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Eli Katz wrote:
There may be a security interest in punishing the Assad regime for using chemical weapons. As far as I know, no government leader has used them since Saddam did in the late 1980s against the Kurds. People have been talking about the establishment of a chemical weapons taboo for the last 25 years. Beyond immediate humanitarian concerns (which are important), it may be wise to rebuke Assad for breaking the taboo. That way, we discourage other countries from using them or supplying them to terrorist groups.
As for Obama lacking a plan, that's a silly point. I'm sure the Pentagon has provided him with multiple strategies. It always does. The generals war game everything. It's up to the president to determine which is the best strategy.
This case, I think, is very similar to Libya: there's a humanitarian crisis that the world is watching. The U.S. loses credibility as it sits on the sidelines and allows tens of thousands of civilians to die. But it risks making the situation worse by intervening. Islamist groups could gain control and turn Syria into a terrorist stronghold. People in the region may interpret the intervention not as a humanitarian mission but as an imperial project. No doubt, local governments will spin it as such to foster deeper resentment against the U.S. Or possibly, military strikes by the U.S. could make the Assad regime even more desperate, encouraging it to increase rather than cease its use of chemical weapons.
The Syrian situation is without good options, I think. So Obama will ultimately make the "wrong" choice, but only because there are no "right" choices. So the question may be whether he makes the least bad choice. And because I don't know enough about Syria, I'm not sure what the least bad choice is.
Obama does lack a plan. At least a good one. I'm sure the Pentagon, (which opposes the strikes), has provided him with a list of targets, but so what? That isn't a plan. A plan constitutes the totality of the operation, including what to do if Iran and Hezbollah launch missiles at Israel or Iran attacks our troops in the region, or closes the Straights of Hormuz. And what to do if they launch terrorist attacks against US and Western interests worldwide as a result.
Like I said, this isn't about humanitarian intervention---if it was, Obama wouldn't have waited until over 100,000 people were killed. It isn't about the use of chemical weapons---they did that months ago, and Obama went through contortions then, trying to ignore it.
It's about Obama and his ego, his desire not to look silly and be mocked. This we have in fact by some Pentagon people who are apparently very unhappy that he's using them in a Clintonesque manner to make sure he doesn't look bad.
And in doing so, he fails to consider the ramifications of his intended actions.
I'd call that lacking a plan.
Hell, Bush the Lesser had a "plan" in the sense you talk about for Iraq, but it would be hard to argue that he had a real plan in the sense that he considered what would actually happen if he invaded Iraq.
As for the US losing credibility, whose fault is that? It was Obama himself who shot off his mouth without engaging his brain first. He was the one of the "red lines". He himself created that crisis.
Limited cruise missile attacks will probably do nothing to stop Assad from killing his people. It seems that Obama is happy to let him do just that, so long as he uses bullets and bombs, rather than chemical weapons. Actually, it seems he's happy for the guy to use chemical weapons, so long as he does it in a low key way that Obama can officially ignore.
As for the "options" that the Pentagon likely provided Obama, let's look at what they are.
Well, ground invasion. That's out of the picture for obvious reasons. Manned air strikes. Probably not going to happen, Obama doesn't want the press going on about pilots getting shot down. Cruise missile bombardment---this is the most likely candidate, low risk.
But it's also low reward. Obama's basically been spending the last week telling Syria what he's going to do, giving them plenty of time to move their critical assets out of the way, (about the only thing he's open on is our own military strategy, since he loves telling the world what we're going to do). And the one target ironically he won't hit are the chemical weapons stores themselves, even assuming we know where they are. For some good reasons I might add.
He's also not going to go after Assad, since US law forbids that, (not that he cares about US law all that much---he violates it more than any President since Nixon). But it would also make him look bad internationally, and open him up to foreign legal action.
So what he's going to do basically is lob a few cruise missiles at them. Much like Clinton hitting that aspirin factory, except that he's going to hit a few military targets so that he won't be mocked as doing a Clinton.
And in doing so, he'll open a whole hornets nest of possible reaction. All because he first couldn't keep his mouth shut, and second, let his ego rule his actions. As usual.