Attacking Syria: Retaliating for the Retaliation

Calculating the possible blowbacks in response to a U.S. military strike

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Aude Guerrucci / Pool / Getty Images

President Obama speaks about Syria on Friday at the White House.

There is no free pass when one nation attacks another. In such a high-stakes game of poker, it’s always wise to peek at your opponent’s cards. “The enemy,” U.S. military officers like to say, “always gets a vote.”

So as the U.S. prepares to deftly punch Syrian strongman Bashar Assad hard enough to hurt — but not drive him from power — he may decide not to play along and simply take the punch and quietly put his deadly gases away. There’s always the danger Assad — or his allies — could respond to Washington’s retaliation by retaliating themselves.

President Obama said Friday he has been listening to advice from his military advisers. “We are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act,” he said, “that would help make sure that not only Syria but others around the world understands that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical-weapons ban.”

The Obama Administration knows the risks of a limited strike. In fact, they were detailed by the nation’s top military officer last month. “There is a risk that the regime could withstand limited strikes by dispersing its assets,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a July 19 letter to Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich, chairman of the armed services committee. “Retaliatory attacks are also possible, and there is a probability for collateral damage impacting civilians and foreigners inside the country.”

Military experts agree. Once the shooting starts, anything can happen in the fog of war.

“Syria state is a client state of Iran, and Iran is a master of irregular warfare,” says Phillip Carter, a former Army officer and Pentagon official now serving as an analyst with the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “Iran could easily destabilize the region for quite some time and see the threats of retaliation play out over months or years into the future.” But that shouldn’t stay the President’s hand, he says: “These are risks that great powers must take whenever they act in the world.”

Such retaliation doesn’t always come quickly. In 1983, a month after shelling Lebanese fighters, a suicide trucker blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. troops. Three years later, the U.S. bombed Libya to retaliate for the bombing of a German disco that killed a pair of American soldiers. Two years after that, in 1988, Libyan agents downed Pan Am Flight 103, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans. In 1998, the U.S. lobbed cruise missiles into terrorist training camps in Afghanistan to punish al Qaeda for bombing two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. Three years later, al Qaeda struck on 9/11, killing 2,996 people, including 2,623 Americans.

There is little chance Assad will retaliate, says Jack Keane, a retired Army general who served as the service’s No. 2 officer from 1999 to 2003. “He wants our ships to go away,” Keane says, “and take their cruise missiles with them.”

But Iran is a different story. It won’t openly lash out against the U.S. or Israel, he predicts. “That would give [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu the excuse he needs to go get Iran’s nuclear weapons once and for all,” Keane says. “But they might do more state-sponsored terrorism using surrogates” like the Hizballah Shiite-militant group.

“They’ve been killing us for 30 years, and we’ve never lifted a finger against them,” he says, citing bombings across the region beginning with Beirut in 1983, to providing U.S. foes in Iraq with deadly explosively-formed penetrators that Keane estimates killed 1,200 U.S. troops. “So they could attack U.S. targets in the region,” he says. Then he pauses. “But the truth is,” he adds, “that could happen any time.”

Retired admiral William “Fox” Fallon echoes that sentiment. He served as chief of U.S. Central Command (which includes Syria) in 2007-2008, and is leery of connecting U.S. strikes to subsequent terror attacks. “I’d be careful about drawing too many lines between these events, in different places, at different times, about different issues,” he says. Fallon was flying bombing missions over Beirut when U.S. warships were shelling Lebanese Muslims, but doesn’t think the two were connected. “Those guys were looking for an opportunity to blow us up in any way, shape or form,” he says, 30 years later. “I don’t think that was a reaction to the shelling.” But any attack, he warns, can trigger “unintended consequences.”

It’s trite, but true: war is always a gamble.

So as Obama prepares to roll the dice, he’d do well to remember something else Dempsey, his top military adviser, said in that letter to Levin last month. “We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action,” the general wrote. “Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.”

37 comments
optin
optin

We spend tons of money on defense and intelligence yet we seem to be always caught flat footed with no policy, no strategy no vision. Two years of war in Syria and we watch and wait but do nothing. Syria is not Afghanistan - it is in the heart of the Middle East/Levant. Syria is surrounded by our interests - Russia- Turkey - Iraq - Iran - Jordan- Lebanon- Israel - Palestine - Egypt - Saudi Arabia. When you choose a policy you lead down that pathway generally. It is not the straight and narrow. You may have to confront obstacles if not whole political minefields. Nevertheless you persevere in the general direction that Is true to your values and beliefs. You don't get stuck and become a passive watcher of carnage and slaughter and massive displacement of families from their homes and country. What you tolerate becomes tolerable and we set the example for the whole world. If this were the Holocaust what would we do this time? What has changed?  

