This week we have been witness to an alleged Chemical Weapons (CW) attack in Syria, probably the second or third such attack since President Obama put his 'red line' to work during the last election campaign to make himself sound good and strong on National Defense. This was after Libya, which crossed no lines of using CW, and which the US and Europeans supported with arms and logistical supplies. Of the things we delivered to Libyan rebels were US made MANPADs that have gone missing and appear to have been transferred to the Syrian 'rebels', mostly al Qaeda organization types either from AQ itself or AQ in the Magreb. Added on to that is that the Syrian 'rebels' from AQ have also gotten their hands on CW stores of the regime at outlying bases and you now have two sides armed with CW capability.
A final part of this mix is Hezbollah which tested out Surface to Surface Missiles (SSM) and Iranian copies of the anti-ship Silkworm Missile, the latter used against an civilian cargo freighter and an Israeli Destroyer. Thus there is a whole panoply of weapons available amongst all the parties involved, not to speak of the improved SCUDs that Syria has and the rumored Bio Weapon program that got kicked off when dual-use equipment was delivered to Syria in the '90s to help it make a pharmaceuticals industry which then shut down after the equipment was delivered. Syria has a long line of backers going back decades which include: USSR/Russia, China, North Korea and its main backer, Iran.
Thus we are left with a specter of both sides having access to CWs and the entire Syrian conflict devolving into an artillery battle (with some SSM components also held by both sides because the regime had such weapons at outlying bases as well), and one in which one side has no air wing and the other side has one but is faced with an array of US and Libyan made MANPADs which threaten to neutralize not just fixed wing assets but rotary wing assets, as well.
Back in 2006 I did a review of the known Syrian weapons sites and what they looked like from Open Source INTEL to get a handle on just what it was that Syria had in-place at the time. I've since looked at other imagery near al-Baida and seen what looks to be the rumored site of where Saddam's WMD programs ended up in Syria and it is typical of its other sites: some military surface emplacements and then indications of a larger underground structure , in the case of al-Baida, inside a mountain. This is not only not unusual for Syria, but with its associations with NoKo and its expertise with having one of the most heavily dug in military systems on the planet, Syria most likely has put in defenses to thwart, divert or otherwise try to minimize the threat of 'bunker buster' bombs. And as they had a good, close look at US capability in Iraq plus some INTEL coming via Iran from Af-Pak, Syria most likely has a good idea of the modern US capacity with such weapons.
Now comes President Obama's 'red line' being crossed and there are some essential questions to be asked, just on the military side of things.
1) Who has been using CWs in Syria? Whenever you see photos of men with pails of chemicals to pour into an artillery shell, do realize that those are the oldest of the old shells in Syria. They updated their CW capacity during the '70s by purchasing Spin Mix In Flight shell technology from Egypt which was supplied to them from the USSR. So anyone using the old 'mix in pail and load' deal are most likely the lowest of the low end troops with old technology that was most likely at outlying bases, since you wouldn't want the modern shells to be used against you in a civil war... which this is, BTW, with outsiders trying take over, as well, in the form of AQ/AQIM. It is easy enough to fake an artillery CW attack: just wait for an enemy artillery barrage and then mix some pails of chemicals, add some C-4 and blow them up in the craters or nearby. This is a vital question as intervening against EITHER side means that the US is taking a PARTISAN SIDE in a civil war. By damaging one side you help the other, which is the logic of old-style warfare like we are being handed in Syria.
