Required Reading

Mike Nelson explains how ends, ways, and means must be combined to form a coherent strategy — and what happens when they don’t mesh up:

As early as the Summer of 2011, and as recently as September of this year, President Obama has stated that the removal of Bashar Assad as president of Syria is an American goal and a required condition to bring resolution to the Syrian Civil War. In addition to calling for Assad’s ouster, President Obama said that the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons would be “a red line for us, and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.” After multiple reported chemical attacks against the Syrian people in 2013, the U.S. considered both kinetic and diplomatic options which were scoped down to focus exclusively on the Syrian chemical capability. Ultimately, Assad surrendered many of his declared chemical weapons through an international agreement brokered by Russia to avoid U.S. action in Syria. However, American tunnel vision on the chemical weapons seemed divorced from a larger context within the Syrian Civil War. If Assad’s endstate is to remain in power, and a way by which he will pursue that end is to conduct attacks against populations supportive of the Syrian Opposition, then this brokered surrender of chemical weapons merely removed one of many means from Assad’s range of options to achieve his endstate. In fact, Assad has continued this method of attacking populations aligned with the Opposition on a far greater scale using conventional explosives (and is some cases alleged to have continued chemical attacks with chlorine and mustard gas), all without answer from the United States. While the removal of WMD from a malign actor is an inherent good, in this case the U.S. must recognize that the removal of one capability from Assad has done nothing to either advance the American goal of his departure, nor to deny him the means to achieve his ends.

Read the whole thing.

“Talk loudly and carry a small stick” seems to be the order of the day.