“Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.”
I hesitated to write about Syria, because I have neither military nor foreign policy expertise.* But then, neither does the guy ostensibly in charge, the one whose metaphorical Commander-in-Chief uniform fits him like a clearance-bin Halloween costume and promotes just as much respect. So, here it is.
The question is whether to intervene is Syria's civil war or not. The case for intervention rests on Assad's (alleged) uniquely brutal use of chemical weapons on the civilian population. This action is so terrible, so inhumane, so revolting that it demands retaliation. That is, whenever we get around to it. Someday, maybe, when all the speeches are done.
Imagine this: Four corpses, murder victims, lie at your feet. One was shot, one stabbed, one blown apart by a bomb, and one poisoned. Which one is more dead? Right. So why are we in such high moral dudgeon over these killings when we've ignored all the others that can be unambiguously laid at Assad's door? If we're to intervene at all it has to be for a good reason, defending the vital interests of the American people and our allies. Causing death and suffering to avoid even more in the future is justifiable, however gut-wrenching it may be to most of us. Ask Harry Truman or William T. Sherman.
Before we do anything to cause such suffering, to our own people as well as others, we have to have a clear objective and a plan for realizing it. So far I've not heard any, from either the executive branch or Congress. Don't ask me to trust the judgement, competence, or even the good intentions of any of them--not when Obama, Kerry, and the "leaders" of both parties have been engaged in an endless political circle-jerk of solemn pronouncements and press releases. Like less public forms of masturbation, this may be amusing to those lacking maturity and interpersonal skills, but it's ultimately unproductive. It also leaves you with a mess on your hands.
Let's face the truth: the idea of a "limited yet decisive"strike is not only oxymoronic, it's just plain moronic. It exists only in John Kerry's famously nuanced imagination. Any such limited action is, and will be perceived to be, a mincing, limp-wristed slap on the arm of a sneering bully. It will only empower the Islamists and encourage Vlad ("The Impaler") Putin, not to mention lesser thugs.
If we take any action at all it must be broad, firm, and final. More of our own people will die, more will be maimed, more American families will suffer, and whatever our people experience will be magnified a thousandfold among the Syrian people. That's the way war works, even the "little" ones. Whatever we do must ultimately save lives--ours and theirs--to justify such losses. So we either fight to win or stay out of it altogether. Personally, I'd stay out, following Napoleon's advice not to interrupt your enemy while he's making a mistake. But if we're going to fight we have to know in advance what winning would look like.
To that end, I propose six military objectives and a final diplomatic action:
1. Kill Assad.
2. Kill all of Assad's enablers and supporters.
3. Kill all of their enablers and supporters.
Then turn on the rebels and:
4. Kill all the Islamist, Jihadist, and al-Queda affiliated leaders.
5. Kill all their enablers and supporters.
6. Kill all their enablers and supporters.
When these objectives have been accomplished, employing the rules of engagement we followed in, say, Normandy or on Okinawa, turn to the remaining rebels and say, more or less:
"We're leaving now. It's your country to run as you like, except that you must follow these three rules.
1. Leave Israel alone.
2. Leave the Christians alone.
3. Quit supporting Hezbolla and sucking up to Iran.
If you break any of these rules, even a little, we'll be back."
The Iranians might note that they're no longer immune. The Russians will huff and puff but can't push the issue. The rest of the world? They'll know the grownups are back in charge.
* Two who do are Michael Yon and Daniel Greenfield. Neither may agree with the above but that doesn't lessen my respect for them.