I don’t think for one minute that the governments of the US, Britain, France, and the UN inspectors, and Doctors Without Borders are falsifying anything about the use of chemical weapons by the government of Syria against their own civilian population. I think it’s all true. It’s not worth us getting involved in that mess however. It’s not that I don’t give a shit about people being killed on the other side of the world where the US has little to no direct strategic interest. It’s that I don’t give ENOUGH of a shit.
So Assad most likely used chemical weapons against his people in Syria. Well, that’s bad. It’s pretty fucking horrifying, actually, but those people are no more dead than the people who’ve been killed with bullets, bombs, rockets, and whatever else was at hand. It is only in the minds of people who’ve never seen incoming that this matters. Dead people are dead people and every weapon system ever devised including thrown rocks has lasting effects beyond the immediate strike. My children have never known war, hunger, or want. But they live with the after effects of war every day of their lives. I submit to you all that barring some major threat to US National Security that can only be reduced or eliminated by American military action, that we shouldn’t be doing that to people, and we shouldn’t help others do that to people.
Here’s what I think will happen. We’ll launch some cruise missiles from destroyers and submarines and maybe some JDAM from aircraft from Germany or Italy or carrier decks. Oh, and drones. LOTS of drones. And make no mistake, it WILL involve manned aircraft over Syrian airspace. There are some things hat pretty much have to be done by manned systems, and suppressing immediate targets is one of them. We will NOT target the actual chemical weapons facilities because we don’t want to be responsible for the huge contamination that could result from that. So we’ll hit some military airfields, some headquarters facilities, and some military garrisons. We won’t do a tremendous amount of damage to the Syrian military because their assets are in the field. We will kill a few mid-level and low-level officers and enlisted people because we don’t want to kill anyone who can actually give orders to the Syrian military. We won’t go after Assad himself because he’s the devil we know, and whatever else he may be, he’s not an Islamist. We won’t do anything that encourages the Kurds in north-east Syria to get frisky because the Turks don’t want that, so again, no hitting the high level command and control assets. The other people that we will kill? Civilians. Many people are against the military use of drones primarily for the reason that the people we kill with them tend to have a lot of civilians around them who also get killed. This will be no different, regardless of the platform, because high explosive fragmenting warheads and shells can’t tell the difference. It won’t really deter Assad from using chemical weapons, either.
Bashar Assad only has two realistic outcomes to this situation. Outcome one: he swings from a lamppost in Damascus alongside his sons and various family members. Outcome two: the rest of the world has to deal with him because he won. Since we aren’t going to do enough to guarantee that he doesn’t use chemical weapons again (that is to say, we aren’t going to kill him) then he really has no downside to continuing to use them, does he? I suppose some mid-level officer might refuse the order to employ them again, but that hasn’t happened yet, and most of the officer corps of the Syrian Army owes their positions and their pay to patronage by Assad and his clan. For many of them, this fight is also about their lives, as well.
So in the name of American credibility we’re supposed to drop a bunch of weapons that will primarily kill people who don’t really need killing. If that doesn’t deter Assad, as I think it won’t, then what? Does credibility demand that we bomb some more? If that doesn’t work, then what? Special Operations Forces? Ground troops? The fact is that air-power alone has never settled anything. Our use of air-power in in Libya was successful only because there was a large, relatively powerful, and unified opposition movement on the ground there. The Syrian rebellion isn’t all that large, relatively speaking, and isn’t unified at all. Not incidentally, we don’t trust them. The other historical operation this is being compared to is Kosovo, where after months of threats that did nothing to stop the Serbs ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians, NATO initiated a bombing campaign that lasted from 24 March to 11 June 1999. When that didn’t appear to have the desired effect, the US started making noises about using the USMC MEU and the 3rd BDE/82nd Airborne Division that were staged next door in Albania to take Kosovo from Serbia. The elements of the US Armored Division in Bosnia began to reorient their posture towards Serbia as well. British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered virtually the entire available British Army, 50,000 troops. It was not air-power that ended that conflict, no matter how much the USAF likes to say it was. It was the threat of a ground invasion. All those pundits saying that we can do it just like Kosovo have learned the wrong lesson.
No matter what happens in Syria, whether we do anything or not, and no matter who eventually wins, we, the US, are going to get blamed in the Arab street, and by the Arab press, and by Arab governments, most of whom happily buy our weapons and sell us oil as they oppress their people, while blaming us for the oppression. “If the Americans wouldn’t support Israel and keep trying to steal our oil, we might be able to give you democracy!” That there’s some truth to that only makes it all the more effective. So there’s really nothing to gain for the US. Even saying “well, punishing the use of chemical weapons is a good in its own right” doesn’t really work because nobody there thinks we do anything at all for the sake of doing good, even when that is exactly what we are doing. Also the recent revelations that we assisted Saddam Hussein in his use of chemical weapons against Iran (a revelation to whom, exactly?) is going to make us sound especially hypocritical. All of the aforementioned also applies to providing logistical support to France, Britain, and the rest of NATO. After all, as stupid people here like to say all the time, they’re our poodles, aren’t they? Since EVERYBODY KNOWS* that they would only ever move with our permission, then we own whatever they do, too. So we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t, and there’s nothing there for us to gain that will be worth the exertion. So I personally think we ought to sit back, save the American taxpayers some money in missiles, bombs, jet fuel, spare parts, office supplies, and (hopefully not) and SGLI pay-out or two.
While I think that as a general rule, governments shouldn’t kill their civilian populations, and stopping this meets one the two pillars for military action in my mind–that such action ought to be morally defensible whenever possible, I also think that the US has to have a compelling national security interest as the second pillar, and I haven’t seen anything that meets that requirement, especially when stacked up against the downside.
*Everybody who knows this is fucking stupid, but it only goes to illustrate the very point I’m making.