This may have encouraged Assad to think that the President’s statement was a head fake.
The US brought its complaint — the use of Sarin gas by the Assad regime resulting in the death of 1,300 Syrians and crossing the President’s “red line” — to the United Nations Security Council where the Russians and the Chinese gave it a thumbs down veto. An outcome that was perfectly predictable from the beginning and a total waste of time.
Absent a UN resolution, the Russians contend that any unilateral intervention in the Syrian civil war by the US and their allies, the British in particular, is a violation of international war. A bit ironic given the Russian invasion of Georgia some time ago. But I digress, sorry.
So now the US has telegraphed to any and all that it intends to engage in a punitive campaign against the Assad regime to show that it means business in the matter of red lines crossed. The US and the Brits intend to engage in a 2-3 day campaign of bombing military targets but have no desire to engage in regime change or to otherwise take an active role in the conflict. Just a few cruise missiles and maybe a few stealth bombers bombing. Not much to worry anyone about but enough to make the business of violating red lines a matter of concern.
What they have really done is to compromise any sense of tactical surprise. Tactical surprise being what made Pearl Harbor so devastating and the D-Day landings so effective. The enemy didn’t know it was coming, where, when and how much. Tactical surprise is a damn good thing to employ when asking soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to attack enemies. It reduces casualties.
So now the whole world knows what’s coming — when and in what proportion. But the world is not sitting on its hands like a bunch of spectators.
1. The price of oil has skyrocketed to the highest in 18 months. Big Red Car says, let’s cut the crap the US is in the Middle East for only two reasons: oil politics and Israel.
2. The Russians have admonished the US and the Brits to adhere to international war. Ironic, no? The Russians are not going to allow their last client state in the region to take a pummeling without some action on their part.
3. The Iranians have announced that if their buddies the Syrians are attacked, they intend to attack Israel. Poor Israel. So close to the United States and so far from God. Hey, they used to say that about Mexico. But it works for Israel also.
4. The Syrians have announced they do not intend to play the guileless pinata to the American and British cruise missile attack and that they intend to strike back. Cyprus and its British airfield are only 100 miles from Syria, a distance that Syrian jets can fly in less than ten minutes at wave top radar evading altitude. Keep your eye on this eventuality.
So there you have it, Old Sport.
1. In the next couple of days, the US and the Brits will engage in a military tantrum and destroy some military sites and hardware belonging to the Syrian regime but not enough to effect regime change or to tip the balance of power toward the rebels. They will ultimately find out that the Assad regime moved or hid all their goodies.
2. The attack will cost a bloody fortune at a time when the US is essentially broke.
3. The Syrian civil war will continue. The Syrians will continue to be butchered. Not much will really change.
4. The Iranians will have their bluff called and if they are not bluffing the consequences will be disastrous — Iran attacks Israel, Israeli goes for the Iranian nukes, the Iranians close the Straits of Hormuz, the Americans re-open the Straits with a massive Naval attack. Not good stuff.
5. The Russians are not going to sit on their hands.
So, now we circle back to the basic premise — what is the US strategic national interest in the Syrian civil war? Why are we so dopey as to forego tactical surprise by broadcasting our plans? Is the game worth the candle? Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Perhaps, more importantly, why does our President persist in making statements which will ultimately lead to war — the guy is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate after all. Why does Congress sit idly by while American blood and treasure are invested without their joinder? It is, after all, the exclusive right of the Congress to commit America to war, right?