A War of Convenience

I’m sure this strategy has Putin and Assad cowering in fear:

America’s allies in Britain and France declared that they were prepared to act again if necessary, but made clear that they did not want to become further involved in Syria.

Translation:

We will take all necessary measures to deter our enemies…unless doing so becomes a hassle.

Right, but wouldn’t that be an invitation on Putin and Assad’s part to make it a hassle? If you don’t want “to become further involved in Syria,” wouldn’t non-involvement be the more obvious method to adopt?

3 thoughts on “A War of Convenience

  1. Isn’t the message rather that we will definitely punish the use of chemical weapons, but are not so keen on military involvement that would involve things like battles, casualties, attempting to achieve strategic objectives? Putin bluffed in saying we can’t have the first thing without him involving us in the second. We not only called his bluff but showed him how things might go if the same words were not bluff (new stealth missiles, coming from unexpected, far-away, hard-to-retaliate-against assets). He would be a fool to draw us in. Especially since Assad can get everything he wants (and Putin what he wants, a sort-of puppet regime and a military base), just more slowly, without using chemical weapons. Seems like a coherent and effective strategy to me. And one that furthers moral ends.

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    • The message is we will definitely punish the use of chemical weapons unless doing so costs us any inconvenience. It’s an utterly pointless, meaningless message to send.

      To ask the obvious: Assad’s use of chemical weapons has literally zero security ramifications for the US, France, or Britain. So why are we bombing him over it? The answer seems to be: because the use of chemical weapons, in and of itself, is punishable. Why would it be?

      The missile strikes have not and cannot unseat Assad, and have not and cannot change the course of the war in any substantive way. Putin supports Assad. He wants Assad to be in power. Assad remains in power. So I don’t see how Putin’s bluff has been called in any way. The strikes are, for Syria and Russia, merely the cost of doing business.

      How high a cost? If you listen carefully to our generals, the hard fact is that they can’t answer that question. They are the ones bluffing us: every thing they’ve said about the outcome of the strikes is obvious, transparent BS.

      The US coalition hit three targets. Two were storage facilities. What was in them? No answer. The third was a research facility. What was in it? No answer. Was anything in it? No answer.

      They gave the Syrians and Russians days of advance warning that a strike was coming. If you were a Syrian military planner, and you knew that strikes were coming, and you knew that they were targeting your chemical facilities, and you also knew that the people targeting you were afraid of getting entangled in a real war, and you knew that the one thing that scared them more than anything else was Russian retaliation, what would you do? I know what I would do. I would move all of my CW assets to precisely those places that would, if hit, target a full-blown Russian retaliation. Why? Because the idiots targeting you have just told you that they won’t hit places like that. In other words, they themselves have signaled to you where to put your CW assets to keep them safe. And why is that? Because they want to pretend to be fighting a “war,” or something that looks like one, but they are, by their own admission, afraid to fight a real war.

      As well they should be. Who fights a real war over an issue that has zero security ramifications for one’s country?

      I’m sure that some CW assets are hard to move. But anything that’s movable was likely moved. And of the non-movable assets, only one facility was hit (the research one). With respect to that one facility, it’s not clear what the damage amounted to. On purely tactical grounds, that looks more like a joke than anything else.

      Incidentally, our military has not come clean with us about the ratio of missiles launched to those that found their targets. The Russians and Syrians claim that many of our missiles were intercepted (the figure I’ve read is that approximately 70% of them were). I’ve read the news pretty carefully, and have not seen our military directly contest the Russian-Syrian claim. Every claim I’ve seen about Syrian defenses has been an attempt to divert attention from the interception issue.

      Suppose for a moment that the Russian-Syrian claim is only half true: they intercepted 35% of our missiles. Isn’t that an intelligence bonanza for them? They tested their air defense systems against our missiles by inducing us to fire our missiles in a case where we had literally nothing to gain by firing them.

      I don’t understand your claim that Putin would be a fool to “draw us in.” We’re already in. The official figure is 2,000 troops, but that’s likely to be a lie; it’s probably more. The bizarre irony is that Trump is the one who wants to withdraw our ground forces from Syria. You withdraw troops from a place when you lack a military stake in the place. But you fire missiles when have one. So which is it? And how is that–having a military stake and lacking one–coherent?

      Trump’s most recent boast was that we, meaning the Americans, drove ISIS out of Syria. That strikes me as a patent falsehood on both counts, but let it go. The kernel of truth in it is that ISIS is now weakened. But they’re not gone. If so, they remain something of a threat, in which case what sense does it make to weaken Assad if there is no viable alternative to him, and one of the alternatives is ISIS, which we regard as the prime threat?

      My favorite part of this is that while Syrian chemical weapons posed no threat to us, Russian hacking does, and the Russians are now poised to launch a cyber-terrorist campaign against us in retaliation for our missile strikes.

      In other words, we faced no particular threat before this missile strike, but the strike has managed to create one. Obviously, we’re more vulnerable to their cyber-terrorism than they are to our missile strikes on Syria.

      To top it all off:

      This passage is worth the price of the whole article:

      Speaking later with reporters aboard Air Force One as Mr. Trump headed to Florida, Ms. Sanders added that “the president has been clear that he’s going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he’d still like to have a good relationship with them.”

      In other words, we have to be tough on these monsters backing the animals in Syria. But we also have to be friends with the monsters backing the animals in Syria.

      As for the monsters we’re backing in Syria…

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  2. I think this video nicely clarifies the logic of the situation. There’s one interview with the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (a Republican), and one with the ranking Democrat.

    The irresponsibility here is breathtaking. Corker is too busy and arrogant to break stride while discussing the matter; he wants a “surgical” response, and regards that metaphor as having self-evident meaning in a military context. Because as everyone knows, missile strikes are just like surgery. Asked to give literal content to his metaphor, he changes the subject.

    Menendez, meanwhile, criticizes the President for failing to have a strategy that promotes “our goals”: stopping the use of chemical weapons, ending the civil war, defeating ISIS, stopping the humanitarian disaster. (He doesn’t add: overthrowing Assad, re-building Syria in our image, etc.) The goals themselves are apparently self-evident to him; less evident is that the means to them would require a full-scale war. In other words, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee seems to be attacking Trump…from the right!

    In one respect, Menendez is absolutely right: a military strike is not a strategy; it’s a tactic in search of a strategy. If you’re going to be militarily involved somewhere, you need a strategy, not a series of unintegrated tactics. But unintegrated tactics are what Trump has given us, and it’s why his “policy” is incoherent and pointless.

    In another respect, Menendez is more devastatingly wrong than Trump himself. His “comprehensive strategy on Syria” is just a comprehensive plan for an all-out war against Syria. He calls it a “full engagement,” but that’s just a euphemism for “another war.” I’d almost prefer Trump’s incoherent pointlessness to that.

    What I’d really like, though, is for someone to explain why military engagement with Syria–of any kind, comprehensive or surgical–is required in the first place.

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