Thursday, August 29, 2013

CK's Unsolicited Advice for Obama

Commander K. + Cannon

How would Commander Kelly advise President Obama on the current situation in Syria?

President Obama, though I did not vote for him, is my President too and I have great respect for the office that he holds.   Decisions of war and peace are the most serious challenges that any President can face.  These are the times that try men's souls and give American Presidents their grey hairs.  Assad's regime has used chemical weapons on its own people (see...  A civil war has been raging there for three years with over 100,000 casualties -- more than in all Arab-Israeli wars combined.  Neither side in the conflict is untainted by terrorist connections.

Assad is allied with Putin's Russia which has supplied millions worth of arms and the Mullahs of Iran where the centrifuges continue to spin.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has colorfully described America in the Middle East as acting like "a monkey with a hand grenade".

What would Winston do?
I would begin by reminding Obama of the words of Winston Churchill who said, "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Antiquated War Offices, weak, incompetent, or arrogant Commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant Fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations — all take their seats at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance."  (For more Churchill quotes see...

Second, I would counsel that he expand the range of military options.  

What are the military options at the disposal of the U.S. Commander in Chief?

1) CRUISE MISSILE STRIKE.  This is the one that everyone is talking about and the Syrians are expecting.  U.S. Navy destroyers and submarines (including one form the UK) are already in place.  The upside is that this is easy to execute and would cost no American/Coalition lives -- at least in the short term.  The downside is that a series of cruise missile strikes were of limited military value when utilised by the Clinton administration.  If cruise missiles are used against the chemical weapons stockpiles they risk many civilian deaths  and will certainly cause collateral damage.  They will stir up the hornet's nest but not rid us of the Assad regime.

2) A DECAPITATION STRIKE.  Presuming that the CIA has any kind of accurate intelligence (granted a big "if"), there may be the possibility of a decapitation strike directly against Assad himself with either drones and/or cruise missiles.  The upside of this would be swift regime change with relatively few Syrian casualties.  The downside would be that much of the world would be horrified by the gross immorality and cynicism of the act.  Assad, the brutal dictator would become a martyr for generations to come.  Then again, how many people today remember JFK's role in the assassination of the Diem brothers in South Vietnam -- certainly few visitors to the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas (see  Note, however, that this approach was tried and failed at the beginning of the 2003 war in Iraq.

Commander K. with Lawrence
St. Pauls, London
3) COVERT AID TO THE REBELS.  Let's not kid ourselves, this had been going on for some time now already with very limited success.  Could it be stepped up?  Yes, but there are hazards in terms of the spread of deadly weapons (such as surface to air missiles) that could be diverted to terrorist targets (commercial jetliners?).  Do we have reliable Arab-speaking Hum-int operatives that could help lead a popular uprising against the brutal Assad regime?  In other words, could we channel the spirit of Lawrence of Arabia and lead a drive to Damascus?  Far-fetched, romantic, but not impossible (see...  Churchill said, "Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."  What can be done by covert forces to loosen Assad's saddle?

4) U.S. GROUND TROOPS.  Let's face it, this is a non-starter for so many reasons.  Reagan's deployment of U.S. Marines to Lebanon in 1983 followed by the death of 241 American servicemen was, perhaps, the greatest debacle of his administration.  Our subsequent withdrawal led directly to Saddam Hussein's perception of the U.S. as a "paper tiger" with disastrous consequences.  The use of U.S. ground forces would merely create "targets of opportunity" for Assad and all those hostile to the West.  Any use of American ground forces would be tremendously unpopular at home and strategically foolish.

5) CYBER WARFARE.  There is a Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) that is actively spreading disinformation throughout social media and the Internet right now.  Do not, for example, trust anything you see on Facebook about what is going on in Syria right now!  What are we doing to help counter the SEA and to undermine the Assad regime?  Can we step up our Psy-Ops activities?  Perhaps.  The downside here is that this would largely target Syria economically and the Syrian Economy is already in a shambles after three years of civil war.  Moreover, the economy and particularly the oil markets are likely to become a "second front" in any open conflict with Assad's Syria.  Spiralling gas prices and the disruption of a fragile economic recovery are rightly viewed as the West's Achilles heal in this potential conflict.

6) AIR AND SEA BLOCKADE.  This would involve A) the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria and B) a naval blockade of the country.  The Syrian air force, Assad's main advantage over the Rebel army would be taken away.  The flow of Russian arms into Syria would be stopped.  This is the Python approach that would slowly constrict Assad's ability to fight the rebels.  This strategy plays to U.S. military strengths in terms of air and naval power.  It would cause the least collateral damage and civilian casualties.  The downside is that it requires patience, determination and leadership which seem to be in short supply.  It would also require the deployment of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean which would be a rich target for Assad's regime.  Technically a blockade is an "act of war," but, then again, so is a cruise missile attack.

Commander K. in Churchill War Rooms
If pressed for a recommendation I would urge the President to pursue a combination of 1), 3), 5) and 6).  Targeted cruise missiles would be useful in degrading the Syrian air forces, radar and airbases.  Aid to the rebels must be increased in spite of their evident imperfections.  Churchill said, "It's not only the good boys who help to win wars. It is the sneaks and stinkers as well."  The only way for the U.S. to have any influence in the region is to pick a pony and resolutely stick with it.  Non-intervention has already cost 100,000 lives.  Cyber Warfare will be important as the SEA tries to kick into high gear to disrupt the West and its economy with propaganda of their own.  We must also be careful about maintaining good relations with friendly powers such as Turkey who have long term interests in the region.  The imposition of 6) will be required in order to effect lasting change in Syria.

If we yield to "war fever" as Churchill stated, we must expect "ugly surprises", reversals, hurricanes and disappointments.  There will be a cost to our actions, but also to our continued inaction.  If ultimately we do not have the intestinal fortitude to effect regime change with a coherent long term strategy for winning in Syria over a prolonged campaign, then the West is better off staying out.

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Commander Kelly said...

Yesterday the British Parliament, in a manner of speaking, kindly requested that the American monkey carefully put the pin back in to the hand grenade!

hailcaesar said...

You make some interesting points. But we have no authority or legal basis for those kinds of actions. Worse, the people we would be helping are likely the same people we've helped before, namely jihadists who would not be any better. Osama was soo pleased with with our help against the Russians and I really fear that this would not turn out any better.

Commander Kelly said...

Thanks Hail Caesar for reading and your comments. The legal authority would be the President's Constitutional duty to act C in C. He has a responsibility to defend our country and violation of chemical warfare is a direct threat to the US and particularly to our regional allies (Turkey, Israel, etc.). He is pursing a Congressional sanction which will, if approved, widen his legal mandate.

Osama and the Russians -- I presume you mean the Mujahadeen...? We were all on the same side against the Soviets at that time I believe.

I take your point and share your concern about the nature of the rebels.

Gary, London said...

Getting the approval from congress is different to a UN approval, I'm struggling to see the U.S motives in attacking Syria as I'm not buying the use of chemical weapons and treat to near by allies as their real reason.

interesting post.

Commander Kelly said...

Gary, many share your scepticism. The USA has a long history of humanitarian interventions: Kosovo, Iraq, Libya,etc. The British Parliament has, at a minimum, forced those in the US to take a bit more time to formulate a coherent plan on Syria before taking action. One can hope anyway!