I have long said that I trust the military leadership to make important decisions on the use of American military power far more than I do elected officials of either party. Politicians tend to make decisions on specious, self-serving grounds and be far too beholden to the defense industry to make rational decisions that actually make sense. And I’m not at all surprised that the Washington Post reports deep skepticism and opposition to the bombing of Syria that Obama is clearly headed toward.
Former and current officers, many with the painful lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan on their minds, said the main reservations concern the potential unintended consequences of launching cruise missiles against Syria.
Some questioned the use of military force as a punitive measure and suggested that the White House lacks a coherent strategy. If the administration is ambivalent about the wisdom of defeating or crippling the Syrian leader, possibly setting the stage for Damascus to fall to fundamentalist rebels, they said, the military objective of strikes on Assad’s military targets is at best ambiguous.
“There’s a broad naivete in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve,” said retired Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the run-up to the Iraq war, noting that many of his contemporaries are alarmed by the plan.
Marine Lt. Col. Gordon Miller, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, warned this week of “potentially devastating consequences, including a fresh round of chemical weapons attacks and a military response by Israel.”
“If President [Bashar al-Assad] were to absorb the strikes and use chemical weapons again, this would be a significant blow to the United States’ credibility and it would be compelled to escalate the assault on Syria to achieve the original objectives,” Miller wrote in a commentary for the think tank.
What I’d like to hear is the president explain what bombing Syria would accomplish. What would be the goal, exactly? Taking Assad out of power? That could lead to all sorts of bad things. So could a limited bombing campaign that left him in power, which might only strengthen his hand. It could also prompt Iran to get involved. I just don’t see any clear objective that could be achieved with a bombing campaign that couldn’t also unleash some very nasty side effects.
I’m not going to pretend to know what we should do in or about the situation in Syria. It’s very complicated. Some of the rebels really are affiliated with Al Qaeda and other very dangerous groups and helping them take control of the country might be a very bad idea. But leaving Assad in power also has real danger and much of the opposition to him is genuinely pro-democracy and wants real reform. It’s not even clear that we can distinguish between the two. But I just don’t see why the answer to every problem in the Middle East is more bombs and missiles. I don’t see what it would accomplish other than more dead people.