2) If the point is to warn against using CW's, then why state just that [or even as what the President suggested in his proposed authorization document, all WMDs – added after initial post] ? President George W. Bush gave the somewhat broad idea that getting rid of Saddam was to keep the world's worst weapons from the world's worst people. That project is now a failure in Syria as that is precisely what is going on. At this point AQ/AQIM must be assumed to have at least CW in its inventory to distribute to agents. That is backed by the pre-OIF word from the Kurds that Saddam had trained AQ in CWs, and from our own CIA in Afghanistan where they found a site where AQ was using the Iraqi documents to create and test out CWs on animals and living human beings who were not volunteers. Thus AQ has demonstrated knowledge, background and willingness to dabble in CWs and now have CWs in their inventory of available arms. If President Obama's goal is to warn any Nation or organization (the much harder of the two to convince) that using CWs is off-limits, then why limit the attack to just CWs [or WMDs]? Indeed, why use a conventional attack, at all? The only way to make sure that the CW complexes, chemical facilities and actual source mines of phosphate are interdicted is not through conventional attacks, but with nuclear attacks. That, of course, would just up the ante in the WMD game, but its still a hard chip to get access to even with nuclear proliferation... as long as Pakistan remains semi-stable, that is. Or until Iran develops its own nuclear capacity. Anything that leaves any of that infrastructure in place for the 'winner' means that you will have a CW capable State at the end of the conflict which, one would think, is just the opposite goal of what is being sought.
3) Attacking Syria would be easy if we hadn't PO'd the Israeli's, who have a demonstrated knowledge and capacity to take down Syrian (indeed just about anyone's) air defenses. That still leaves us with the specter of US manned aircraft getting taken down with US made MANPADs that went to Libya and were transferred to the Syrian 'rebels'. As I mentioned earlier these are not the only threats to be aware of, and SSM and anti-ship missile threats are also available to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah. The dug-in nature of the Syrian main military sites, situated in regime strongholds, means that we cannot be assured of effectiveness of 'bunker buster' type bombs due to the passive and active defenses the regime has put in place due to Israeli capacity in that arena.
Even if some of the weapons arrayed against US air and sea assets aren't the most modern, they do not have to be as a good number of them are man-portable or non-fixed site devices, which means that a feint against a ship would draw an air response that can then be met with a numerically high number of attacks. Even stealth capacity is no proof against simple man-guided missiles and they won't even give you a lock-on warning, either. Saddam was caught with his pants down because he expected the US to be thwarted for long months by Turkish duplicity and was lazily re-arranging his military to meet what he expected to be a long-way off US threat. The Syrian regime is now given warnings of a date for decision and that will most likely be one of date of attack, as well. Thus the chances of getting to and taking out arms that are the target goes down due to dispersal and defensive capabilities used to keep such arms, while other weapons (like SAM and MANPADS) get deployed to dissuade or take down US attacking aircraft. While Syria is no virtual fortress like NoKo, it is a State with a major coastal mountain range, and mountain warfare is the 'great equalizer' against even the most sophisticated opponents. I looked at that in 2007 and anyone unfamiliar with what Mountain Warfare is might want to think about the topic. Even though these are not the high mountains of Af-Pak, even the relatively low range in Syria has the same sorts of elements as are seen elsewhere and in other conflicts, and the US must take that to heart when going after any sort of hardened system set in a mountain range: Syria is not Libya, and the likelihood of getting a cruise missile into a cave opening will be much lower now that Syria knows the US has that capacity and has had decades to analyze it and prepare for such attacks. If you wanted to take out Syria the time was way back when in Iraq when they were actively aiding and abetting the movement of terrorists into Iraq from Syria. Too bad this President can't draw on that, huh?
4) Sectarian conflict is already going on in Syria between Shia and Sunni populations and, within the Shia population, between your average run of the mill types and the local Alawite sect which has its own teachings from Mohammed. Consider them to be the LDS of Islam. Being a minority of a minority (with Shia Islam around 10% of the population and the Alawite sect just 10% of that or 1% of the local population) and the specter of any US attack being cast as an attack against a religious minority raises its ugly head, as well. The last thing the US needs on a regional basis is to raise sectarian conflicts to a bitter height by attacking one of them. If we took the more even-handed approach that our allies took in Libya when all combatants took on the same garb and you couldn't tell regime from rebel from terrorist from civilian, then you might be able to make a case. I dubbed that the 'Kill Them All' doctrine as it meant killing anyone who was fighting that you could set your sights on. That, of course, would mean going after rebel caches of CWs as well... something we haven't heard about so far. It's like the President wants to pick sides, pick winners, and not tell anyone that is what he is doing. Oh, yes, that is because that IS what he is doing.
