"Holding Assad Accountable," Constitution Center, September 12, 2013. President Obama's effort to build a case for military operations against Syria was undermined by statements he and other administration officials made. They described the plan to send cruise missiles into Damascus as limited, tailored, surgical, and proportional, greatly downplaying the level of violence that would result. Many lawmakers and their constituents objected to this word play and found the administration's explanation to be misleading and deceptive. One of the few to speak plainly about military consequences was General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Syria and the Illusion of Limited War," Boston Review, September 10, 2013. President Obama advised Congress and the public that his plan to use military force against Syria would be short, not an "open-ended intervention," and without "boots on the ground." The military operation, he said, would be "limited in duration and scope." But wars have their own momentum and do not follow the expectations and intent of military planners. In 2011, Obama predicted that military action against Libya would be a matter of days, not weeks. It lasted seven months. The purpose was to protect innocent civilians. It ended up siding with rebel forces and resulted in regime change by capturing and killing Colonel Qaddafi. Military action against Syria is likely to have serious downsides for the United States, Syria, and neighboring countries.
"More than a mere shot across Syria's bow," Washington Times, September 9, 2013. In an effort to minimize the scope of military action against Syria, President Obama described it as "a shot across the bow." His analogy fails. A shot across the bow is deliberately designed to miss an adversary, with the intent to send a clear and threatening message. But Obama planned to direct cruise missiles into Damascus, followed perhaps by aircraft bombings. The analogy was not only incorrect. It misled the public about what the Obama administration wanted to do. Presidents need to talk straight to build credibility and public trust. The danger is great that a military action against Syria would lead to another war that we will regret.
"Letter from General Dempsey to Representative Engel," August 19, 2013. In response to the Congressman's request to assess the risks of using military force against Syria, General Dempsey-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-noted that a bombing operation against Assad's Air Force would escalate and potentially commit the United States to deeper involvement. Moreover, it would not be militarily decisive. The use of U.S. military power could not resolve "the underlying and historic ethnic, religious, and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict."
"Letter from General Dempsey to Senator Levin," July 19, 2013. Senator Carl Levin asked General Dempsey to assess options for a military strike against Syria. Dempsey described the use of aircraft, ships, and submarines to attack air defense, naval forces, and military facilities to degrade the regime's capabilities. He noted the risk that the regime could withstand these strikes by dispersing its assets, and could respond with retaliatory attacks, shooting down U.S. aircraft and requiring the introduction of recovery teams. The effort to destroy Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons would require thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces to secure critical sites to prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of the regime and rebel groups.