Bracing for air strikes on Syria, Wall Street plummeted today, getting yet another excuse to take profits. But whatever Wall Street’s machinations, the real world stands ready to respond to the most egregious chemical weapons attack since the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein massacred the Kurds with poison gas March 16, 1988 at Halabja. Opposing action against Syria, Russia and China don’t get their responsibility as members of the U.N. Security Council: To assure civilized conduct among U.N. member states around the globe. Letting Bashar al-Assad’s Aug. 21 poison gas attack go unpunished goes against every principle of the U.N. Charter, more-or-less designed to stop maniacal dictators like Germany’s Adolf Hitler from holding the civilized world hostage. Whether denied or not, al-Assad’s poison gas attack against rebels in East Damacus suburbs goes beyond the pale.
When president Obama warned Syria in 2011 about the use of chemical weapons, he set up his “red lines.” Crossed on several occasions since 2011, the most recent poison gas attack in East Damascus that asphyxiated 355 civilians put U.S. prestige and credibility on the line. While the U.N. scrambles to verify the use of chemical gas, U.S. intelligence officials have more than enough proof of al-Assad’s fingerprints. Unable to get consensus because of Russia and China on military action in the U.N. Security Council, Obama must cobble together a coalition-of-the-willing for air strikes on Syria. White House and Pentagon officials are kidding themselves thinking that only three days of Cruise Missile and smart bombs will be enough to deter al-Assad from retaliating with conventional and chemical weapons. Unlike Iraq back in 2003, al-Assad really does have the Mideast’s largest stockpile of chemical weapons.
Consulting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, France’s President Francois Hollande, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and other European Union and Mideast allies, Obama has concluded that only three days of targeted bombing would deter al-Assad. Putting a stick in the hornet’s nest isn’t the way to secure al-Assad’s dangerous chemical weapons arsenal, nor is it the best path to restore order in the region. Speaking in Istanbul, Syrian National Coalition leader Ahmed Jarba was told by U.S. envoy Robert Ford the coalition could launch air strikes within days. Syrian opposition groups have been begging for Western help as they’ve battled al-Assad’s superior military since March 11, 2011, killing some 100,000 civilians and driving over 1 million into exile. Showing a confused but evolving U.S. policy, White House Spokesman Jay Carney denied the goal was regime change.
Once the coalition acts, it’s simply too dangerous to leave al-Assad in power and his military in control of the chemical weapons arsenal. If al-Assad is taken at his word, that rebels—not the Syrian military—used chemical weapons and their own forces, then they’re not secure in Syiran hands. “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” insisted Carney, showing, at least for now, White House confusion over the mission. Like Muammar Gaddafi, al-Assad cannot be allowed to return to power once Cruise Missiles begin to fly. “They are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits chemical weapons,” said Carney. While there’s nothing wrong with not repeating mistakes in Iraq, the White House is kidding itself about not removing al-Assad. Once attacked, the world doesn’t want to sit back and wait for al-Assad’s response.
U.S. and coalition officials need to get on the same page about the mission before a new version of “shock-and-awe” begins. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey has already warned about stepping into Syria’s civil war. Whether or not his mission is more limited or not, Obama can’t put U.S. assets into harm’s way by leaving a weakened but dangerous dictator in power. In any air strikes, Syria’s command-and-control centers must be neutralized to prevent U.S. assets from getting hit in the Gulf. “We have means of defending ourselves, and we will surprise them with these if necessary,” said Syrian Foreign Minister Walikd al-Moualem, rejecting Western threats and any idea of power-sharing with rebel groups. “We will defend ourselves. We will not hesitate to use any means available,” said al-Moualem, hinting that anything goes once air strikes begin.
Before the U.S. and coalition pull the trigger, they need to get on the same page with respect to the mission of any air strikes. Given his deadly arsenal—and willingness to use it—leaving al-Assad in power would be worse than keeping around Gaddafi. Obama, Cameron and Hollande must understand before firing the first shot that they must degrade al-Assad’s war-making machine, including knocking out his command-and-control centers. While the Russians, Chinese and Iranians have said they have no intent of defending al-Assad—except with lip service—Western powers shouldn’t underestimate al-Assad’s retaliatory capability once Obama gives the orders. While it’s OK to state publicly that regime change is not the objective, for all practical purposes al-Assad must be neutralized to prevent a mishap to U.S. and coalition forces. Anything less is just unrealistic and risky.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.