Syria – Days of Decision, Controversy, and Yes Uncertainty


Harry C. Blaney III

President Obama and Secretary Kerry on Friday August 30th in jointly coordinated statements, said that action would be taken against Syria without specifying what that action might be or when it would take place, except hinting it would be military. Both indicated that the evidence of use by the Syrian government of sarin gas was conclusive. The key points were that such action would be limited, there would be no U.S. boots and the ground,

On the same day the administration released an unclassified intelligence report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Dumbfoundly, some bloggers and citizens leaving their comments on web sites still maintain that there was no proof of such use and governments hinted that the rebels might have been the cause. At this point such assertions are absurd and beyond credulity. What is certain is the acts were by the Assad government and that over a 1,400 people, including many woman and children were killed.

“Read for yourselves the evidence from thousands of sources,” Mr. Kerry said in vigorously laying out the administration’s case for a strike on Syria. “This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.” Yet, despite that barbarity, the administration made clear that any strike was only to punish for use of an internationally banned use of poison gas rather than regime change or getting rid of Assad. Public opinion polls are showing major opposition from citizens for an attack.

As this is being written Secretaries Kerry and Hagel have already made there presentations to the Senate and are now making their case to the House. These were strong points and news reports said they have gain some bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. But there is still demands to either severely limit any action by the U.S. on one side and to insist on broader action including regime change and major enhanced assistance to the Syrian opposition.

Let me be frank all sides seem to insist their will be no U.S., boots on the ground. But those that want miracles including regime change and a moderate new government do not understand that we can’t, from afar, determine the outcome on the ground when clearly no one wants to be responsible for American troops. It is plane hypocrisy. There is, however, near zero chance of that happening and perhaps it is not really needed if our strategy of hitting Assad’s military capability is focused and sustained and we arm, as we are doing, vetted moderate opposition elements. Yet the end game of all this may be at last a diplomatic solution

My own feeling is that there will be continued killing of horrendous scale unless President Bashar Assad is removed and some kind of negotiated settlement is developed and agreed. There are voices saying that the rebels are worse, mostly Jihadists. Yet other observers are saying that the moderate elements make up a majority of the real fighting elements, but are not well armed or organized. What is sure is uncertanity.

Thus, one of the great questions and undoubtedly part of Obama and his team’s calculation is whether to act to seriously degrade Assad’s military so that the rebels have a good chance of prevailing. But given the constraints on Obama by Congress and others we have to accept that what raises from the ashes could be essentially Al-Qaeda clones who can use Syria as a base for further terrorist attacks throughout the region and perhaps even reaching Europe and the U.S. If we stand down however this outcome is a certainty unless Assad kills most of his own citizens or drives them out of the country.

My own policy planning strategic view is that if one is fearful of either keeping Assad in power or letting the Al-Qaeda types take power in a demoralized and battered Syria, one would have to find a expanded option and commit the power and resources on the ground to carry it out, to ensure that the outcome likely results in the formation of a relatively responsible and moderate opposition made up of all of Syria’s groups and guarantee security to all elements. I still believe that we need the discipline of creating a “peace” context using a international peacekeeping force that is made up of a robust and diverse but well trained peacekeepers/peacemakers.

Here the resources of Europe, and the Arab League nations and others would be of great help if they were willing. Many believe we don’t have the wherewithal for creating the conditions for this kind of end-game, but frankly, if carried out with wisdom, and not stupidity, there is at least a fair change the outcome would be better than Assad or Al Qaeda in charge of a chaotic and revenge filled nation. The next months will test this nation and our internatioal community if it can at last do it right.

I can’t fathom these issues have not been discussed and some policies and strategies developed to deal with these “unintended” yet conceivable consequences. It was the blindness of the Bush II types that made it impossible for them to understand what any good general in the field would have worried about, and the result in Iraq was a debacle which does not have to be repeated.

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