 The use of chemical weapons must not go unanswered. We need to deliver more than just a slap on the wrist. This is not about sending Assad to the penalty box for two minutes. This is about delivering a message that the war has to end and Assad must go. Mr. Assad and his generals must be made to wonder each day whether that day is their last on earth in one piece. There will be blowback and we must work with Israel and our allies to minimize that impact but not let fear of what the other side might do in retaliation deter us from our objective. The pressure must be persistent and the objective quite clear. What is happening in Syria is not tolerable and will not be tolerated.    

jmac
jmac

David Koch is against an attack.    Senator Ted Cruz on Rush Limbaugh explained that it's tied to Obamacare - "They're tied by an arrogance of this administration . ..    Rush agrees.

Who owns the Republican party?   Are they so manly only they can decide on an attack against the use of chemical weapons (that's NOT fourteen years old in this case)  and the president has to have an "R" behind his name?   The chicken hawks rule?   

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

Are people an entirely different class of "dead" when killed by chemical weapons, as opposed to bullets and bombs?

Mitch1469
Mitch1469

How could we retaliate against Syria? They haven't done anything to the US. Declaring war to solve other peoples problem is a horrible idea and policy that got us into so many horrible wars, you know like Vietnam and Korea. I say leave them alone its not our damn job to smack someone for fighting unfair.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

The Independent. UK.

Robert Fisk

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?

If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida.

Quite an alliance! Was it not the Three Musketeers who shouted “All for one and one for all” each time they sought combat? This really should be the new battle cry if – or when – the statesmen of the Western world go to war against Bashar al-Assad.

The men who destroyed so many thousands on 9/11 will then be fighting alongside the very nation whose innocents they so cruelly murdered almost exactly 12 years ago. Quite an achievement for Obama, Cameron, Hollande and the rest of the miniature warlords.

This, of course, will not be trumpeted by the Pentagon or the White House – nor, I suppose, by al-Qa’ida – though they are both trying to destroy Bashar. So are the Nusra front, one of al-Qa’ida’s affiliates. But it does raise some interesting possibilities.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/does-obama-know-hes-fighting-on-alqaidas-side-8786680.html

BradMichaelTankersley
BradMichaelTankersley

I HOPE TO GOD AND ALLAH THAT WHEN THE ARROGANT IDIOTS WE HAVE IN WASHINGTON DC, FROM THE TOP DOWN, DO THEIR TRUMPED UP POLITICAL RETALIATION, THAT THE WHOLE WORLD RETALIATES AGAINST US, AND THE FIRST "RETALIATION FOR RETALIATION" IS DROPPED DEAD CENTER OF WASHINGTON DC. WE THROUGH THE GODS IN DC THAT WE KEEP RE-ELECTING ARE THE TRUE TERRORISTS. 

Libtards-UNITE
Libtards-UNITE

If you want to know what will happen next, you will just need to look back at everything Obama has done to date.  Whatever makes the least sense and is the most damaging for the US will be his next move. 

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

‘Any military action against Syria carried out by US bypassing UN would be act of aggression and violation of international law’ – Russian FM

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Claims of chemical weapons use by Syria regime 'utter nonsense' - Putin

According to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, allegations that Assad's government used chemical weapons in Syria are largely ungrounded. "While the Syrian army is on the offensive, saying that it is the Syrian government that used chemical weapons is utter nonsense," Putin told journalists in Vladivostok.

At the same time Putin notes that next week's G20 Summit in Russia's St Petersburg could be a good platform to discuss Syria crisis.

"The G20 is a good forum for discussing the Syria problem, so why not take advantage of this?" Putin told journalists in Vladivostok on Saturday. Presidential aide Yury Ushakov said earlier that, while Syria is not on the official agenda of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, the issue could be brought up during bilateral contacts.

Putin also has welcomed the British parliament's decision not to sanction the United Kingdom's participation in a possible military operation against Syria, noting that this decision was an absolute surprise to him.

"The British parliament's decision on Syria is an absolute surprise to me. It shows that there are people guided by common sense there," Putin told journalists in Vladivostok on Saturday.

