Americans with military background, many of them gone through thick and thin to know the first thing about overseas military adventures, question the wisdom of the «limited strike» against Syria planned by President Obama’s administration. They are expressing doubts that the military operation could help the beleaguered and splintered Syrian opposition, which includes a very strong radical Islamist element doomed to be hostile to the US, or lessen concerns that hardline rebels may not support America if they do seize control of the country. Along with the support expressed by Congress majority and minority leaders, there is also a growing concern about what the planned action would lead the country to. The United States has sad experience of overseas involvement sapping the country’s resources and increasing its colossal state debt while paying dearly with American lives as well as causing heavy civilian death toll in the countries attacked to boost anti-US sentiments growing worldwide.
As the Washington Post reports on August 29, the Obama administration’s plan to launch a military strike against Syria is being received with serious reservations by many in the U.S. military, according to interviews with more than a dozen military officers ranging from captains to a four-star general. Some question the use of military force as a punitive measure and suggest that the White House lacks a coherent strategy. They say the action is to set the stage for Damascus to fall to fundamentalist rebels, while the military objective of strikes on Assad’s military targets is at best ambiguous. «There’s a broad naiveté in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve», said retired Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the run-up to the Iraq war. Marine Lt. Col. Gordon Miller, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, warned this week of «potentially devastating consequences, including a fresh round of chemical weapons attacks and a military response by Israel.» According to him, if President Bashar al-Assad were to absorb the strikes, the US «would be compelled to escalate the assault on Syria to achieve the original objectives». The Washington Post’s August 29 article called Military Officers Have Deep Doubts About Impact, Wisdom of a US Strike on Syria says the military fear that the strike could «distract the Pentagon in the midst of a vexing mission: its exit from Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are still being killed regularly». A young Army officer who is wrapping up a year-long tour there said soldiers were surprised to learn about the looming strike, calling the prospect «very dangerous». Republican Congressman Justin Amash also used Twitter to state, «I’ve been hearing a lot from members of our Armed Forces. The message I consistently hear: Please vote no on military action against Syria». The Amash’s statement was followed by a series of tweets from military veterans who also expressed their opposition to the attack. Business Insider’s Paul Szoldra spoke to «sources who are either veterans or currently on active duty in the military», and asked them if they supported military escalation in Syria. «Most have responded with a resounding no», writes Szoldra. He quotes an active duty First Class Sergeant who states, «We are stretched thin, tired, and broke», adding that the United States «does not need to be World Police». «Our involvement in Syria is so dangerous on so many levels, and the 21st century American vet is more keen to this than anybody. It boggles my mind that we are being ignored», adds former Cpl. Jack Mandaville, a Marine Corps infantry veteran with 3 deployments to Iraq.
Not only are military personnel going public with their concerns, Politico reported that leaks of attack plans are also, «emanating from a Pentagon bureaucracy less enthusiastic about the prospect of an attack than, say, the State Department, National Security Council or Obama himself, «unauthorized disclosures that have the White House «peeved».
Retired United States Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, who headed «Operation Desert Fox» – a series of air strikes against Iraq in December 1998 – agrees with Christopher Hill, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and special envoy to Kosovo (1996-1999), saying a U.S. military strike on Syria will not be seen only as an attack on President Bashar al-Assad. «This will be taken in the region that you are attacking Alawites, Shia, Christians», he said. «The tribal, ethnic and religious sects here are so divided, that once you do something — regardless of intention — you have in effect taken a side». Zinni and Hill say that this time the United States is unable able to put together at least some international coalition in advance of planned strikes.
General James Mattis, the recently retired head of the U.S. Central Command, said last month at a security conference that the United States has «no moral obligation to do the impossible» in Syria. «If Americans take ownership of this, this is going to be a full-throated, very, very serious war». He knows what he says, the General has overseen planning for a range of U.S. military responses in Syria.
