from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Half Measures in Syria?

August 31, 2013

Blog Post

The Obama administration appears poised to act in Syria, but the public statements suggest a slap on the wrist more than a powerful blow that will truly punish and deter the use of chemical weapons.

I discuss this issue in National Review, here, and excerpts are below:

As it becomes increasingly obvious that President Obama has decided to attack Syria with cruise missiles and perhaps a bit more, those of us who have been urging a stronger stand on Syria for two years should be very pleased. This is what we’ve asked for, isn’t it?  It isn’t, and I can’t muster more than one or one and a half cheers. Why not?

Real American security interests are at stake in Syria and have been from the start. Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah, which together have an enormous amount of American blood on their hands, have sent troops to Syria to win a war there. Russia has provided a constant flow of arms to the regime. They all consider their control of Syria important, and they are right: If they lose the control they have through Bashar Assad, their position in the entire Middle East is badly weakened — and ours is strengthened. This is a proxy war, with them on one side, and American allies — Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — on the other. It is in the interest of the United States to win this fight, and we should want Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia to lose.

Second, there is a growing humanitarian disaster: 100,000 dead at a minimum, plus millions of refugees and displaced persons. The suffering has already spilled over into Jordan and Lebanon, with more to come.

The problem with the Obama administration’s probable reaction over the next few days is that it appears likely to address neither of these issues, and instead focus narrowly on another: Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

But what about our strategic interests? If our strikes are limited to Assad’s chemical-weapons assets, we leave his war machine intact — including the air power that is one of his main advantages. We make it no less likely that our enemies — Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad — will win this proxy war and greatly strengthen their position in the Middle East — preserving Iran’s only ally in the region, which affords them ports in the Mediterranean and a border with Israel (via Hezbollah in Lebanon).

I give the administration some credit: It would be far worse to do nothing and prove that we have no credibility and need not be feared under any circumstances whatsoever. But the Russians and Iranians and their terrorist allies will not be defeated unless we show greater determination and greater willingness to act. For a start, the Obama administration should destroy not only Assad’s chemical stocks but his air power as well — bases, helicopters, jets. That would be the way to show American power in the Middle East is still to be reckoned with, to instill fear in our enemies, and to hearten our allies.

 

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