Belmont Club

Anchors Aweigh

The administration appears convinced that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own population, according to the NYT and may be moving to chastise it. The BBC however cautions that there may never be any actual evidence of the chemical weapons violation. “UK Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that evidence could have been tampered with, degraded or destroyed in the five days since the attack.”

With the BBC innoculating the administration against future media accusations of ‘faked’ WMD evidence by declaring any proof imperceptible in advance, the NYT describes the administration’s possible game plan. “WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs options for responding to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, his national security aides are studying the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.”

With Russia still likely to veto any military action in the Security Council, the president appears to be wrestling with whether to bypass the United Nations, although he warned that doing so would require a robust international coalition and legal justification.

“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?” Mr. Obama said on Friday to CNN, in his first public comments after the deadly attack on Wednesday.

The Clinton era is a gift that keeps on giving. Unlike the lawless George W. Bush who went through the trouble of going to the UN and Congress to begin his illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama has learned from Clinton how useful is the loophole of “responsibility to protect”. If Obama uses Kosovo as a precedent, this will be the second time the US has intervened without the usual legal preliminaries to rescue a Muslim population.

Meanwhile, David Axe describes the capabilities of Naval forces now closing on in the Syrian coast.

Although Axe doesn’t quite say it, the goal of Navy is to destroy the Air Force — the Syrian Air Force that is. If the Navy is allowed to sweep the Syrians from the sky — assuming that they are not simply there to send a limited message — then swarms of drones are sure to follow once air dominance is gained. And then it will be all over. Assad may flit among hideouts for a while, but sooner or later the drones will get him. His goose will be cooked and the Syrian rebels, whoever they might be, will be in power.

How will the Navy probably accomplish its goal?

First will come the sleet of land attack missiles. “In the early 2000s the U.S. Navy took four old nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines, removed their atomic rockets and transformed them into undersea arsenals, each packing up to 154 Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles that can be launched while the sub is still underwater.”

It was Florida that opened up the Libya intervention two years ago, firing more than 90 cruise missiles to destroy dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s air defenses, clearing the way for NATO air strikes. …

As recently as this spring Florida was back in the U.S. Sixth Fleet’s patrol area, centered on the Mediterranean. The 560-foot vessel returned to her base in Georgia in June and her sister vessel USS Georgia apparently took her place on deployment. But then in July a Navy photograph depicted Florida departing base “for routine operations.” Meanwhile Georgia was last publicized patrolling the Indian Ocean.

In short, Georgia is within quick sailing distance of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, meaning she could be available to launch missiles against Syrian defenses. And if Florida is also being sent back to the Mediterranean, the Navy could have no fewer than 300 sub-launched Tomahawks lurking off the Syrian coast.

That’s just for openers. Then come the Burkes.

The U.S. Defense Department has specifically mentioned four vessels in connection with a possible assault on Syria—all of them 500-foot-long Arleigh Burke-class destroyers deployed with the Sixth Fleet. The USS Mahan, USS Gravely, USS Barry and USS Ramage, each packing a mix of 90 surface-to-air and cruises missiles, are all in the Med.

Then come the thousand-foot aircraft carriers, all packed with standoff-missile firing air wings.

Indeed two of the Navy’s thousand-foot-long nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are within a quick jaunt of Syria. The USS Nimitz and USS Harry S. Truman—each with around 70 jet fighters, support planes and helicopters plus several additional destroyers, cruisers and submarines—are both listed as being with the U.S. Fifth Fleet as of Aug. 23. The Fifth Fleet patrols the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.

Given enough time the Navy can probably grind the Syrian airbases to dust, reduce their radars to junk, incinerate any command and control facility worth mentioning. And then with Assad blinded, aerially impotent and defenseless will follow the drones. First the high flying recon drones, operated by the USAF this time, to mark and spot each target of interest. Then the shooting drones. Bam. Bam. Bam.

A few days ago, commenters in the Daily Mail wrote “THIS HAS TO STOP NOW”. By “the somebody” to do the “stopping” of course they meant the USN, the USAF and if necessary the USMC. The truth is that from a military point of view, the United States can pretty much do a job on anybody, a fact normally decried by “world public opinion” until they want “somebody to stop” something. Then everyone’s agreed, the Navy works real good.

The only thing that can possibly stop the US is the Russians in combination with the Iranians, which if it results will create a wider war. The normal method for registering Russian existential objections is the Security Council. But Obama’s not going there, nor is he apparently aware of the existence of Congress whose job it formerly was to “declare war” — a hundred year old practice that white men invented to “grab oil” which nobody remembers any more.

And the reason for these checks and balances is the same reason why dual keys exist in nuclear missile firing silos or submarines. Because this power is so awesome. And with power comes the great responsibility to ensure this unbelievable might is used with due consideration and wisdom. There is no doubt that the USN can pulverize Syria. But to what end? To what strategic end?

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