The Logic of War, Part II – The Syrian Conundrum


Yesterday, in the post linked here, I discussed generally what I believe should be our logical process in evaluating whether a war was reasonable and necessary.

Today, I am going to put Syria to the test.

1.  U.S. National Interest.

Clearly, we must have some vital interest that involves us in a conflict.  If a war goes on in a region of the world where we have no diplomatic, military, or financial objective…we simply must turn away.  We are not the world’s policeman, as much as Barack Obama, John Kerry, John McCain and others would apparently like to make us so.

As for Syria, do we have a vital interest?  Syria probably falls into that over broad category.  Like the Cold War, Misters Obama and Kerry are arguing that any destabilization of the Middle East is worrisome.  Syria could potentially be a threat to our allies, Israel and Turkey.  And they fear the conflict spilling over its borders into places such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.

I find this argument less than compelling.  If destabilization is a threat…then why are we not more involved in Egypt today? Or, for a larger question:  why are we allowing Iran to build nuclear weapons?  Both likely have far more national implications for the United States.  One could even make the argument that pulling our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan destabilizes the region.

But, history has given Presidents broad leeway on this, and I guess I should do the same for President Obama.  Syria does in the broadest and most vague terms fit the arena of American national interest.

2.  Do we have a list of defined goals and objectives?

I think the clear answer here is a categorical ‘No’.

During yesterday’s testimony to Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked this time and again, and could not provide a rational response.

Does anyone, including the President, have any idea what the endgame is?  We have already been assured that regime change is out of the question, so removal of Assad from power is not a goal of these strikes (Ironically, Kerry stated it may be a goal of our diplomatic approach, but not the military action; if that makes any sense).  That also means they don’t want to wipe out the current Syrian army.

The Defense Department has stated that there is no tactical way of destroying the chemical weapons stashes around the country…so ridding the country of WMD is not possible.

And a ground invasion is off the table, at least theoretically.

The only argument for a defined goal that I can fathom is that we are acting as the world’s policeman, and wish to ‘punish’ the Syrian authorities for use of chemical weapons.  This might be meaningful, if we had the world community supporting us.  Of course, we don’t.  The United Nations refuses to authorize this, and most of our major allies have decided to stay at home.

3.  Are the goals worthwhile?

Not sure how to answer this after the answer in question #2, but I think it is fair to say that if you have no real goals in mind, there is nothing worthwhile in the effort.

If the only goal is to punish Syria, then will the missile strikes that are being contemplated achieve even that minimal goal?

 4.  Are the goals achievable?

What goals?

OK, let us, for the sake of argument, say our goal is policing the world community, and to punish Assad for violating international norms.

If that is the case, what punishment would suffice?  Clearly not a few Tomahawk missiles, that is for sure.  In the past two decades, such action against the likes of Saddam Hussein did nothing but bolster their regimes hard-line stances.

You would need a systematic disruption of the ability of the Syrian army’s ability to fight the rebels; strategic destruction of the Syrian air force; and some sort of diminshed ability of the Syrians to use chemical weapons.  Furthermore, direct assault on Assad’s own power base would be helpful.

After the testimony of Defense officials, other than the destruction of the Syrian air force, none of these goals are achievable.  And even the Syrian Air Force may be a tough target to destroy. Certainly, we could hurt Assad’s forces.

That said, how would we hurt Assad in such a way, when Mr. Kerry specifically stated that our goal is not to hurt Assad in such a way?


I admit there may be a logical reason to strike Syria.  The use of chemical weapons should be considered beyond the pale, an act of evil against civilians that should not stand.

However, nothing in this strategy from the Obama Administration makes the least amount of sense.  They probably have, in the most lenient definition imaginable, some national interest involved.  But they have yet to articulate a rational set of goals that are worthwhile and achievable considering the situation on the ground.

Until they meet those criteria, they should not involve the United States in any foreign intervention.

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