BRET STEPHENS: TARGET ASSAD

Wall Street Journal on August 27, 2013, published an article by Bret Stephens in which he wrote that a strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that could hasten the end of the civil war. Excerpts below:

Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar’s brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family’s power, including all of their official or unofficial residences. The use of chemical weapons against one’s own citizens plumbs depths of barbarity matched in recent history only by Saddam Hussein. A civilized world cannot tolerate it. It must demonstrate that the penalty for it will be acutely personal and inescapably fatal.

As it is, a strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that will not run afoul of the only red line Mr. Obama is adamant about: not getting drawn into a protracted Syrian conflict. And it is the one option that has a chance to pay strategic dividends from what will inevitably be a symbolic action.

Let’s examine some of the alternatives.

One option is to target the Syrian army’s stores of chemical weapons, estimated at over 1,000 tons. Last week the Times of Israel reported that “the embattled [Assad] regime has concentrated its vast stocks of chemical weapons in just two or three locations . . . under the control of Syrian Air Force Intelligence.” If that’s right, there’s a chance some large portion of Assad’s stockpile could be wiped out of existence using “agent-defeat” bombs that first shred chemical storage containers in a rain of metal darts, and then incinerate the chemicals with white phosphorus, preventing them from going airborne.

Still, it’s unlikely that airstrikes could destroy all of the regime’s chemical stores, which are probably now being moved in anticipation of a strike, and which could always be replenished by Bashar’s friends in North Korea and Iran. More to the point, a strike on chemical weapons stocks, while salutary in its own right, does little to hurt the men who ordered their use. Nor does it seriously damage the regime’s ability to continue waging war against its own people, if only by conventional means.

Another option would be a strike on the headquarters, air bases and arms depots of the regime’s elite Republican Guard, and particularly Maher Assad’s Fourth Armored Division, which reportedly carried out last week’s attack. But here the problem of asset dispersion becomes that much greater, as fewer tanks, helicopters or jets can be destroyed by a single cruise missile (unit cost: $1.5 million).

Then there is the “Desert Fox” option—Bill Clinton’s scattershot, three-day bombing campaign of Iraq in December 1998, on the eve of his impeachment. The operation hit 97 targets in an effort to “degrade” Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and make a political statement. But it did nothing to damage Saddam’s regime…

And so to the Kill Assad option.

But now those words must be made to mean something, lest they become a piece of that other moral obscenity: the West’s hitherto bland indifference to Syria’s suffering. Condemnation can no longer suffice. It recalls the international reaction to Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia…

There will be other occasions to consider the narrow question of Syria’s future. What’s at stake now is the future of civilization, and whether the word still has any meaning.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: