Syria: A mission destined for failure

posted at 10:01 am on August 28, 2013 by Bruce McQuain

One of the first things any military commander must do is define the mission clearly and succinctly. It must have a goal and that goal must be achievable with the assets the commander is willing or able to commit to the mission.

What it shouldn’t be is some nebulous one-over-the-world hand wave of a mission driven by politics and open to interpretation. Unfortunately, it appears that’s precisely the type mission the Obama administration is ginning up for Syria according to the NY Times:

President Obama is considering military action against Syria that is intended to “deter and degrade” President Bashar al-Assad’s government’s ability to launch chemical weapons, but is not aimed at ousting Mr. Assad from power or forcing him to the negotiating table, administration officials said Tuesday.

“Deter and degrade” are open to interpretation and Syria could and likely would initiate another chemical attack after the US attacks just to point out that they’re neither deterred or degraded.

Here’s the problem:

The strikes would instead be aimed at military units that have carried out chemical attacks, the headquarters overseeing the effort and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks, according to the options being reviewed within the administration.

An American official said that the initial target lists included fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are deployed. The list includes command and control centers as well as a variety of conventional military targets.

A) We’ve told them where we’ll strike.  Since it is a limited strike and it is going to be against specific units, Syria has the option of dispersing them, an option I’m sure they’ll take.  They’ll also likely disperse them in to highly populated urban areas where they can.

B) We’ve told them what we’re going to strike.  Since they have thousands of artillery pieces capable of firing chemical shells, it is unlikely a limited strike is going to even seriously dent that capability.  Moving artillery into the cities would likely deter the US more than the US would deter Syria.  Helicopters can be moved as well.  They don’t need long runways. Other aircraft will be dispersed  And finally, command and control are easily moved and dispersed.

C) We’ve told them how we’re going to strike.  It is clear that if an attack does happen it is not something that is supported by the majority of the American people for various reasons.  Couple that with a seemingly risk averse commander and you can pretty well define how this will happen – missiles.  Specifically Tomahawk missiles.  Given our history of their use, you can pretty much guess at what and where they’ll be aimed.

D) We’ve pretty well told them it won’t be much of a strike.

Perhaps two to three missiles would be aimed at each site, a far more limited unleashing of American military power than past air campaigns over Kosovo or Libya.


Well even the administration knows this is a recipe for failure so they immediately engage is a classic attempt to lower expectations:

Some of the targets would be “dual use” systems, like artillery that is capable of firing chemical weapons as well as conventional rounds. Taking out those artillery batteries would degrade to some extent the government’s conventional force — but would hardly cripple Mr. Assad’s sizable military infrastructure and forces unless the air campaign went on for days or even weeks.

The goal of the operation is “not about regime change,” a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said Tuesday. Seeking to reassure the public that the United States would not be drawn into a civil war in the Middle East, and perhaps to lower expectations of what the attack might accomplish, Obama administration officials acknowledged that their action would not accomplish Mr. Obama’s repeated demand that Mr. Assad step down.

And what would we accomplish?  Well likely the opposite of what we hoped would happen – deterrence and degradation.  Assad would be invited to prove the US wasn’t successful in either by doing what?  Using chemical weapons once again.  His reasoning would be that since he’s being accused of doing so, and supposedly punished for doing so, there’s no reason not to do it again.

Then what?


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1. Obama doesn’t like Israel.
2. Syria has said that an attack on them will result in an attack by them on Tel Aviv.
3. Obama strikes Syria inducing an attack on Israel.

Is that the plan?

Charlemagne on August 28, 2013 at 10:12 AM

If there are attacks by sleepers on US soil, that must be seen as one of the foreseeable consequences of attacking Syria, and therefore, a possible goal.

After all, anyone who is critical of Ojackass will be painted as being on the side of the enemy and the terrorists. DHS and other govt agencies, not to mention the Pentagon and West Point, have already defined white Christians who are prolife, advocate liberty and small govt, particularly those who are combats veterans, as potential domestic terrorists.

The feds aren’t handing out all those MRAP’s to be used as door stops.

Akzed on August 28, 2013 at 3:35 PM

I would do as any smart dictator would do, surround the sites with “volunteer citizens” and dare Obama to strike.

If he wants to help, and I don’t know why he would- since Assad is killing AQ and AQ is killing Iran SF and other special units (seriously- is there any better win-win for us?), then he will have to challenge the airpower of Syria, which means picking sides and killing pilots.

Not good.

Stay out. Turn off the TV so you can’t hear McCain and go golfing before you really screw something up…again!

archer52 on August 28, 2013 at 4:01 PM

If deterence is what is wanted, it would seem best to generate some fear ala “Shock and Awe”. A few missiles chucked at pre-announced and thus empty targets would likely be of an “Aw Shucks” and generate contempt that could lead to further chemical strikes when needed and the fear will be in the rebels not Assad.

