The Syrian regime’s deadly chemical attack might never have occurred had the Obama administration crafted and carried out a robust proactive strategy to deal with the country’s horrific civil war, now in its third year. The absence of such a strategy has led to over 1300 deaths, including more than 400 children, painfully slaughtered by toxic sarin gas. Add them to the tally of over 100,000 war-related deaths since the war began in early 2011. Syria has become an unmitigated U.S. foreign policy disaster—and one that now risks becoming a military disaster as we edge towards combat action.
Blunder after blunder has been committed. Where do we begin with the litany of mistakes? With Secretary Clinton’s early embrace of Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer”? The feigned indignation of President Obama while tens of thousands of civilians perished under the weight of the dictator’s indiscriminate artillery and tank attacks? The sweeping under the rug of the December 2012 reports of chemical weapons usage? Looking the other way when Hezbollah and Iran openly joined Assad last Spring in recapturing key rebel held cities and provinces?
If there was any doubt that Senator Obama was ill-prepared for the presidency, the Syrian fiasco has now confirmed his naïveté. Five years into office, amateurism reigns supreme in the White House. Putin is no doubt smirking…justifiably so.
For better or worse, we are the only remaining superpower...When the world’s oppressed dial 9-1-1, we are the only country that can answer their call.
Ignoring a bloody civil war in the world’s most volatile region is not a strategy. Laying down inviolate “red lines” without considering the possible ramifications is also not a strategy. Announcing and launching a pinprick attack to punish Assad and restore presidential (and American) credibility is likewise not an effective alternative.
Before we make even greater blunders, the President would be wise to consider a few important steps:
1. Shut up and stop telling our enemies where our ships are, what kind of weapons we will use, when we will use them, for how long and what targets we plan to strike. Not only have we completely lost the element of surprise but we are endangering our own troops. It is madness to continue telegraphing our intentions.
2. Follow through on your newfound enthusiasm for congressional approval. The Constitution demands it. You have waited three years to act on Syria; a few more weeks won’t make a difference. Unlike the attack on our people and installations in Benghazi, American lives are not in imminent danger.
3. Have a detailed plan and know what you want the end result to be. If as Clausewitz wrote "war is merely the continuation of policy by other means", understand your desired political outcome, not just your military objective.
4. Make sure your plan has a tangible effect that actually serves our national security interests. Punishing the Syrian regime to “save face” or restore credibility doesn’t count. A limited offensive that takes “a shot across the bow” is equally useless.
5. Have a Plan B and be prepared for the consequences; there are “knowns and unknowns” that will surely follow. Assad is weaker (and more desperate) than you think. Regime change may happen even if that is not your publicly expressed intent. What then? Also, are you ready to act if the conflict spreads?
6. Cruise missiles alone may not do the trick. There is only so much we can do with stand-off weapons, especially with the element of surprise now missing. You have other tools in the toolbox that don’t necessitate “boots on the ground”. Use them including covert action, paramilitary activity, proxies and cyber attacks.
7. Don’t be timid. Whatever action you take should be painful for the regime. We are embarking on an act of war and it demands violence of action. Anything less will embolden Assad as well as the dangerous players that stand beside him: Hezbollah and Iran.
I understand the hesitancy of many to act. The U.S. should not be the world’s policeman. However, for better or worse, we are the only remaining superpower. The U.S. military alone possesses the resources necessary to swiftly execute and sustain military operations in any region of the world. When the world’s oppressed dial 9-1-1, we are the only country that can answer their call.
The images of hundreds of dead and dying children in the aftermath of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack is a 9-1-1 call we cannot ignore. We, and the civilized world, cannot allow such heinous acts to go unanswered. The actions of the Syrian regime require not only universal condemnation but a strong and collective military response as well. The latter is now seriously in doubt with Britain bowing out and the UN Security Council held hostage by the Russian veto power. The Arab League is also sitting on the sidelines.
Therefore, the U.S. will once again be forced to bear the burden. We should however, take our time, garner congressional approval, and craft a serious plan that will yield tangible results. Only then can we hasten an end to the Syrian conflict that threatens the stability of Israel, Jordan, Turkey and the entire Middle East.
Raúl Mas Canosa is a businessman and a frequent commentator on radio, television and digital media. The opinions expressed are strictly his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org