Sunday, August 25, 2013

Will Obama finally intervene in Syria?

A Tweet by the Guardian:
My friend Raphael Geller writes on Twitter:

Mahir Zeynalov, a Turkish journalist who writes for Today's Zaman, reports:
Haaretz reports that:
Washington announced Friday that four U.S. destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea would be moving closer to the coast of Syria. The destroyers are armed with Tomahawk missiles that can accurately strike military targets in Syria.
A possible scenario from Mahir Zeynalov:
It is my understanding that Obama decided to strike Syria and will do it in coordination with Britain, France and Turkey.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013 
Turkey will help funnel arms to Syria, rebels will be trained in Jordan while U.S. will strike key targets with Tomahawks.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013
Patriot missile batteries in Jordan and Turkey will serve as a limited no-fly zone in northern and southeastern Syria.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013
Kurdistan may invade northern Syria to neutralize Nusra and Ansar al Sham with PYD militants. Barzani said cross-border campaign imminent.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013 
It is much easier to impose naval embargo and strike from warships because Israel earlier destroyed Russian anti-ship Yakhnot missiles.
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) August 24, 2013 
Fred Kaplan's column in Slate, Obama’s Guns of August (a provocative title), provides a couple of scenarios for what US intervention could mean.
It seems likely that President Obama will bomb Syria sometime in the coming weeks.

His top civilian and military advisers are meeting in the White House on Saturday to discuss options. American warships are heading toward the area; those already there, at least one of which had been scheduled for a port call, are standing by. Most telling perhaps is a story in the New York Times, noting that Obama’s national-security aides are studying the 1999 air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for action in Syria. 
In that conflict 14 years ago, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, an autonomous province of Serbia, were being massacred by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. President Bill Clinton, after much reluctance, decided to intervene, but couldn’t get authorization from the U.N. Security Council, where Russia—Serbia’s main ally—was certain to veto any resolution on the use of force. So Clinton turned to NATO, an appropriate instrument to deal with a crisis in the middle of Europe.

The parallels with Syria are obvious. In this case too, an American president, after much reluctance, seems to be considering the use of force but can’t get authorization from the U.N. because of Russia’s (and China’s) certain veto. The pressures to act have swelled in recent days, with the growing evidence—gleaned not just from Syrian rebels but also from independent physicians’ groups and U.S. intelligence—that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons, killing more than 1,000 civilians.

But where can Obama turn for the legitimacy of a multinational alliance? Nobody has yet said, but a possible answer is, once again, NATO—this time led perhaps by Turkey, the alliance’s easternmost member, whose leaders are very concerned by the growing death toll and instability in Syria just across their southern border..... 
Let’s say that Obama agrees that NATO could be the key force of an air campaign in Syria—and that enough NATO members agree to go along. (In Kosovo, every member of the alliance, except Greece, played some kind of role.) 
What would be the war’s objectives? This is the crucial question of any military intervention. It should be asked, and answered, before a decision is made to intervene—along with a calculation of how much effort might be needed to accomplish those objectives and whether the cost is worth the benefit.... 
If Obama does use force in Syria, he will do so because of clear evidence that Assad’s regime has killed lots of civilians with chemical weapons. Two considerations will likely drive his decision, if it comes to that. First, he has drawn a “red line” on this issue, publicly, at least five times in the last year, and failure to follow through—especially after the latest revelations—would send confusing signals, at best, about U.S. resolve and credibility. Second, failure to respond would erode, perhaps obliterate, the taboo that the international community has placed on chemical weapons (especially nerve gas) since the end of World War I. I suspect that this factor may be more pertinent to Obama, who takes the issue of international norms very seriously. 
So the No. 1 objective of a U.S. air campaign against Syria would be the seemingly limited one of deterring or preventing Assad’s regime from using chemical weapons again. However, Obama’s top generals and intelligence officers would likely tell him that they can’t do much to fulfill this mission. They probably don’t know where the remaining chemical stockpile is located, so they wouldn’t be able to destroy it. And the notion of using military force to deter some future action is a bit vague: It’s unclear whether it would have any effect on Assad. Obama would also have to specify the additional damage he’d inflict if Assad ignored the message, and he’d have to be reasonably sure ahead of time that that damage would be enough to deter him from taking the dare. 
A more extravagant, but possibly more feasible, target of an air strike might be Assad’s regime itself—with the objective of destroying it or at least severely weakening it....

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