by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online
What are the president’s strategic objectives in the present mess? Does he know?
There are four general strategic options — predicated on the political fact that either the Congress will approve the operation or that the Obama administration will ignore it if it doesn’t, and that Obama is not worried about either the present absence of both public support and any militarily credible allies, and that he need not explain our primary objectives that will be made up as we go along (e.g., punish WMD use, regime change, enhance U.S. security, help the insurgents, restore U.S. prestige, etc.)
1) A “shot across the bow” token effort to restore credibility. Bill Clinton did something similar after the attacks on the East African embassies, and Ronald Reagan did some shelling and bombing after serial attacks on the Marines in 1983–4 and did some damage to Gaddafi in 1986. A cruise-missile-on-the-wrist would mean some launches aimed at breaking stuff and killing bad people. It would warn Assad that we could afford to do that repeatedly far more easily than Assad can afford to use WMDs again. Ostensibly it would restore the president’s redline, warn people that it is wrong to use WMDs, marginally help Assad’s opponents, and do some damage to the regime. The upside, to the extent that there is any, is that few Americans would be endangered in the short term, and the cost would be tolerable. The act, if past examples are any guide, would be of no real strategic benefit, but might offer the flummoxed Obama administration a political fig leaf.
2) Leading-from-behind bombing. On the theory that WMDs don’t think or act, but rather the people who deploy them do, then Assad becomes the target. In this scenario, we might order a week or two of bombing and cruise-missile launches intended to destroy Syrian air power, level his military facilities, and tip the scales to the opposition, in the fashion of the Libya operation. We could probably do this for a week or two without much loss, and Iranians or their surrogates would target U.S. interests and our allies in the region. Retaliation to possible enemy retaliation, in tit-for-tat fashion, would be assumed necessary.
3) The Serbian solution. Here we would try to organize allies for a sustained bombing campaign of several weeks until Assad is killed or agrees to leave. We would have to assume that the al-Qaeda insurgents would give way to the Free Syrian Army and the latter’s dominance would be a great improvement over Assad. There are more downsides of maintaining public support and international tolerance, but again regime change is feasible. The postbellum scenario would be entirely speculative, given that the U.S. would have little, if any, influence on what follows on the ground. Libya, I think, was largely a disaster, but apparently few hold the administration culpable for the lawless chaos that now reigns in Libya, much less what was turned on us at Benghazi.
4) The whole-hog Afghanistan/Iraq operation to ensure regime change and democratic nation-building. No need to elaborate on this — given the political impossibility in the present climate.