KW64 on August 28, 2013 at 4:03 PM

I honestly don’t see what the U.S.’s interest is in attacking Syria.

It’s not like we are supporting a potentially better, western-friendly gov’t. What Syria will end up with after Assad is worse.

There is absolutely zero U.S. interest here. Instead of discouraging chemical weapons use, we should be encouraging both sides to use as much as they can on each other.

that would both deplete anti-western individuals and chemical weapons stockpiled in Syria – which would be a win-win.

Not sure what attacking Syria will accomplish.

It’s not as if anyone in the world will see a weak attack on Syria and suddenly think that Obama is a serious foreign policy guy – nobody on the world stage respects him or cares what Obama says or does. They know he is stupid and a pushover, so any limited strike is going to be met with nothing but eye rolls.

It would actually be a stronger position for Obama to refuse to do it and say – there is no U.S. interest here. That would show some backbone at least. Cowing to international pressure to make a silly gesture will just make Obama look as weak as everyone already thinks he is.

Monkeytoe on August 28, 2013 at 4:27 PM

How stupid is this administration? A 5 year old doesn’t tell someone they’re going to hit them – they just do it. Our soldiers in another war where there is no objective, no goal, and no finish. Our Dem administration may think applying drones to take out certain enemies is just a video game but this deal with Syria is no video game.

This one is serious. Forget arguments of how we got here in the first place but if you’re going to strike, strike hard enough to force all players to back off and try again. This administration is ______________

MN J on August 28, 2013 at 4:32 PM

Syria has junk Russian weapons which is 30 years behind our military technology… We have the most effective and swiftest military solution for every surface to air missile or surface to sea missile that Syria has… We do see every movement, every radar system, every missile battery, that the Syrian have, and we see it in a live time… Our basic military principle is simple: We see the enemy and the enemy is dead… We can certainly see the Syria military divisions, its equipment, and its movements…


Wow! There is so much wrong with your assertions that I don’t know where to start. So I’ll just comment what I had posted on earlier, Syria’s ability to threaten American aircraft and Naval vessels.

Syria has up to date SA-10s and are suspected of have SA-21 Russian anti-air system. The SA-10, or S-300 family of antiaircraft systems are considered the best in the world, at least on par and possible better than our PATRIOT systems. The SA-21 or S-400 is mostly unknown but suspected of being even better than the S-300.

The anti-shipping missiles, the P800 Yakhont supersonic anti-ship missile are among the best in the world and the only ones that are supersonic with more than enough range to kill any ships get too close. If we have air strikes we will have American ships standing off the Syrian coast in case they need to rescue flyers that get hurt.

Syria has first class hardware, the only question is how well trained are the people using that hardware? I’m afraid that most of those operators will be Russians or possibly Chinese and not Syrian.

I assume you are able to document your claims? would you please cite your source? Give us the date, author, title of the article, & title of the publication or website?

Thank you.

E9RET on August 28, 2013 at 4:39 PM

This is a disaster. Do you think Syrians are going to forget that they suffered American air strikes on behalf of Al Qaida?

David Blue on August 28, 2013 at 4:46 PM

DHS and other govt agencies, not to mention the Pentagon and West Point, have already defined white Christians who are prolife, advocate liberty and small govt, particularly those who are combats veterans, as potential domestic terrorists.

Akzed on August 28, 2013 at 3:35 PM

That’s consistent. The American air strikes in Syria are going to be against the side that tolerates Christians. And in Iraq, Christians were essentially destroyed, and America didn’t say “boo!” And in Afghanistan, under the constitution Americans died for, if a Muslim converts to Christianity he is to be put to death.

Practically speaking, 21st Century America is increasingly anti-Christian.

David Blue on August 28, 2013 at 4:52 PM

E9RET on August 28, 2013 at 4:39 PM

The Israelis had no difficulty taking out that Syrian reactor project a couple years ago. Assad’s Russian SA gear didn’t stop them. Is what they have now significantly better?

dogsoldier on August 28, 2013 at 5:16 PM

archer52 on August 28, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Move all the gear out and turn the facility to a daycare center and school without telling anyone.

Instant U.S. atrocity in the making. All of this to either keep Zero from looking stupid week or did I mention stupid? AND to get all the scandals out of the news.

dogsoldier on August 28, 2013 at 5:20 PM

“But, but, but !!!, What about all the Baby Milk factories ????!!!!