5) Finally, and this really should be heard out, if our aim is to help the 'defenseless civilian population' then why, oh why, aren't we planning to do that? Really, if your goal is to preserve lives in a civil war where two sides (regime and 'rebels') are armed but the majority of the population (known as 'victims') aren't then why bother with either the regime or the 'rebels'? A simple and much cheaper, plan is to buy up every AK from the global black market and air drop them by the pallet load to the civilian population. Every town, village, farmhouse, collection of huts, places where people are seen living in caves, nomadic Bedouin, basically anyplace where you can find that isn't in control of the regime or 'rebels', should be well armed so that they aren't 'victims' any more. If the idea is that the right to keep and bear arms is based on the fundamental positive liberty of warfare (self-defense) and the synthetic right to protect your property (gained by your liberty and thusly representative of your life's work), then this natural right is also a positive civil right and those deprived of arms when a war is ongoing (especially a 'respect no sides' civil war) are being offered up for slaughter. If a well-armed society is a polite society and one likely to kill off hotheads, then isn't the place for this to be tested? Syria has been a police State under one family for decades. Civil rights, human rights and natural rights are abridged and abused there by both 'sides'. And whoever 'wins' the civilian population loses. If we really mean that we are about human liberty and freedom, and the right to not be abused by anyone, by no government and by no feral humans, then why not do the obvious and arm the civilian population and let THEM start to figure out what THEY WANT in the way of government? Yes, that will make the conflict bloodier for a time, but a lot of that blood is going to the Tree of Liberty, not the Weed of Tyranny, and the end result will be something that the locals actually WANT. Hey, it may be something horrific, right? Yes. Of course anyone wanting to do that must NOT PO the local population as it is well armed... and that is a much, much better state of affairs than has existed in Syria. Ever.
Now for a few additional questions, but these are not about the military side of things.
Remember the 'anti-war coalition'? You know the Leftist/Socialist/Code Pink/International Answer sewer groups? Where are they?
I haven't heard from them since Obama has been elected.
They claimed to have such high morals and were against international conflicts because they impoverished people and took away from the goodie takings at home. So where are these people?
You know the types that said we should have learned ever so much more about Iraq before going in? Remember those people? I do.
Where are they?
Why are they not organizing marches starting, well, right after Sec. State Kerrey delivered his asinine pabulum, but where were they yesterday? OK, there might be a few Harley-Davidsons roaming around DC, but that shouldn't keep the stalwart defenders of their own moral certitude from doing anything. Can't they get their collective heads out of their collective rectums to realize the smell they are getting is their own?
I don't call them the 'duplicitous Left' for nothing, you know.
And where are all those who tout 'international law' for everything going on as the answer? They should be crying out for the sanctions provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention to be put into force! OK, they may be stuck in Syria not signing on to that... but where is the outrage on THAT? Shouldn't they be going to every other signatory State and pointing out that it has a MORAL DUTY TO ACT against a rogue regime using such weapons? Oh, wait, that is silence I'm hearing from the 'international law' crowd. So sorry, I thought you were serious about it. 'Duplicitous' doesn't even begin to cover them.
So where are all these high minded types of all stripes that came out of the woodwork for years on this topic?
Where are their morals? Their courage to 'stand up to da Man'? Where is their rage against the system delivering eternal war? Can't they even just run a pot luck dinner to get a few attendees anywhere?
Their lack of outrage now is their badge of cowardice, duplicity and lack of morals and ethics. It is bad news for a 'movement' when the most scrupulous member of it is Cindy Sheehan who at least continued to criticize Obama for the same things she criticized Bush for. She is yet another of the 50 Shades of Maroon, but she is a consistent shade, I'll give her that, but no less maroon for it. President Obama and his Administration seem to want to get a corner on the Shades of Maroon market, and it appears to be working. And 50 Shades of Maroon doesn't even begin to cover it.
A final thought.
Notice the political acumen to get this 'crisis' delayed long enough so that it hits the budget 'crisis' and the installment of Obamacare 'crisis', along with a nearing debt ceiling 'crisis'... and probably three or four more that I can't quickly remember... but isn't that such great timing?
Its like there is a plan behind it, or something.
Yet another of the 50 Shades of Maroon.
Nope, 50 is just not enough, methinks.