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    • TriggerTreats

      Glad to see these vets didn’t let a stupid shutdown stop them.

    • TriggerTreats

      I firmly believe the current debate highlights significant weaknesses in current intelligence estimates, serious disconnects between stated US objectives, ends, ways, and means, and lack of a coherent strategy. US military intervention will inevitably escalate the volatile situation in the region, and lack of international support through the UN will further delegitimize current and future US efforts worldwide. In the past week, both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have mounted a growing public relations campaign to convince the US legislative branch and the US public there is “proof” of Bashar Assad’s decision to employ chemical weapons. However, to date, this “proof” has not been presented to the international community, via the UN or other means.  Additionally, White House Chief of Staff McDonough admits there is no concrete proof Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons, only that “this is the logical conclusion.” The evidence being presented clearly illustrates chemical weapons were used, but it most certainly does not demonstrate who employed them. There is no evidence tying Bashar Assad as the director of the attack; equal “logical conclusions” could be drawn for a rogue Syrian Army commander using sarin gas without authorization; Syrian rebels using sarin gas to draw US military intervention into the conflict; or several other possibilities. Given the uncertainty of Bashar Assad directing the use of chemical weapons, the incoherent strategies being promulgated by US leaders is distressing. Secretary of State Kerry has repeatedly stated this would be a limited strike, of “unbelievably small” proportions. Similarly, Secretary Kerry, President Obama, and Senator McCain have all universally acclaimed there would never, ever be US “boots on the ground.” The stated objectives are to deter and dissuade the future use of chemical weapons, and President Obama has made it clear he considers this a punitive strike against Bashar Assad. White House Chief of Staff McDonough stated the objective of the strike is to destroy the delivery systems, thus removing the ability of the Syrian regime to further employ chemical weapons. Unfortunately, the mismatch of ends, ways, and means makes it very likely these strikes would accomplish nothing but further injure additional innocent Syrian civilians.  President Obama himself has stated these strikes would do little to protect Syrians from the ongoing conflict, which had already claimed over 100,000 lives before these most recent chemical weapons attacks. Secretary Kerry’s characterization of the strikes as “unbelievably small” makes their value as a deterrent questionable, and presents a serious strategic communications challenge: why are we even bothering to strike if we are not going to make a meaningful impact? Finally, and most damaging, Secretary Kerry also stated the administration’s goal is not to force regime change. In fact, they desire and hope the Syrian regime will remain intact and fully in control of their chemical weapons, thus ensuring they do not fall into even more dangerous hands. Given the factionalized, uncertain makeup of the Syrian rebel groups, this concern is understandable, but it is directly at odds to the stated objectives of denying the Syrian government the ability to further employ chemical weapons in the future.  In addition to these muddled messages on desired end states, the administration has publicly endorsed questionable ways and means to achieve them. The initially stated preference was for cruise missile strikes, thus limiting the risk to US military forces to only whatever retaliation Syria might choose. However, given the fact these chemical munitions delivery systems are all mobile, and the multiple weeks of inaction, it is highly unlikely cruise missile strikes against fixed locations would achieve the desired ends. A second proposal was to increase the target list, and use manned bombers and fighters to destroy Syria’s chemical munitions delivery capabilities.  This increases risk to US service members, and offers only a marginal improvement, given the time Bashar Assad has had to relocate these systems and his ability to hide them near civilian populations. Both cruise missiles and bomber attacks carry an almost certain risk of collateral damage. In accepting collateral damage, not only are we not—as President Obama stated—protecting innocent Syrians, but the US would be further contributing to the bloodshed of an already atrocious civil war.  Finally, the administration’s strategy throughout this debate has been appallingly lacking. Not only have they selected questionable courses of action on uncertain intelligence, but they have not articulated any long term solution. Given the strikes are characterized as punitive, what happens if these strikes are not successful in deterring further chemical attacks by either Bashar Assad or the rebel forces? What if the Syrian regime begins to collapse, and the positive control and security of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile becomes uncertain? What if Syria responds with chemical attacks against US citizens and facilities in the region? Previous studies have demonstrated it would take approximately 75,000 US troops to move in and secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles in the event of a regime collapse. This seems a far cry from “no boots on the ground,” but there appears to be no articulated grand strategy beyond these proposed “punitive strikes” slap on the wrist. Perhaps most disturbing, the President and Secretary Kerry have both stated the need to punish Bashar Assad for the use of chemical weapons. However, since collateral damage is likely, and Assad is holed up in the interest of self and regime preservation, it is unlikely these strikes will hurt either him or anyone key to the regime. Instead, those who will most likely suffer under these punitive strikes are the Syrian people. Senator Reid made an emotional plea the other day, quoting from Dante’s Inferno: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” I agree with Senator Reid, but not in his advocacy for US military intervention. As Dr Martin Luther King spoke so eloquently, “violence begets violence.” There is a time and place for the use of the military instruments of national power. In this case, using militarily applied violence as a punitive, slap on the wrist response is not appropriate. However, it is clear the US cannot remain neutral in this regard. Instead, we should take leadership in attempting to build an appropriate, international response to both the chemical weapons attacks and the ongoing violence in Syria. The US should take seriously, and work cooperatively with Russia to secure and withdraw Syrian chemical weapons from their country. While spoken as “purely rhetoric” by Secretary of State Kerry, Russia’s offer and Syrian willingness to accept should open the door for major diplomatic steps towards resolution of the current crisis. We MUST take this offer seriously, and work strenuously to develop this proposal into a legitimate effort, with the full support and backing of the UN. The US should lead efforts to develop an international support program for the 2 million Syrian refugees from the current effort, and work with regional partners, the Arab League, and other Middle Eastern agencies to secure these folks and protect them from further atrocities spilling beyond the borders of the current conflict. The US should work aggressively with the Arab League, G20, and the UN to apply international pressure to end the current conflict, and develop a peaceful means of transition for Syria. This means of transition must include the right of the Syrian people to self-determination, and should be supported by UN peacekeeping efforts and monitoring, and should be resourced by Syria’s regional partnerships and historical neighbors, particularly the Arab League.  These are the diplomatic, political and humanitarian steps the US should be taking. Simultaneous to these efforts, the US should insist on an international, UN supported investigation into the employment of chemical weapons, and the capture of those responsible to face trial for crimes against humanity. This investigation should also encompass the atrocities as a whole committed by in the Syrian Civil War, and should look to the Syrian government, its military, and the rebel forces. There are crimes against humanity being committed by both sides in this conflict. Mass executions, religious purgings, rape, and infanticide are just as horrible as this widely publicized chemical weapons attack, and the US should be insistent on ending these injustices, as they also are a crossing of globally accepted “red lines.” The US should demonstrate world leadership by helping to bring these atrocities to light, and insisting they not go unpunished. The current push by the White House and certain members of Congress to strike in Syria is an incomplete strategy destined to fail. It will do nothing to end the current civil war and its associated horrors, and it could very likely lead to more widespread suffering and a regional escalation. The US should instead take this opportunity to aggressively pursue an international diplomatic and political end to the civil war in Syria, without adding to the horrific violence.

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