Good news: Syria strike plans widening

Well, good news for Senator John McCain, anyway, who’s been agitating for Congress to give Barack Obama a much freer hand for intervention in Syria.  The Jerusalem Post picks up on an ABC News report that the strikes won’t simply be long-range missiles from naval platforms in the Mediterranean, but also bombing sorties over Syria:


Despite statements from both US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry that a US-led strike on Syria would be a “limited and tailored” military attack, ABC News reported on Thursday that the strike planned by Obama’s national security team is “significantly larger” than most have anticipated.

According to ABC News, in additional to a salvo of 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from four Navy destroyers stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, the US is also planning an aerial campaign that is expected to last two days.

This campaign potentially includes an aerial bombardment of missiles and long range bombs from US-based B-2 stealth bombers that carry satellite-guided bombs, B-52 bombers, that can carry air-launched cruise missiles and Qatar-based B-1s that carry long-range, air-to-surface missiles, both ABC News and The New York Timesreported.

“This military strike will do more damage to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s forces in 48 hours than the Syrian rebels have done in two years,” a national security official told ABC News.

This raises a couple of questions about the “no boots on the ground” promise coming from Obama and John Kerry.  In order to make these kinds of pinpoint-accurate attacks with either bombers or cruise missiles, it’s usually better (although not entirely necessary) to have spotters on the ground lighting up the targets.  That means boots on the ground, even if everything goes perfectly.  What happens if our bombers get shot down over Syria?


The New York Times also reports on mission creep at the White House:

President Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria in response to intelligence suggesting that the government of President Bashar al-Assad has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons while Congress debates whether to authorize military action.

Mr. Obama, officials said, is now determined to put more emphasis on the “degrade” part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria — to “deter and degrade” Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. That means expanding beyond the 50 or so major sites that were part of the original target list developed with French forces before Mr. Obama delayed action on Saturday to seek Congressional approval of his plan.

For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is a renewed push to get other NATO forces involved.

The strikes would be aimed not at the chemical stockpiles themselves — risking a potential catastrophe — but rather the military units that have stored and prepared the chemical weapons and carried the attacks against Syrian rebels, as well as the headquarters overseeing the effort, and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks, military officials said Thursday.


This change is apparently intended to win approval from the McCain-led hawks:

Mr. Obama’s instructions come as most members of Congress who are even willing to consider voting in favor of a military response to a chemical attack are insisting on strict limits on the duration and type of the strikes carried out by the United States, while a small number of Republicans are telling the White House that the current plans are not muscular enough to destabilize the Assad government.

Senior officials are aware of the competing imperatives they now confront — that to win even the fight on Capitol Hill, they will have to accept restrictions on the military response, and in order to make the strike meaningful they must expand its scope.

“They are being pulled in two different directions,” a senior foreign official involved in the discussions said Thursday. “The worst outcome would be to come out of this bruising battle with Congress and conduct a military action that made little difference.”

Would it be better to come out of this with another decapitation like we managed in Libya, which leaves a failed state in its wake and radical Islamist terror networks free to operate in its wake?  It’s bad enough that we did that once, and now it looks as though we’re about to do it again, in the laughable service of bolstering our credibility.  How credible does it make the US to create havens for our enemies?


The remarkable aspect of this mission creep is that it’s taking place even before Congress authorizes a supposedly limited action in Syria.  Stephen Carter at Bloomberg warned this morning — before the mission had already started to creep from “deterrence” and “responsibility to protect” to “regime change” — than any authorization Congress grants, no matter how limited, will be seen as a carte blanche by the Obama administration:

The White House draft of a measure granting President Barack Obama the authority to attack Syria, sent to Congress last week, was far too broad. Now some critics are saying that the Senate’s rewritten resolution, approved by the Foreign Relations Committee this week, is too narrow.

Consider me skeptical. The lesson of history is clear: Whatever limiting language Congress adopts, a determined chief executive will read it to justify pretty much whatever he wants it to justify.

Presidents, when they choose, have always found ways to broaden the authority granted them by Congress, especially in matters of war and peace — where, as the political scientist Kenneth R. Mayer details in his book “With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power,” limiting language rarely limits.


Carter offers a number of historical lessons on this point, but this time, the White House isn’t even waiting for Congress to pass its authorization before engaging in mission creep.

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