One of the reasons the states came together to form the federal government was to provide for the “common defense” of the American people.
In keeping with this, the so-called "Reagan Test" has been the best guide as to when U.S. military action is wise -- that is when a vital U.S. national security interest at stake. Once committing to military action, our mission must be clearly defined and we must have an end game.
Let’s look at Syria. The atrocities of the Assad regime are horrific. A friendly Syria, without Assad, would be great news for the free world. It could also help weaken Iran.
Unfortunately, a number of the members of the loose band of Assad opposition groups have strong ties to Al Qaeda, and one in fact—the Al-Nusra Front—has been designated by both the United States and the United Nations as a terrorist organization.
Further, President Obama now says that any possible military action is not about regime change.
So what is the purpose militarily and where is the vital U.S. national security interest?
As the situation stands now, the only vital U.S. national security interest concerns Syria’s five major chemical weapons sites and the storage facility at Cerin, which handles the Syrian Biological Weapons Program. We must take whatever action necessary to insure that none of this falls into the hands of any opposition groups with Al Qaeda ties.
By almost all accounts, the U.S. is looking at a very short “surgical strike” by firing about 200 cruise missiles from ships and submarines at a cost of roughly $350 million.
We can’t take out the chemical facilities under such a scenario for fears of creating plumes of deadly vapors, so the U.S. will try and target “command and control” sites and systems capable of delivering chemical and biological weapons.
But then what?
Syria, which is the largest importer of Russian arms in the Middle East, will be able to reconstitute itself quickly in terms of weaponry thanks to its relationship with the old KGB agent, Vladimir Putin.
Further, such a short-term exercise for show, with no real impact, could actually have disastrous consequences. It might indirectly help radical Islamic groups gain power and increase the possibility of one or more of the chemical weapons facilities falling into the hands of an Al Qaeda-linked organization.
Recently, Russia’s deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that “The West is playing with the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade.”
The United States has cut its Defense budget drastically in recent years, while Russia’s is expected to increase 59% by 2015.
As U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee said last week, “No red line should have been drawn without the strategy and funding to support it.”
Recently, retired General Colin Powell also cautioned against military intervention in Syria.
Syria’s ability to reconstitute itself militarily and acquire new military technology from Putin, after a short-term U.S. Military exercise for show, is real.
Let’s look at the facts.
-- In 2005, Russia forgave 75% of Syria’s debt for military purchases (about $9 billion) in order to be able to sell new weapons to Syria.
-- Last year, military arms contracts between Russia and Syria were $4.3 billion.
-- Russia has a Naval Support Base in Syria at Tartus, which it has expanded since 2009 and the channel has been dredged to allow larger Russian ships to enter. Currently, it can support up to 10 guided-missile cruisers, submarines and aircraft carriers.
-- There are reports that earlier this summer, Putin supplied the Assad regime with new, state of the art rocket launchers and Skean 5 ground-to-sea missiles, capable of reaching targets 250 km off of Syria’s coast.
-- Russia has delivered to Syria its most advanced anti-ship missile, the P-800 Yakhont super-sonic anti-ship cruise missile.
--Within the last week, Russia has deployed 2 warships to the east Mediterranean (a missile cruiser and a large anti-submarine ship). On Sunday, Russia dispatched the reconnaissance ship Priazovye to the Syrian coast.
-- Russia has signed a contract to provide Syria its top of the line S-300 Air Defense Missile System, capable of shooting down aircraft and cruise missiles from 5 to 200 kilometers. Syria says the missiles began arriving this May, while Russia says the delivery is not finished. Recently, Putin renewed veiled threats to supply the system to Iran.
When you consider the “Putin Factor” and the ability of Syria to reconstitute itself militarily, together with potentially increasing the possibility of an Al Qaeda linked group acquiring chemical weapons, military action, as currently envisioned, doesn’t make sense.
Most importantly, where is the vital U.S. national security interest? And what is the end game?
What does make sense would be for the U.S. to develop a real foreign policy. These are dangerous times and the stakes are high. Unfortunately, today America lacks a clear and defined foreign policy—a real plan—and we continually send all the wrong signals.
Van D. Hipp, Jr. is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army. He is the author of the newly released book, "The New Terrorism: How to Fight It and Defeat It." All of the author's proceeds go to the National Guard Educational Foundation to fund scholarships for children of fallen Guardsmen. www.thenewterrorism.com Follow him on Twitter @VanHipp.