A Syrian soldier, who has defected to join the Free Syrian Army, holds up his rifle and waves a Syrian independence flag in the Damascus suburb of Saqba January 27, 2012. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)
To say that the Obama administration has bungled Syria understates the problem. They’re badly split and confused, and President Obama seems incapable of getting it right. Hawks want bombs-away, doves want to stay out, and Obama dithers—finally giving the hawks some of what they’ve been clamoring for by deciding to arm the rebels.
The actual arming of the rebels is to be carried out by the CIA, not the Pentagon. More and more, it appears as if the US military itself wants nothing to do with Syria. In a stunning letter yesterday, released by Senator Carl Levin’s office, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the conflict in Syria a “complex sectarian war,” and he warned in explicit detail that virtually every option involving the use of military force is staggeringly expensive and might not work.
On training and advising the rebels, Dempsey said:
Risks include extremists gaining access to additional capabilities, retaliatory cross-border attacks, and insider attacks or inadvertent association with war crimes due to vetting difficulties.
Bomb Syria? Said Dempsey:
The costs would be in the billions. … There is a risk that the regime could withstand limited strikes by dispersing its assets. Retaliatory attacks are also possible, and there is a probability for collateral damage impacting civilians and foreigners inside the country.
Establish a no-fly zone? Says Dempsey:
We would require hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support, and enablers for refueling and communications. Estimated costs are $500 million initially, averaging as much as a billion dollars per month over the course of a year.
And he concluded:
Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the very intelligent diplomat who’s in charge of the United Nations effort to find a diplomatic solution, told The New York Times that arming the rebels won’t fix things: