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Chemical Weapons – The Red Line that Isn’t There

December 4, 2012

The world is yet again at the brink of falling into the trap posed by Assad’s Syria. Reports are circulating that the regime is thinking about using chemical weapons on the rebels, and that this is the red line that once crossed will require a foreign intervention. Call me a coward, or a hard headed realist, the cons of an intervention in Syria remain far greater than the pros even in the case of a chemical attack.

The last tyrant in the region commit such an act was Saddam Hussein and look at the trouble we got into for removing his regime from power. The problem is the facts on the ground have changed very little since this report, nor indeed since the beginning of hostilities. If anything, an intervention would actually be worse now than before. The Syrian air defense system is extremely sophisticated, having been neither crippled by the rebels, nor by a decade of strikes and sanctions as Saddam’s had been. The cost of launching an air campaign against Syria would be immense, it would take somewhere on the order of 600 t0 700 Tomahawk cruise missiles to cripple Syria’s air defenses before airstrikes could commence. A Tomahawk cruise missile costs roughly one million dollars. Thus the opening strike of an air campaign against the Assad regime would cost nearly a billion dollars. The article which is linked to above goes on to say that not only is the Syrian air defense more formidable than Libya’s was in 2011, but it is also denser. This means that the Syrians are using even more anti-aircraft weapons to defend a much smaller area, the chances for intense U.S. and Coalition casualties are high. Beyond the risks to U.S. and Allied personal, Syria is a much more urbanized society and thus the likelihood that our bombs will kill the very people we are trying to protect is much higher, and given the rate of civilian casualties both during the bombing of Iraq and during our drone campaign in Afghanistan/Pakistan it is reasonable to assume at some point we will hit the hospital next to the air force headquarters.

And what of the costs to the United States? The arguments for intervening are always couched in the rhetoric of helping the Syrian people, which is noble, but which Americans will help them? Is it going to be the ones advocating the intervention? Of course not. It will be the roughly one and half million Americans who are members of the armed forces, and they have been worn down to the bone by a decade of war. And before someone says we wont need ground troops, might I remind them that the Assad regime is far more prepared to fight to the end than the Qaddafi regime was. Ground troops will very likely be needed to pull Assad and his cronies from the holes they will dig themselves into. Also as a practical matter, we tried letting ill armed, and ill trained, and poorly lead militias do our dirty work for us in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and it took another ten years to get most of the targets we had nailed to a wall in those precious months. So as we send our young men and women for yet another tour of duty to a nation that poses no threat to us, to fight for a people who will most likely end up hating us for it, we have to ask ourselves, do we have the moral fortitude for that? I for one do not, I cannot look a young man in the eyes and tell him he must leave his home, his wife, and his childern yet again for what – in strategic terms – is a trivial intervention.  I believe Andrew Bacevich (although his interview is mainly concerned with Iraq, if you replace that word for Syria you’ll get the idea) put it best, “I don’t think we actually support the troops. We the people. What we the people do is we contract out the business of national security to approximately 0.5 percent of the population. About a million and a half people that are on active duty.” How many of us our willing to join them so that they may enjoy what we now have? The plight of the Syrian people is terrible, but it cannot be remedied by American arms, American treasure, or American blood.

  1. I don’t think anyone would call you a coward, although hard headed realist is an apt description (and to you probably a compliment). I view the situation differently, and would advocate intervention. I’ll throw out some reasons, but ultimately these sorts of things come down to a basic long term/short term split.

    First, let me try to attack one of the points that you made that I find hard to believe. You claim that Syria is different than Iraq, and there would most likely be more casualties due to the smaller geographic area and better military. I raise my eyebrow to this point. Before Iraq there were people who thought that there would be thousands of casualties both times (which happened after major combat operations ceased). Casualties were minimal, and that was even with boots on the ground. The US military has the ability to judge the situation once the mission has been given, and it is unlikely that major casualties will happen (I’m thinking over 100), and I wouldn’t be surprised if things went exactly like they did in Libya. I’m sure the conflict would cost a good chunk of change, but ultimately I feel that the cost is worth the results.

    The benefits will hopefully come from a new Syria that is more pro-US. Moreover, the USA would avoid the consequences of an anti-US government in Damascus. Even if a group akin to the Muslim Brotherhood were to be elected (the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is very different than the Egyptian one) it would be preferable to a chaotic region where groups of terrorists can form at will. Rule of law is in the USA’s interest for as long as it supports Israel. Moreover, US support will shorten the length of the war. Less jihadis would come into the country, and a better solution is available.

    A no fly zone is preferable, but I also feel Obama’s lead from behind strategy could work if he could motivate the Chinese and Russians to give a UN Security council approval. This would lead to Turkey leading the charge as it has been rearing to do. It’s not easy to do, and I’m sure they’ve tried their best over at the State Department.

    Ultimately, I think spending now will reap many rewards in the future, seen and unseen. Ultimately, Obama’s cry of never again by the Holocaust memorial, where I’m only a block away is the best reason for action. Still, I can see every point as legitimate.
    that was even with boots on the ground. The US military has the ability to judge the situation once the mission has been given, and it is unlikely that major casualties will happen (I’m thinking over 100), and I wouldn’t be suprised if things went exactly like they did in Libya. I’m sure the conflict would cost a good chunk of change, but ultimatley, I

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