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Sometimes It’s Okay to Hit Things
Picking up where we left off, let’s say that diplomacy fails in the Syrian crisis. Or perhaps that Obama goes golfing instead of reading the diplomatic briefing papers in the Oval Office. What happens next? Well, it always helps to bring a baseball bat (or Obama’s 9 iron) to the negotiating table in case things get out of hand.
Be the Wise Warrior
As we all know, sometimes a bully just needs a cruise missile in his front yard to get the message. Ronald Reagan mastered this tactic in his response to the Libyan-sponsored Lockerbie bombing, and the 1991 Gulf War was effective largely through the “shock and awe” bombing campaign that demoralized Saddam’s forces. Clearly, today’s biggest bully is Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and the time may be right to follow suit on a tried-and-true method if the diplomats continue to come back empty-ended.
Importantly, the “wise warrior” method of disciplining the Syrian regime depends on extremely tactical and limited intervention, predominantly through the use of missiles and cyber attacks targeting major government and military installations. In some cases, precision military campaigns have already played out in Syrian territory without much additional buzz from the international arena. Precedent, it seems, dictates that as long as there are “no boots on the ground,” the reactions of the big power players must be muffled to maintain cooperation in edgy settings. As a result, Russia is unlikely to match a missile or aircraft strike with anything particularly damaging, while Iran’s capacity for handling well-placed U.S. strikes is already stretched thin by its strained economy and current commitment of third-party resources to the Syrian civil war.
What does the “wise warrior” method not entail? A no-fly zone is probably not one of the options on the table; unlike Libya, Syria has a much more complex anti-aircraft defense system (thank you, Putin!) and is small enough that any established zone could cause trouble for Jordanians, Turks, and Israelis alike. Siding with any one of the numerous rebel factions is also not a possibility if the U.S. wants to divest itself from unnecessary bloodshed. It also doesn’t help that taking the rebel stance may place the United States in odd cahoots with an internationally recognized terrorist organization.
Be the Supplier
Although definitely not the most desirable of options, the Obama Administration could always pull a Russia and start supplying arms, weaponry, and training to hand-picked rebels—oh wait, that’s already underway.
The “supplier” method stands out as a throwback pattern to the days of the Cold War simply because Syria has always been one of the fault lines along the U.S.-Russian relationship. Back during the days when the Arab nations tried to defeat Israel militarily, the USSR supplied Syria with tanks, aircraft, and advisors to defeat U.S.-supported Israeli defenses. Now, Russia remains committed to this aged diplomatic tool, and it seems that American “hawks” such as John McCain want to follow suit.
Effectively fueling an already disastrous civil war has one uncomfortable perk and many repercussions. The perk is that a localized US-Russia arms distribution race is likely to cause a stalemate that prevents the Obama Administration from looking bad if Assad wins out or the rebels end up being staunchly anti-American. The biggest consequence is, of course, that the arms supply method will cause a conflagration in which Syrians end up hating both American and Russian interests for using their territory as a 21st century proving ground.