Belmont Club

And Now For Syria

The headlines are alive with reports that Assad has used chemical weapons in Syria. Liz Sly, Washington Post Beirut bureau chief links to this video, one of several on the web now being uploaded.

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Could it be true this time? Or has it been true for some time already? The fog of war has  gathered thick around the Middle Eastern conflict zones. The very same Washington Post also quotes sources which say “‘We have seen zero indication that the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization is organizing these [Coptic Church burning] attacks,’ said a high-ranking Western official who was not authorized to speak on the record. The official said the blame more likely rested with Islamist vigilantes rather than Brotherhood members acting on orders.”

Tapping blindly ahead using whatever collateral one can find yields Noah Schachtman quoting an administration official on the subject of perceiving chemical weapons if used: “as long as they keep body count at a certain level, we won’t do anything.”  Reality isn’t facts. Reality is what the polls can stand.

Writing in Real Clear Defense, Schachtman and Colum Lynch ask, “after eight months of allegations, why do we know so little about Syria’s nerve gas attacks?” Maybe because factual knowledge is dangerous. Spin is so much more useful because it can be altered at will, often in several directions at once. Without hinting at the possible use of chemical weapons the President could not have uttered his manly warning, yet if the chemical weapons have been used  then the President might actually be forced to do the inconveniently manly thing.

The appearance of leadership is much more useful to the Narrative than leadership itself. The chemical weapons have so far been like the administration’s military aid to Egypt. Nobody is sure whether it exists or not. This is a world where there’s no proof that anybody ordered 60 churches burned in Egypt but the NSA can collect every search term you’ve ever launched on Google.

On the Obama administration’s watch, convenient mysteries abound. Take Hillary’s bafflement over Benghazi. Declaring herself ignorant of  the reasons for the burning and sacking of a US consulate, Hillary Clinton responded to inquiries into its cause by saying, “was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”

Why can’t Syria be like that? Maybe the chemical weapons reports are just the administration drumming up unity for its Arab allies after the scattering of Cairo. But maybe it’s real; and if it’s real a preview of what the administration might potentially do in Syria was laid out by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. He listed the intervention options as:

  1. Train, advise and assist opposition forces in safe areas outside of Syria.
  2. Conduct limited air and missile strikes against Syrian forces and command centers.
  3. Establish a no-fly zone over all of Syria. That would require hundreds of aircraft and cost up to $1 billion a month.
  4. Establish buffer zones inside Syria as safe havens for opposition fighters and civilians. That would require smaller no-fly zones but also thousands of U.S. troops to defend the safe havens. Estimated cost more than $1 billion a month.
  5. Destroy or seize Syria’s chemical weapons — a massive operation that would require a no-fly zone plus air strikes plus thousands of American troops. Again, the estimated cost would be well over $1 billion a month.

This may have been Dempsey’s indirect way of saying he didn’t anything to do with it.  You can see why.  The only effective options would be equivalent to refighting  a larger version of OIF in Syria , right after having thrown away the victory in Iraq. Moreover, a scrap in Syria would have the potential of escalating into a great power conflict because both Russia and Iran are patrons of Assad.

Dempsey’s points can be restated thus: minefield ahead.

One of the worst possible scenarios for the administration would be if Assad actually used chemical weapons.  It would drag Obama across his own Red Line kicking and screaming.  Any significant commitment to Syria would probably require the abandonment of whatever gains have been won in Afghanistan. It would deep six the President’s downsizing of the military and ruin whatever prospects remained for Obamacare’s funding. In short, the administration would have effectively shot itself in the foot and beggared itself to boot with one and the same blast.

That would be a signal for the President to take another vacation. From the calm of the links, an Obama confronted with clear evidence of chemical weapons use could weasel out by invoking his usual rejection of the False Choice. It will leave a mark though, because his teleprompter has written a check that he can’t easily cash. Such a climbdown coming after his recent humiliation in Egypt might cost him votes n 2014. And you can’t have that.

If Syria metastizes Time Magazine will probably go overtime arguing that ‘Syria doesn’t matter any more’, just as it recently argued that ‘Egypt doesn’t matter any more.’ Unfortunately the fire in Syria now bids fair to spread into Jordan,  Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan, and that point maybe neither Obama nor Time will matter any more either.

It would be bad news for the administration if  the chemical weapon line has been crossed in Syria.  It would place them on the horns of the dilemma. It would lay bare all the strategic blunders of the administration from 2009 onwards: the abandonment of Iraq to Iran; the exile of US ground forces to Afghanistan; the self-demolition of the political justification for the War on Terror. And last but not least it would expose the disastrous attempt to wage proxy war in the Middle East using Islamist forces with scant loyalty to Washington.

The Left, in elevating Barack Obama, have manacled themselves to an accident waiting to happen. And now every new day begins with near miss; every fresh crisis starts with the expectation: will this be the one?

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