Streetwise Professor

August 27, 2013

Obama Chooses Door Number Two. The Worst Choice.

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:58 am

As I wrote over the weekend, I am ambivalent about going into Syria, perhaps leaning slightly towards a robust air campaign undertaken with the explicit objective of facilitating the fall of Assad’s regime. What I am not ambivalent about is the middle option.  A symbolic strike, or a punitive one.

But, of course, that’s apparently what Obama is going to do:

Any strike by the United States and its allies on Syria will probably aim to teach President Bashar al-Assad – and Iran – a lesson on the risks of defying the West, but not try to turn the tide of the civil war.

U.S. and European officials say a short, sharp attack – perhaps entirely with cruise missiles – is the preferred response to what they believe is Assad’s responsibility for a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas last week.

If such a strike goes ahead, President Barack Obama’s administration will have to select its targets with extreme care as it tries to deter not only Assad but also Syria’s ally Iran over its nuclear program.

“The administration has to decide what its objective is – punishment to show that there is a price and to re-establish a deterrent, or to change the balance of power in Syria,” said Dennis Ross, a top White House adviser on the Middle East until late 2011. “I suspect it will be geared towards the former.

We should be thinking Linebacker II.  But Obama is evidently going with Rolling Thunder Lite.

I say again: Assad is facing a battle for survival.  He wouldn’t have used CW if he didn’t believe his survival is at stake.  Punitive, “extremely careful” strikes will not do that, and will in fact tell Assad-and the Iranians-that we are not serious.  That we are not a serious threat to his survival.

This is the worst option.  The worst. It will have the same diplomatic blowback that a robust strike would have, but will achieve nothing on the ground.

It also appears that Obama is going to proceed without even a fig leaf of Congressional approval.  This is wrong as a Constitutional matter, but it is also a huge mistake for Obama.  The inevitable failure will be his and his alone.

It ain’t just me.  Walter Russell Mead is aghast.  The Institute for the Study of War provides a detailed analysis showing the futility of the limited strikes that Obama will apparently launch.

This is nuts.

Speaking of nuts, there is a story making the rounds about that the Saudis tried to entice the Russians to bailing on Assad by promising cooperation to control the oil market, the gas market, and to keep Chechen terrorists in check.  I call bullshit.  First, the Saudis have been trying to get Russia to cooperate with OPEC for years.  It’s always the Russians who have said no.  Second, and more importantly, I doubt that the Saudis control the Chechens, and even if they did, there is no way in hell they would say this to the Russians.  This sounds like some Russian info op.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Ineffectual strikes is the worst thing that can be done. It implies weakness and creates anger and despise, not fear. Any strikes that happen should be clearly targetting the most important military assets that Assad has and damage his ability to conduct offensives against the rebels. It needs to hurt and hurt badly. I’m not sure what kind of targets exist in Syria that qualify, but unless you make him yelp in pain and seriously degrade his effectiveness, the attack will not have any deterrance value.

    Furthermore, it needs to be part of a greater long term strategy. Unfortunately, Obama has displayed zero ability to do this. Everything he does is reactionary and based on short term tactical advantage. As anyone who has played chess can tell you, short term tactics do not lead to victory against an opponent with a long term strategy. It’s the primary reason why his foreign policy is so awful.

    Comment by Chris — August 27, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

  2. @Chris. With you 100 pct. Especially Obama’s zero ability to do strategy. That’s the gravamen of Mead’s post.

    It’s not just reactionary. It’s narcissistic. He feels compelled to act now to save face over the red line remark. That, and to preen.

    Re targets. I’m sure the Israelis could provide a very nice list. And it’s really just basic blocking and tackling. 1. AA system. 2. Command and control. 3. Air bases. 4. Key logistical links. 5. Hezbollah network: that’s a twofer.

    Look at the sequencing in January 91 and March 03 in Iraq.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 27, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  3. So the Streetwise Professor is channelling the spirit of CURVEBALL as to who in Syria has actually used chemical weapons, to justify bombing the piss outta Syria.

    Where have I heard this sorta thing before? Ah, yes…

    Comment by Paili — August 27, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

  4. Any strike, however limited, will cause at least some minimal collateral damage that will be exploited to the full by Islamists and the fellow-travelling liberal Western press.

    I can think of no reason other than barefaced racism for the fact that the hundred thousand Syrian dead – of whom around ninety thousand must be collateral damage – and the one million refugees from the civil war are leading to only the most minimal of hand-wringing.

    What is happening must surely be the ideal opportunity, not for military steps, but for a massive public relations campaign to help the world see that this is Islam taking the veil off its philosophy of hate and the results of that philosophy. All we need to do to hurt Assad and his counterparts in the insurrection is stand on the sidelines and say “Hey folks, you ARE what you do, and just look at what Islam does on Islam!”.

    As a demonstration of the positive side of Western values, we could at the same time spend the same money and effort on massively increasing humanitarian boots on the ground, so that “the West” is not standing by idly on the sidelines but is demonstrably doing “the good thing” and helping those whom their own countries’ medieval habits are leading them to implode in an orgy of barbarity.

    Comment by DaveS — August 27, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

  5. Possible use of chemical weapons? UN weapons inspectors? Surgical strikes designed to take out the leadership? Talk of regime change?

    Is this Iraq 2002? Wasn’t Obama supposed to do things oh-so differently from that ghastly Bush? Gonna be interesting to see how the global lefties spin this. They love Obama, but also love condemning American warmongering. Will be interesting to see how they spin this. Probably with references to Republican “hawks” in Congress. Or something.

    Anyway, I think the US might have been sold a pup here. Chances are it’ll turn out no chemical weapons were used…which makes me wonder, who is wanting them to think that they were? I supposed Obama could simply do nothing and state that the chemical weapons used formed merely half a bunch.

    Comment by Tim Newman — August 27, 2013 @ 9:02 pm

  6. @Tim-I think he will say that since the Syrians only used half a bunch, he’s going to launch a half-assed attack. Proportionality and all that.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 27, 2013 @ 10:23 pm

  7. There is a worse option. Obama could team up with Al Qaeda, who are equally at war with Bashar- and form a coalition. Strange bedfellows indeed.

    Comment by scott — August 28, 2013 @ 4:57 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress