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Washington Stubbornly Tightropes its Way into Another Conflict

Obama written on a sidewalk in Toronto with chalk.

The US is deliberating whether to use military force in Syria. It is in the process of planning the corresponding scenarios. On July 18 the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned the US top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), General Martin Dempsey as part of the reconfirmation process. The situation in Syria was an issue on the agenda. Mr. Dempsey said that the Obama administration is preparing various scenarios for a possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, and considering whether the USA should use «kinetic strikes».

JCOS pointed out, «About the use of kinetic strikes? That issue is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government and it would be inappropriate for me to try to influence the decision with me rendering an opinion in public about what kind of force we should use. I will let this committee know what my recommendations are at the appropriate time». On July 19 General Dempsey pointed out in a letter, addressed to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, that the use of the options would be a political decision «no less than an act of war».

According to Mr. Dempsey’s estimates, sending troops to help train the rebels outside of Syria would cost $500 million a year. The General said that more robust options, including establishing no-fly or buffer zones inside Syria, or containing Syria’s government-held chemical weapons, would cost at least a billion dollars a month and require ships, aircraft and up to several thousand troops.

It should be noted here that acting upon the Chief Executive’s decision the Central Intelligence Agency has already begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses. It plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month, expanding U.S. support of moderate forces battling President al-Assad. The shipments, coordinated with allies, are timed to allow a concerted push by the rebels in August. Up to a few hundred of the fighters will enter Syria under the program each month. At that rate, U.S. and Saudi officials believe it would take four to five months before there are enough rearmed and trained moderate fighters to make a meaningful difference against Mr. Assad’s forces. The U.S. effort is designed to strengthen forces loyal to Gen. Salim Idris, the top Syrian rebel commander backed by the West. But officials acknowledged the difficulty of getting reliable information about the backgrounds of individual soldiers. Mr. Obama has opted to arm the rebels covertly using the CIA, limiting public disclosures about the effort and restricting oversight to a small group of lawmakers who oversee secret programs.

Deliberations and stances

The deliberations over military intervention are proceeding. Last month, the Obama administration concluded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against the rebels. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said then that, «the intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete». US Secretary of State John Kerry called for «immediate» air strikes on Syria but the idea was rejected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General Martin Dempsey said then, «The State Department didn’t fully grasp the complexity of such an operation». He pointed out that Syria has a sophisticated air defense system that would have to be neutralized with almost inevitable losses before any air strikes could be delivered. The US Air Force, he noticed, could not simply «drop a few bombs» on Syria without first carrying out some 700 sorties to disable the country’s integrated air defense, and that without any kind of exit strategy the Pentagon would not back the plan.

The mentioned above chemical weapons story was met with skepticism inside the country and worldwide, including Russia and China. The US never came up with anything like a solid proof. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, later presented to the UN evidence supplied to his government that suggested the Syrian opposition fighters used chemical weapons. With regards to foreign intervention, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said back then that, «Providing arms to either side would not address this current situation». In May, the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria reported «strong, concrete suspicions» that the US-backed rebels had deployed sarin gas. «This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities», said commission member Carla Del Ponte. Preparations for a possible attack against Syria reportedly began after the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo on 5 March 2013. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and despite having received an 800 pages official report from a Russian expert commission, who investigated at the scene and who had samples analyzed in internationally recognized laboratories, the Obama administration continues issuing unconfirmed accusations against the Syrian government.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and his father, former congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), have also cautioned the White House against aiding Syrian rebels. «You will be funding today the allies of al Qaeda» by aiding Syrian rebels, Sen. Paul said in May. ( But GOP heavyweights Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have been relentless with efforts to equip opposition fighters. «I don’t care what it takes», Graham told Foreign Policy’s The Cable earlier this year. «If the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem». The GOP has other vibrant war mongers among its ranks. The influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on July 10, that the administration of President Barack Obama should prepare to target Syrian «airfields, airplanes and massed artillery» using stand-off weapons in addition to arming and training the opposition to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Levin Senator Levin and Senator Angus King said after visiting the Middle East that only increased US support for vetted rebel groups could level the playing field with Assad and his Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies and lay the ground for a political settlement. These limited but «essential steps», Mr. Levin said, afford «the best hope and perhaps the only hope» to end a two-year-old conflict that is threatening US national interests by destabilizing Syria’s neighbors and creating potential«safe havens» in Syria for anti-US extremists. In a joint statement Levin and King said the U.S. and its allies should arm and train the militants and consider «options for limited, targeted strikes at airplanes, helicopters, missiles, tanks and artillery». However, to give the devil his due, they were not calling for American troops on the ground in Syria. The senators noted that«doing nothing may be the worst option of all», potentially destabilizing U.S. allies in the region, including Turkey and Jordan, and threatening Israeli interests.

JCS strike plan

On July 22 the Chairman set out five options for military intervention in Syria in a non-classified letter addressed to the US Congress. The US military online news site Stars and Stripes provides a review of US war plans against Syria as set forth in the document.

