The Chemical Syria: Questions and Options

The Chemical Syria: Questions and Options

There have so far been many hesitancies by the Administration in its approach to the two-year-old Syrian civil war, with President Obama and officials very tepid to the suggestion of entering the conflcit. It has been seen as a situation that could easily slip into quagmire. But there was one exception to that tolerance: in August President Obama declared that chemical weapon use by the Assad regime would be reacted upon.

Now since that line may have been crossed, what does it mean? Does the crossing of a red line mean we suddenly surrender our old cautions?

We all say we do not need another Iraq or Afghanistan. So if we are going to decide to react militarily, then several questions about the nature of the evidence should be public knowledge. These are them:

  • On Tuesday, Israel claimed that it had proof Syria has used chemical weapons. By Thursday the U.S. was claiming the same. Is America using the same evidence as Israel? Why were we so quick to jump on that same conclusion... even though we're not for sure concluding it.
  • Our only explanation of evidence so far is: "an examination of photographs of victims and some 'direct' findings that he [an Israeli official unnamed by NYTimes] would not specify." If this is going to be the foundation for action, we need to know how Israel came to obtain these photographs, much less the unspecified information, which should need to get more specified.
  • How do we know it was the Assad forces who used it? In the lineless battle that has defined the Syrian War, is it plausible that one of the caches captured by rebels could have contained chemical weapons which in their desperate effort they saw fit to use. Remember every single attack from Syria both sides have blamed the other.
  • Why would the regime, so keen to keep outsiders out, suddenly decide to use these weapons? The natural assumption is they're running out of options, but they have always seemed so wise to the fact that if they use chemical weapons they would be shooting themselves in the foot.
  • "Varying degrees of confidence," is some truly masterful ambiguity. By the same token, what are we defining as "conclusive proof." If we don't have the categories fully defined before we enter the game, we're conveniently leaving ourselves awfully wide open to options.
  • Is the idea of drawing a red line in the case of a massacre of a people dubious to begin with?

Based on our assessment of these materials our options for proceeding, in order of degree, are as follows:

  1. Maintain the present course: Continue to provide the same non-lethal resources to the rebels, with option to increase amount or the scope of that aid.
  2. Provide arms to the rebels: The rebels have been impressively scrappy in innovating weapons, however their firepower aid has so far been minimal, and mainly from Qatar (with strategy provided by the CIA). We could change that but the Administration has long said it's hesitant to do so is because of the complete lack of cohesion of the rebels. They have no united banner. Successful supplying would probably require outside organizational guidance to the entire rebel structure.
  3. Provide limited air-based support: Enact a no-fly through the use of specified bombings, perhaps use the drone option.
  4. Provide full air-based support: Enact a no-fly zone enforced by an allied fightjet support with a sea-based bombardment strategy à la Operation Odyssey Dawn. Hit the regime with a playing-field-leveling barrage, and see what the rebels can do with it.
  5. Boots: The ultimate option is to send armed forced into combat against the regime.

Remember, if we go in on any grand scale, we have to sit it through until he's ousted. No half measures.


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