(Washington, D.C.) — The countdown to U.S. intervention in the mess in Damascus appears to be nearing the zero hour.
The Obama administration is actively considering using military force to bring down the Assad regime in Syria. Specifically, the White House and Pentagon are analyzing the idea of running a 24/7 “no-fly zone” over Syria, as well as training and arming rebel forces to defeat the Assad forces. But the costs would be high — upwards of $1 billion a month — and might not even be successful.
In my view, active U.S. military involvement in Syria would be a catastrophic mistake. I feel terrible for the bloodshed and carnage going on inside Syria. But tragically I see very little that the West can do to actually make the situation better.
Who exactly would we arm and assist? We’re talking about a civil war that is pitting Shia radicals (Assad’s regime, Iran and Hezbollah) against “the rebels,” most of whom are Sunni radicals (including al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood forces). I don’t want any of them to win. Are there small numbers of rebels who might be better if they could really come to power? Perhaps. But the fact is they have very limited chances of getting to the top of the greasy pole. Indeed, if the wrong people seize control of Syria, the situation for the Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the West could actually become much worse.
Syria is imploding. It is increasingly possible that the geopolitical state we call the Syrian Arab Republic will cease to exist in the not-too-distant future. We can and should help with humanitarian relief. We can and should show mercy to those fleeing for their lives. We can and should help the persecuted Christians, and pray actively and consistently for peace and stability. But I don’t think the U.S. government or any Western power should stick its hand into that hornet’s nest.
Our highest priority should be stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons. Period.
Still, the White House appears to be readying the military for U.S. intervention, and some Republicans in Congress are encouraging them along these lines.
“The Pentagon has provided Congress with its first detailed list of military options to stem the bloody civil war in Syria, suggesting that a campaign to tilt the balance from President Bashar al-Assad to the opposition would be a vast undertaking, costing billions of dollars, and could backfire on the United States,” reports the New York Times.
Excerpts from the story:
- The list of options — laid out in a letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan — was the first time the military has explicitly described what it sees as the formidable challenge of intervening in the war.
It came as the White House, which has limited its military involvement to supplying the rebels with small arms and other weaponry, has begun implicitly acknowledging that Mr. Assad may not be forced out of power anytime soon.
The options, which range from training opposition troops to conducting airstrikes and enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria, are not new. But General Dempsey provided details about the logistics and the costs of each. He noted that long-range strikes on the Syrian government’s military targets would require “hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers,” and cost “in the billions.”
General Dempsey, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, provided the unclassified, three-page letter at the request of Mr. Levin, a Democrat, after testifying last week that he believed it was likely that Mr. Assad would be in power a year from now.
On that day, the White House began publicly hedging its bets about Mr. Assad. After saying for nearly two years that Mr. Assad’s days were numbered, the press secretary, Jay Carney, said, “While there are shifts in momentum on the battlefield, Bashar al-Assad, in our view, will never rule all of Syria again.”
Those last four words represent a subtle but significant shift in the White House’s wording: an implicit acknowledgment that after recent gains by the government’s forces against an increasingly chaotic opposition, Mr. Assad now seems likely to cling to power for the foreseeable future, if only over a rump portion of a divided Syria.
- That prospect has angered advocates of intervention, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who had a testy exchange with General Dempsey when the general testified before the Armed Services Committee about why the administration was not doing more to help the rebels. The plan to supply the rebels with small arms and other weaponry is being run as a covert operation by the Central Intelligence Agency, and General Dempsey made no mention of it in his letter.
- On Monday, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said that despite “very strong concerns about the strength of the administration’s plans in Syria and its chances for success,” the panel had reached a consensus to move ahead with the White House’s strategy, without specifically mentioning the covert arms program. Senate Intelligence Committee officials said last week that they had reached a similar position….
- In his letter, General Dempsey assessed the risks and benefits of different military options. But his tone was cautionary, suggesting that the Pentagon views all of these options with trepidation.
- Training, advising and assisting opposition troops, he wrote, could require anywhere from several hundred to several thousand troops, and cost about $500 million a year. An offensive of limited long-range strikes against Syrian military targets would require hundreds of aircraft and warships and could cost billions of dollars over time. Imposing a no-fly zone would require shooting down government warplanes and destroying airfields and hangars. It would also require hundreds of aircraft. The cost could reach $1 billion a month.