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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