When a state contemplates military action, the first question it asks its leaders should be, “What is the desired political outcome?” Military leaders are fond of quoting Karl Von Clausewitz. “War is the continuation of politics by other means,” he wrote. Will U.S. leaders repeat the mistake of failing to plan for the end of a conflict before starting one?
If the desired endstate is to stop the use of chemical weapons on civilians, limited long-range strikes will not achieve that. If the goal is to topple Assad, what’s the plan for dealing with the power vacuum sure to be filled by amateur, untrained, or worse, Al Qaeda-trained rebels? Before the first cruise missile is fired, how do we plan to respond to a worst-case reaction by Syria’s allies? This could include massive Iranian ballistic missile strikes on Israel and all the Gulf States that currently support the US by allowing us to base our forces there. We’ll face an unpredictable reaction by Assad’s hard hitting gangster buddy to the north, Putin. This may not be the risk free drive-by shooting some of our political leaders seem to anticipate.
Perhaps that’s all acceptable in light of Syrian atrocities that clearly require some sort of international response. I’d like to hear our leaders state our national goals, how a military operation would assist the Syrian people, and how possible outcomes would be in the interest of the United States and international stability. As we’ve seen in the recent past, simply throwing colossal quantities of ordnance at a problem does not solve it. It complicates it.