Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

While we were out (II): Did Pres. Obama just back out of backing into Syria?

I hope so. By going to Congress for approval before intervening, he seems to be asking for someone to get him out of this mess. Until the end of last week it looked to me like he had painted himself into a corner on Syria. He didn’t want to intervene, but he threw around some ...

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I hope so. By going to Congress for approval before intervening, he seems to be asking for someone to get him out of this mess.

Until the end of last week it looked to me like he had painted himself into a corner on Syria. He didn't want to intervene, but he threw around some red line language about the consequences of the Syrian government using chemical weapons and in
August the bill on that had come due.  

I take no joy in saying that the president looks really bad in his handling on this. Bumbling, stumbling, fumbling. I've heard his handling of Syria referred to as "Operation Rolling Blunder." Getting involved there militarily is something almost no one in the United States wants, aside from a few old-school hawks in Washington. In fact, it is possible that I know the majority of people in the United States who favor intervention. They could fit into a Starbucks even after some full-fat lattes.

I hope so. By going to Congress for approval before intervening, he seems to be asking for someone to get him out of this mess.

Until the end of last week it looked to me like he had painted himself into a corner on Syria. He didn’t want to intervene, but he threw around some red line language about the consequences of the Syrian government using chemical weapons and in
August the bill on that had come due.  

I take no joy in saying that the president looks really bad in his handling on this. Bumbling, stumbling, fumbling. I’ve heard his handling of Syria referred to as “Operation Rolling Blunder.” Getting involved there militarily is something almost no one in the United States wants, aside from a few old-school hawks in Washington. In fact, it is possible that I know the majority of people in the United States who favor intervention. They could fit into a Starbucks even after some full-fat lattes.

If their desired attack ever happens, my guess is that it will last about a week. It would begin with missile strikes against air defense systems (radars and communications nodes), then move to hits on airfields by long-range stand-off missile-like “bombs” launched offshore by B-2s (because cruise missiles really can’t crater airfields) and also hits against other command and control systems. Finally, it would assault “regime targets” — command bunkers, intelligence headquarters, ruling class hideouts. 

And then what? Will this limited action remain limited? Will it help the Syrian rebels? Should we be helping them?

It is not clear to me how American intervention would improve the situation. Also, I am struck that I don’t know a single person in the U.S. military who thinks that attacking Syria is a good idea. Even with Iraq in 2003, there was a minority of officers who supported that invasion. Here’s James Fallows’s astute summary of the state of the argument, and his assessment of the latest move.

My guess: While Congress talks, Obama will quietly step up all kinds of covert aid to the rebels, but not publicly intervene.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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