The events in Syria are likely to escalate into a regional conflict. USS Donald Cook already deployed in the Mediterranean can deliver a limited missile attack against Syria but a large-scale operation is unlikely to be launched until USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group (CSG) arrives in roughly 10-14 days. The CSG left the home base in Norfolk on April 11. The land strike-capable USS Porter can reach the Syria’s shore pretty soon. USS Laboon and USS Carney, two more Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, as well as USS Georgia and USS John Warner submarines, are in close proximity to add more punch if an order to strike is given.
The composition of the carrier group includes at least five warships (one cruiser and 4 destroyers) capable of cruise missile attacks against land targets. Each US destroyer or cruiser can carry over 50 land attack missiles. It could be more, depending on the mission. USS Georgia is an Ohio class submarine (SSGN) to carry 154 land attack missiles. USS John Warner is a Virginia-class submarine to carry 12 Tomahawks. The USS Iwo Jima amphibious strike group can deploy to Syria in a few days from the Arabian Sea.
The UK, France, perhaps some other NATO and Middle East allies, including Israel, will join a US-led operation in Syria. The British Air Force can operate from Cyprus. A RAF KC2 air tanker is already there. The talks between the US, the UK and France are underway. Syrian armed forces are taking precautionary measures expecting strikes any time now.
US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hailey, sounds like if a sustained operation, not a one-off strike, is a done deal. The envoy says America will strike with or without a UN resolution. The voices are heard calling for striking Syrian command and control sites as well as “regime’s political centers”, despite the fact that where Russian advisers could be there. That’s something the US military has not done before.
A proposal to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty to contain Moscow without military actions has been floated. No actual war, but Russia will be considered an enemy. John Bolton’s warnings that an Islamic State ouster would allow Syrian President Assad to remain in power, with Iranian influence intact in Iraq are remembered to bolster the calls for action. In 2015, the newly appointed national security adviser called for carving out an independent Sunni Muslim state in northeastern Syria and western Iraq. He has his chance now.
A US-led multinational operation in Syria has become a predominant idea in Washington. On April 10, President Trump postponed his visit to Latin America because of the events in Syria. One can assume that the provocation in Douma was staged to make President Trump reconsider the decision to pull forces out in favor of confronting Russia, Syria and Iran. Those who did it hoped the US president would bite it. And bite he did.
There is no way to get rid of Assad but launch an international invasion. Washington’s global standing has received a strong blow after the unimpressive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. A US-led intervention could boost it if it were a success. America would present itself as a defender of Syrians suffering from the “atrocities of Assad’s dictatorship”. Heading an international coalition would help restore America’s image as the world leader. This is the way to make Washington a friend of Sunni Muslims who allegedly need protection from Tehran.
Invading Syria is the way to weaken Iran’s influence in Iraq. Such an operation would meet the goals of the Russia containment policy. An intervention could bring the US-led force and Turkey together in their desire to oust Assad. That would distance Ankara from Moscow, which will not leave its Syrian ally in lurch. From Washington’s view, these are the pros to bolster the plan to invade.
And now about the cons. After the failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, you name it, the US would once again get tied up in the messy situation in the region. It may need to go beyond the Syria’s borders. For instance, the US-led coalition would have to strike Hezbollah in Lebanon. There is a big chance the US and its allies would get involved in another protracted bloody war with no final victory in sight.
Suppose, the intervention ends up as a quick, victorious operation in purely military terms, what about the prospects of winning war to lose peace, like in Iraq? Washington will be responsible for the outcome of nation building in a country divided along religious and ethnical lines. The US will be rebuked for failure and accused of depriving Syria of the chance provided by the Astana peace process. Invading Syria means fighting Iranians. The Washington’s goal is to incite them to rebellion. An invasion of Syria could backlash to make all Iranian people united behind the ayatollahs’ regime.
Finally, invading Syria is a great risk as Russia would not stand idly if the lives of its servicemen were threatened there. The possibility of clash will grow immensely. But if the US-coalition applies de-confliction efforts, there will be no containment. To the contrary, the world will see that Moscow cannot be ignored. It isn’t now. Despite all the tensions souring, Russia’s Chief of General Staff will meet the NATO Supreme Commander in a few days. No doubt, they will discuss Syria.
If Iran gets united and stronger, Russia remains to be an actor to reckon with, nation building fails and Assad keeps on fighting back to make the coalition suffer casualties, then there will be only cons with no pros. And that will take place against the background of failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Risks are too great to ask the question – why should the US get involved in the faraway Syria’s conflict at all? By no stretch of imagination could such an operation be considered a move to enhance US and West’s security and meet the goals of “America First” policy.