"We have been accustomed in the past years to the fact that everything in Western society is accepted without special discussions and in conformity with the will and position of the main partner, that is, the U.S., or at least it looked so. If something went wrong this time around, I should repeat that this is something I didn't expect; moreover, I am even surprised by this position," he said.

Addressing Obama as a Nobel Peace Laureate, Putin urged him to think about victims in Syria in the case of US intervention.

"Russia is urging you to think twice before making a decision on an operation in Syria," Putin said.

"Regarding the position of our American colleagues, who affirm that government troops used chemical weapons, and say that they have proof, well, let them show it to the United Nations inspectors and the Security Council," Putin told journalists. "If they don't show it, that means there is none."
Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_08_31/Claims-of-chemical-weapons-use-by-Syria-regime-utter-nonsense-Putin-7870/

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

What makes is unlikely that Obama will think about retaliation is American Exceptionalism. When the US is attacked it demands retaliation X10. When the US attacks another country it sends a message that they must obey the US. That's because Americans are special, don't you know. The norms of human behavior don't apply.

DanBruce
DanBruce

The retaliation should be against those who made the decision to use chemical weapons, so the United States needs to make this a very personal attack response. President Obama, 24 hours before an attack, should warn the families of Assad and his senior military people to leave their residences and other hangouts, then, at the end of that warning period, wipe out all of Assad's and the military top-brasses' homes and personal hangouts with cruise missiles and smart bombs. Make the Assad leadership essentially homeless in their own land. This punishes Assad and the people who made the decision to use the chemical weapons without harming those who do not support Assad and his illegal actions, and without appearing to be attacking the people of Syria (unless they choose to hang out around Assad's and his cronies' residences and hangouts after the warning). We don't need to degrade the Syrian military in any serious way. After Assad, someone will have to keep order. Remember the chaos in Baghdad because we dispersed the Iraqi military? We need to hurt Assad without neutering the Syrian military, the only ones that will be left to fight al Qaeda in Syria when the dust settles. It's not a good option, but I believe it to be the best for achieving long-term stability in Syria.

MalibanAlMaliban
MalibanAlMaliban

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JoePhillipsLCSW
JoePhillipsLCSW

Think about it. A dictator killed some of his civilians so the plan is to punish the dictator by killing some more of his civilians. The strike won't get the dictator. And then the dictator will try and claim the moral high ground by playing the victim. When you don't use "boots on the ground" civilian casualties go up. Drones can't distinguish solders from children. Drones reduce casualties for the attackers at the expense of "collateral damage." The only way to get the dictator is to declare war, invade with "boots on the ground," and arrest the guy. Are we willing to do that? What is all this spin about the morality of NOT striking. Two wrongs do not make a right. 

RugeirnDrienborough
RugeirnDrienborough

There is a profound difference between the president's political agenda and the military's tactical agenda. The president is concerned with demonstrating the will and concern of the international community. The military is concerned with taking out the Assad regime.. If those two objectives remain different at that level, the effort is doomed to failure no matter what happens. We'd better get those ducks in a row before we move.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman


Mr Obama, perhaps your outrage is genuine. Perhaps your moral stance forces you to use your unlimited power as head of your country to teach a bloody lesson to the supposed and marked target, for a long time, of your rage. But your philosophy is a little tainted and hypocritical. Is there any difference, for men, women and children,  being killed by gas or being pulverized by undiscriminating bombing with Napalm, Phosphorous, and immense powerful clusters bombs as was the case in Vietnam and in Iraq?  How many women and children has been killed by your use of drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Is there any difference, mr Obama?  They were killed by different methods. And now, mr Obama, Do you see any connections in all the examples given? Of course, your powerful country interference in every case. Will you never learn from history?

  Now, mr Obama, there are some powerful hands moving to force you to take action and show how powerful and vengeful the USA is,  Mr Mac Cain and his kind are screaming for the blood of that dictator marked by them, because he hasn't bowed to the orders of the most country of the world. 

 Mr Obama, this senator MacCain, labelled a hero of Viet Nam, because he was 5 years imprisoned as a prisoner of war. This same Senator, who with his powerful flying terror machine, used to shower death from the air to women, children and men, who were pulverized with the powerful Napalm, Phosphorous and cluster bombs. This same HERO wants you to do the same now in Syria. This same HERO SENATOR, who went personally to shake hands to the same people who vowed to kill all the Americans infidels they can put their hands on.

