A young Free Syrian Army fighter is seen with his weapon in old Aleppo, August 25, 2013.
Indications are growing that the United States, perhaps together with one or more other nations, will soon launch a limited military strike on Syria. What "soon" means is anybody's guess. Secretary of State John Kerry has cut his vacation short and will make a statement
at 2 PM ET that is likely to include stepped-up criticism of the Bashir Assad regime.
The rationale behind a possible attack is the alleged government use of chemical weapons—specifically nerve gas—against the rebels. The regime denies this and is allowing U.N. inspectors to check out the site of an alleged chemical attack outside Damascus. The inspection team was said to be taking sniper fire today as it carries out its mission. The administration says it is convinced chemical weapons have been used. Nearly a year ago, President Obama called such use the crossing of a "red line" that would spur intervention if proved.
"There is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale," Obama told CNN Friday, "then that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region."
Support for and opposition to any military intervention has crossed
the lines of party and the political spectrum. Some opponents argue that President Obama must seek advance approval for any attack. But Congress is not scheduled to go into session again until Sept. 9. And the president did not seek such approval for the intervention in Libya.
A civil war between the regime and rebels has been raging since March 2011. The United Nations has reported that more than 100,000 lives have been lost, with no end in sight. More than four million Syrians are displaced inside the country and another estimated 1.8 million have fled to other nations.
The United States has provided training, small arms and some funding for the rebels. Critics charge that this is risky because members of al Qaeda and other extremists are involved in the rebel ranks.
U.S. warships are now in place in the Mediterranean and could provide platforms for launching cruise missiles or fighter-bomber attacks against Syria. Foreign Policy magazine has posted a map of possible targets:
On Friday, Anthony Cordesman of the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies said that anything less than (a pretty darn expensive) no-fly zone that totally grounds Assad's air force would be a "half-pregnant" solution similar to "supplying too few arms of too few lethality," as the U.S. and other nations have been said to be doing secretly for months without giving the rebels enough of an advantage to overthrow Assad.
A full-on no-fly zone would involve the U.S. and any other nations launching a high end assault with everything from B-2 stealth bombers to submarine and ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles aimed at destroying Assad's radars, missile sites and air defense control networks. It'd be similar to what was done at the start of Operation Odyssey Dawn, only bigger due to the fact that Syria has a much better air defense network than Libya did. Once these door-kickers have taken out the most dangerous elements of Syria's air defenses, other strike fighters such as U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16 Vipers—some of which are already in neighboring Jordan—and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F/A-18 Hornets would then be relatively free to hunt down and destroy Assad's aircraft on the ground or in the air.
Please read below the fold for more about possible intervention in Syria.
Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News Sunday that he expected a “surgical” response.
“And I hope the president, as soon as we get back to Washington, will ask for authorization from Congress to do something in a very surgical and proportional way, something that gets [Assad’s] attention, that causes them to understand that we are not going to put up with this kind of activity,” Corker said.
Go slow is the advice of others:
Gen. Colin Powell, a former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee Jack Reed, D-R.I., and, to a lesser extent, Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, pleading to wait out the probe into the chemical weapons attack.
Assad is a "pathological liar," Powell, who has dealt with the Syrian president in the past, said Sunday on "Face the Nation." But, he qualified, the rebels fighting against him might not be any better: "I have no affection for Mr. Assad," he said. "But at the same time, I am less sure of the resistance. What do they represent? And is it becoming even more radicalized with more al Qaeda coming in? And what would it look like if they prevailed and Assad went? I don't know."
Kerry's statement may or may not provide clarity about whether and when the U.S. will strike.