While outlining the options, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey stressed again that the decision of whether to go to war was one for civilian leaders. The paper detailed risks like the empowering of extremists and retaliatory strikes by the Syrian government. CJCS noted, «Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next», Mr. Dempsey wrote. «Deeper involvement is hard to avoid». The options range from nonlethal intelligence and weapons training to a boots-on-the-ground plan to «assault and secure» the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons. Beyond training, Dempsey said the United States could conduct lethal stand-off strikes that would degrade the regime’s air defenses as well as ground, missile and naval forces. Such an option would require hundreds of aircraft and ships and, «depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions».

Obama written on a sidewalk in Toronto with chalk.
Obama written on a sidewalk in Toronto with chalk.

According to the newspaper, these are the five options outlined by Mr. Dempsey for U.S. military action in the Syria:

• «The least involved — a train, advise and assist mission – would require no U.S. troops to be directly involved with fighting as they operated outside Syria and delivered supplies and training, Dempsey said. At an estimated $500 million annually, it could raise opposition fighters’ capabilities but carries a risk that extremists could gain access to U.S. weapons.

• A second option, limited stand-off strikes, would target «high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes», with strikes launched outside Syria. «Depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions», Dempsey wrote. Although attacks would degrade Syrian regime capabilities over time, they could spark retaliatory attacks and endanger civilians, he wrote.

• A third option, establishing a no-fly zone, would go further, taking out Syrian air defenses to control the skies throughout the country. Because U.S. aircraft would be required to fly over Syrian airspace, the risk to U.S. troops would be higher, Dempsey said. The no-fly zone would cost $500 million upfront and up to $1 billion a month to maintain, he said.

• The U.S. military could also establish buffer zones to protect the borders of Turkey or Jordan, or to protect Syrian civilians, Dempsey wrote. Doing so would require partial no-fly zones and would carry many of the same risks and costs.

• The most complex option Dempsey outlined — controlling chemical weapons — would require a no-fly zone, air and missile strikes and thousands of troops on the ground. Doing so would cost more than $1 billion a month, he said, adding: «Risks are similar to the no-fly zone with the added risk of U.S. boots on the ground».

I think it serves the purpose to remember here that, aside from the arms deliveries mentioned above, the US Special Forces in Jordan are training rebels for ground assistance during U.S. air raids against high profile military and political targets in Syria. A major, internationally backed, political and military campaign against Syria is expected in August and September. The United States has left these around 800 combat-equipped troops (over 1000 according to some sources) as well as air defense systems in Jordan after a training exercise there. «This detachment that participated in the exercise and remained in Jordan includes Patriot missile systems, fighter aircraft, and related support, command, control, and communications personnel and systems», Obama said in June.

Many a time US officials have previously said Washington is considering implementing a no-fly zone above Syria, and last month the Pentagon left a fleet of F-16 fighter planes and its Patriot anti-missile system on the Jordanian border following a routine military exercise.

* * *

Embroiling the nation in a dangerous and unnecessary conflict while handing over heavy weaponry to rag-tag motley crew groups, predominantly terrorists, who have vowed to attack the US and Israel once they are finished with Syria, hardly meets the interest of common Americans facing everyday life woes in the times of financial constraints and huge deficits. The fight against the very same troubles caused in large measure by getting bogged down in costly faraway lands adventures. In June a Pew Poll showed that 70% of Americans oppose arming the Syrian «rebels», a figure which marks the highest level of opposition since the conflict began two years ago.  In a major address at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Senator Levin conceded that there is scant US popular support for increased involvement in the Syrian conflict and «no consensus» on the issue on Capitol Hill. Indeed, recent polls show that a majority of Americans opposes even giving weapons to Syrian rebels. Mr. Levin may not like it, but it is the truth he has to admit.

At that, Moscow still hopes to discuss the issue of chemical weapons at an international peace conference for Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said on July 24, adding that Moscow was for a comprehensive investigation of all such instances. He recalled that Russia had made its contribution to such an investigation, recently submitting to the United Nations a comprehensive study of soil samples taken from the site of a reported chemical attack by Syrian opposition forces outside the northern city of Aleppo in March. The study determined that the nerve agent sarin was used and that it was not «industrially manufactured».

Washington and Moscow announced plans for the peace conference last month, but the steps taken by the US administration appear to be aimed at giving priority to meddling into the fray instead of conversing at a round table. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet next week, and further talks on the conference are expected to follow. So there is still a chance to grab, a modest start to launch a major negotiation process. But the US seems to be stepping on the shoots of the would-be fledgling start to plunge the world into a quagmire of another military prolonged and costly adventure. It does so against the will of American grassroots who have had enough their feelings so masterly expressed by real American John Fogerty (the one who has gone through thick and thin to have a right to say what he feels) in his famous Déjà Vu that Senator McCain and like-minded persons appear to have never heard. These people don’t care what an average Joe thinks. It’s up to the US political brass to decide if it they serve common people or war-minded big business tycoons and hawks.


Author: Andrei Akulov

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1 Comment

  1. Arklight

    Has anyone wondered why the determination upon the part of DC to keep our troops engaged in bottomless pits and black holes on the other side of the world? Think about it. I’d be interested to see what y’all think.


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