  Pay attention, mr Obama, this same people that are urging you to take action, have been the same people who have found nothing good with your government. Who have blocked all the good legislation for the good of your country.

  If you take the decision to bomb and everything goes well, be sure that this people are going to find a minimal hole to fault  your decision and if the bombing goes wrong, Mr Obama, you are going to be crucified by these Republicans and their filthy tail, the Tea Party. It is a no win mr Obama, and the best thing, the most logical thing, learning from history, is to stay out and look to succeed economically in your country and take this powerful country where it should be, not militarily but morally and economically, ON TOP..

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

You don't have to be an expert to come to this conclusion. All you would have had to do is to have read a book on military history sometime in your life. 

NamecNassianer
NamecNassianer

Don't do it, Mr. President.    A strike in Syria at this time is a no-win for both you and the USA.

If a consensus for action emerges, then maybe, but only if the facts indisputable.


Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@optin The US has destroyed whole cities, using WP on civilians. Did you get disturbed over that?

jsnwsch
jsnwsch

Good point. Why didn't we respond to the beheadings? The church attacks? The stonings? The bombings? What is it about chemicals?

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@Mitch1469 It is not proven to the world that the regime of Syria used chemical weapons.

jmac
jmac

@Sibir_Russia We know the sides are Hezbollah or al-Qaeda.   Does that excuse Russia from sitting back and watching chemical weapons being used and doing nothing?  

You could be next.  Your government could use it on you.   Who will you cry to?  Maybe China will help you.  

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@Sibir_Russia Hey, Sibir, when the USA and his putative daughter have respected the INTERNATIONAL LAWS?  Who remember the civilians killed in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc,etc? For the American warmongers, as now mr Obama, this is a natural, since they consider themselves exceptional.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@JoePhillipsLCSW Wow, how moral and convincent, mr joe P. So for you and your kind there are dictators and DICTATORS. The dictators that are our friends are untouchable, but the DICTATORS that you consider enemies have to be eliminated with boots on the ground, no matter how many boots on the ground come home with their boot tips pointing to the sky. How moral, typical American arrogance. If the DICTATORS don't listen, let's eliminate them! WE ARE THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD! EH, QUEEN.

j.villain1
j.villain1

@RugeirnDrienborough  

If Obama was concerned about the international community he would wait for a resolution from the UN. This has nothing to do with helping Syrians. If the US wanted to help the Syrians they would stop blowing off the Russian efforts to broker a truce. We could have had elections a year ago in Syria but then the US wouldn't have gotten the credit Russia would have and that was seen as unacceptable to the US govt.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@ViableOp You should clarify your position. Is it good or bad for allies countries to retaliate in case one of them is attacked?

yodadog
yodadog

@NamecNassianer It's a no win for the entire world. A strike now has the potential to embroil the ME in a holocaust. He foolishly put himself in this corner with a declaration only an amature would make.

Mitch1469
Mitch1469

@RamonRoman @Mitch1469 It really doesnt matter if they used them or not, the war does not involve us nor should it. Its not our job to forcibly tell people what they can or can not do in other countries, nor is it other countries job to do that either.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@RamonRoman@Sibir_Russia 

Washington is in the illusions, and he still considers himself a hegemon, but you can not doubt, Russia will force the U.S. to respect the rules of international law.
Vladimir Putin: "Moscow will push for strict binding of international laws and the central role of the United Nations"

 

DanBruce
DanBruce

@RamonRoman @DanBruce It makes you look foolish to use verbal retailiation against others in defense of your comments against retaliation.

anon76
anon76

@yodadog

"Violating the Geneva Protocol is a red line".

What a n00b!

Or did you mean 'armature'?  Because that kind of makes sense.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@DanBruce I was hoping for an answer to my accusation of follyness. I am still waiting. But why I wrote that? In your answer you wrote that I use verbal retaliation against others in defense of my comments against retaliation. Did you ponder why you wrote that? Against retaliation? Why the USA is retaliating? What did the Syrian regime did to the USA? Can you give us an explanation. The American government effectively is meddling for a long time in the affairs of Syria. Who gave them that right? And now, you want to dictate the rules that your government should take to deal with Syria. If it wasn't horrible what is going to happen, it would be laughable.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@DanBruce @RamonRoman I still insist that you and many jingoists who think that you are the rulers of the world, are arrogant. If I look foolish to you at least I don't look folly like your answer.