A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, August 23, 2013

Syria: Is the US Considering an Airstrike?

Most of the commentary in Washington is increasingly questioning the US' lack of response to the claimed atrocities and use of chemical warfare by Syria. But some are suggesting that this may be a tactic while preparing for a possible airstrike. Certainly there are reports the Pentagon is working on strike packages (story behind a paywall), and I doubt the US will act alone or without unmistakeable evidence of what happened and who is responsible. Russia is in denial (or perhaps, in collusion).

It goes without saying that a few airstrikes or cruise missile barrages can provide a certain amount of satisfaction when one is watching a country in full collapse, enormous refugee flows and what may prove to be one of the worst use of nerve agents or other weapons in recent history, but it is also still sound military doctrine not to take precipitate action unless there is some clear cut strategy, including an achievable objective, in sight. If one can degrade the regime's ability to use chemical agents against its own people, that may justify a few strikes. But if one expects to bomb Asad into a regime change, they haven't been paying attention. That would take a much greater level of commitment than I think US opinion is prepared for. Can it be done? Syria has already shown it is not Libya; this regime has deeper roots, though sectarian-based, and the position of Russia is an obstacle not to be dismissed. (And the Russians are alleging the claims were prepared in advance, thus they see them as fabricated).

It seems clear thousands have been affected. If it is truly chemical use and the Asad regime is behind it,  then the world should not stand idly by. But it needs to consider what action will have the most effect in actually preventing a recurrence.

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