——- CNN’s “Propaganda Pete” Arnett

viking01 on August 28, 2013 at 5:24 PM

dogsoldier on August 28, 2013 at 5:20 PM

“week” should read “weak.”

dogsoldier on August 28, 2013 at 5:39 PM

That aircraft carrier is exactly the sort of target a Russian made anti-ship missile can damage or destroy. If that happens there is no way to predict how big the thing could get and who might be involved. Think this through Mr. Obama and no more bluster and posturing please.

Mason on August 28, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Dude, this administration can’t even do a missile strike right.

Count to 10 on August 28, 2013 at 7:33 PM




gordo on August 28, 2013 at 8:18 PM

The Israelis had no difficulty taking out that Syrian reactor project a couple years ago. Assad’s Russian SA gear didn’t stop them. Is what they have now significantly better?

dogsoldier on August 28, 2013 at 5:16 PM

That could have been because the Russian SA stuff wasn’t up to the task.

Or it could have been because the Syrian operators were incompetent.

Or it could have been because it was a surprise in and out quick limited surgical strike with a single objective. A very well trained very low and fast flying team that is willing to accept the loss of a few aircraft to take out a target like a reactor might accomplish that.

Or it could have been a combination of all three. Who knows?

This time they know we are coming. It won’t be as much of a surprise. And it won’t be a single quick in and out strike with a single target. Unless it’s all cruise missiles there would probably be multiple manned aircraft missions and multiple targets over three days.

The usual US doctrine is take out air defense command and control and major surface-to-air facilities first, with cruise missiles and stealth bombers, in preparation for extensive bombing by non-stealthy aircraft. However, from what I’ve read about Syria’s air defense system, that is a big job. And it would certainly extensively degrade Syria’s military capabilities, leaving Syria at the mercy of Israel Air Force.

Considering all of this, the “message” may be sent only with cruise missiles, stealth bombers, and other stand-off weapons. I cannot see us sending manned US aircraft into serious harms way, which is what we would be doing if we do not completely take out Syria’s air defenses before sending non-stealthy aircraft into its air space.

farsighted on August 28, 2013 at 10:55 PM

We should back the rebels and allow the Russians to back Assad. The Syrians should fight each other until one side or the other wins.

Then we should bomb whoever is left.

schmuck281 on August 29, 2013 at 12:53 AM

A bomb to nowhere.

Hey, let’s use the new “CoatHolder” dual purpose munition.

Mojave Mark on August 29, 2013 at 7:03 AM

The feds aren’t handing out all those MRAP’s to be used as door stops.

Akzed on August 28, 2013 at 3:35 PM

You might be surprised how fast an MRAP turns into a door stop all by itself (ibid).

runawayyyy on August 29, 2013 at 9:18 AM

The Israelis had no difficulty taking out that Syrian reactor project a couple years ago. Assad’s Russian SA gear didn’t stop them. Is what they have now significantly better?


Sorry, didn’t mean to ignore your question, didn’t see it until today. That’s a good question. Up till now I’ve only commented on the capabilities and hardware that Syria has. A lot of it’s effectiveness depends on the operators. I think that until now the operators have been Syrians and their level of training and responsiveness have been….”lacking.”

I can remember during the first Gulf War that I was astonished to learn that Saudi anti-air sites were essentially “closed” for the weekends. They had some low level enlisted guy manning the site without the authority to launch in the event of an attack.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same kind of unprofessionalism in Syria.

I can easily imagine that some Russian military intelligence drooling over the chance to test their latest and greatest anti-air system (S-400) against first rate American aircraft flown by first rate American flyers. In that scenario I would expect that the Russians would provide “trainers” and “advisors” to the Syrian anti-air sites. Hell, even the Chinese would like to get a crack at us if they could do so without inviting retribution.
I would point out re: Israel that several Israeli airstrikes involved launching missiles from inside Israeli airspace and not flying into Syrian airspace. I don’t know the particulars of the reactor strikes; geographically I would have suspected that the Israeli aircraft had to enter Syrian airspace to make the strike.
The bottom line for my scenarios is the U.S. uses aircraft to strike Syrian targets (by now conveniently abandoned) It appears more and more probable that Obama will not risk American aircraft and pull a “Clinton” i.e. hit pre-announced Syrian targets with cruise missiles.

Even in that low key event, the Russians would be interested in seeing if their S-400 (similar to our PATRIOTs) could take out low, slow flying cruise missiles along what will probably be a known route. I remember that the Iraqis shot down at least one cruise missile in the lead up to the first Gulf War. Don’t forget that our cruise missiles fly slower than most commercial jets.

Now, the bottom, bottom line is what our president is willing to risk to assuage his manhood. Based on his past tract record I’m guessing not much.

E9RET on August 30, 2013 at 2:52 PM