But even with the Parliament of our closest allies shutting down possible involvement in these strikes, Obama appears determined to go at it alone (or at least with just the French, ironically enough). So if we must do this, what can we do to make the best of a horrible situation?
Head below the fold for the answers.
Get the Arab League and Turkey involved
We know the Europeans are too fractured to do anything about this situation, even though the war in Syria affects them more than it affects the United States. It should be their problem, not ours. However, the Arab states are even more impacted. The refugee flow is into neighboring Arab countries (and Turkey). It's the Gulf States who are funding and arming the rebel groups. And they have the capacity for more.
The Saudi Royal Air Force has about 150 modern F-15s, with about another 110 Tornados. About 150 of those aircraft are equipped with "strike" capabilities, that is, the ability to hit ground targets. The rest could clear the skies of any Syrian opposition. The United Arab Emirates has 79 F-16s and 68 Mirages, all with ground-strike capabilities. Jordan has 58 F-16s. Bahrain and Oman both have smaller but capable Air Forces (at least on paper).
Then there's Turkey, which has a significant Air Force (nearly 230 F-16s and 150 upgraded F-4s), and has already lost one reconnaissance craft to Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Turkey, stuck with 500,000 refugees on its border with Syria, is eager for international intervention and hopes that American strikes would make it easier for heir own involvement:
[Director of the International Middle East Peace Research Centre Veysel] Ayhan said an initial US strike would make it easier for countries like Turkey to take the initiative for other kinds of intervention, like the establishment of no-fly zones over parts of Syria bordering Turkey. That way, Assad's forces would be weakened further, making them more vulnerable to rebel attacks.Their involvement would add a veneer of legitimacy for an action that will clearly lack legal sanction.
Focus on Assad's air assets
In our previous "shock and awe" attacks, we've gone hard after governmental symbols of power, such as palaces, government buildings, etc. But at this point, Assad has cleared out of anything resembling a high-profile military target. There's nothing secret about these upcoming strikes. Skip them. Not only do they waste ordinance, but it dramatically increases the potential of innocent civilian casualties.
Instead, focus entirely on the biggest advantage Assad has had in this civil war—his air assets. Bomb airfields, take out as many warplanes and helicopters as possible. If this campaign takes out a dozen or two (or more!) of Assad's aircraft, the attacks will legitimately save lives in the future, as the rebels still don't have the hardware to protect themselves against them.
But to take out aircraft protected in reinforced concrete you'd need to send in manned aircraft. Hence the need for 1) a more robust campaign (because you first need to degrade Assad's significant anti-aircraft capabilities) and 2) a broader coalition (see first item, above). At this point, based on current speculation, neither of that appears to be likely.
Because the one thing everyone seems to assume (rightly or wrongly, we're just guessing!) is that the U.S. response will come mainly from cruise missiles, and if that's the case, the possible damage will be minimal. Cruise missiles pack very little punch (less than a 1,000 lb bomb) and can't hit mobile targets.
So the options are pretty much runways, empty barracks or government buildings. Runways can be repaired quickly and empty barracks can be replaced by cheap tents. And remember, hitting (empty) government buildings dramatically increase the potential of civilian casualties.
If that's the message we're sending, it'll be one utterly devoid of substance.