The potential consequences of a U.S. strike include a retaliatory attack by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which supports Assad, on Israel, as well as cyber-attacks on U.S. targets and infrastructure, U.S. military officials said.
«What is the political end we’re trying to achieve?» one retired senior officer involved in Middle East operational planning asked. «I don’t know what it is. We say it’s not regime change. If it’s punishment, there are other ways to punish».
Ann Wright is a former United States Army Colonel and retired U.S. State Department official known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She points out that Secretary of State John Kerry has pronounced that the UN inspectors «can’t tell us anything that we don’t already know.» President Obama says that any U.S. attack on the Assad government will be as punishment, not regime change. The strike will be «limited»—but tell that to the civilians who inevitably die when military attacks take place. The Colonel notes that President Bush didn’t know or didn’t care about the probable consequences of their decision to invade and occupy Iraq. The result is hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 4,000 Americans dead, millions of Iraqis and Americans wounded physically and psychologically, many young men of the region now experienced in warfare and for hire moving from Iraq to Libya to Syria and the Iraqi «democratic» government unable to control the sectarian violence that now is killing hundreds each week.
The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity group put 17 signatures of armed forces and other law enforcement agencies veterans in a letter calling on General Dempsey to resign in an act of protest against the would-be military action, «As seasoned intelligence and military professionals solemnly sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we have long been aware that – from private to general – it is one’s duty not to obey an illegal order. If such were given, the honorable thing would be to resign, rather than be complicit».
One of the more vocal critics is the top military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in great detail about the risks and pitfalls of U.S. military intervention in Syria «Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid». «As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that use of force will move us toward the intended outcome», Dempsey wrote last month in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The General said this month in an interview with ABC News that his experience in Iraq has influenced the approach to Syria and the «Greater Middle East». «It has branded in me the idea that the use of military power must be part of an overall strategic solution that includes international partners and a whole of government and that simply the application of force rarely produces – and, in fact, maybe never produces – the outcome that we seek», he said.
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Considering the problem of use of force there are principles to stick to formulated by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger (Defense Secretary in 1981-1987 under Republican Ronald Reagan administration) but often referred to as doctrine named after Colin Powell.
The "Powell Doctrine" is a journalist-created term, named after General Colin Powell in the run-up to the 1990-1991 Gulf War. It is based in large part on the Weinberger Doctrine, devised by Caspar Weinberger, former Secretary of Defense and Powell's former boss. The doctrine emphasizes U.S. national security interests, availability of a clear attainable objective, a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement, assessment of risks and costs, exhaustion of non-violent policy means, thorough consideration of the consequences and genuine international support.
The US implemented it in the UN Security Council-approved Gulf war. As soon as the unachievable missions were set before the US military, like «building democracy», for instance, the US failed one time after another in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Military victory easily achieved, the US has failed to win peace being impotent in front of resistance that had no unified command center and was rather of sporadic nature with the mission to fight foreign troops on national soils. This time around the mission is not to topple the Syrian government. It’s all about chemical weapons. President Obama warns in advance it is of limited nature, and then what would make the perpetrators stop? And if it is a provocation staged by rebels as it has been a proven case at least once? The probability the crime was committed by anti-Assad rebels is high having in mind it has happened before.
It has always been like that. The US started a small (limited) war planned to end up in the blink of an eye. It normally was a pipe dream becoming protracted and costly adventure as raw awakening came. If the first strike against Syria brings about no result (and it is actually doomed to be this way), then Obama will have to willy-nilly order another «limited» (but this time not that «limited») action under the wave of harsh criticism. Then the chain reaction will get the US mired in the quagmire of drawn-out and costly military conflict it says it has no intention to be dragged into. It will take away many lives to end up in political deadlock – another war without strictly defined goals and senseless in each and every way. None of the problems posed by Syria conflict will be solved as a result of military action. And that is the way Washington embarks on the road to another Vietnam, a folly-like self-destruction making suffer the very same American people whose interests President Obama has solemnly vowed to serve…