It’s been a good week for U.S.-Russian relations and for the Syrian regime. My August 27 prediction that there would be no direct U.S. attack on Syria and my estimation that Obama isn’t a War Hawk are continuing to bear fruit.
Obama continues to believe that Assad and his regime will eventually fall, although the U.S. will not directly lead to the present Syrian regime’s collapse. (Update on December 4, 2013: since about October, I no longer think that Obama thinks that the Assad regime will eventually fall.) In the end, Obama gave time for a U.N. report on chemical weapons use in the Ghouta and for negotiations between Russia and the U.S. to be concluded before a vote on the Senate authorization of force bill, thus undermining the first half and the end of his address. An agreement on Syrian chemical weapons was reached by the Russian and U.S governments (see here for agreement). Even Kerry has been humbled by the Russian proposal. By far the least expected event of the week was Syria’s agreement to give up its chemical weapons to the U.N. in exchange for a direct U.S. attack on Syria being taken off the table. Apparently, Assad was honest in his statement that he would do anything to prevent another crazy war in his recent interview to Charlie Rose. For some reason, the intelligence surrounding the August 21 Ghouta Sarin attack is not being directly presented by the Obama administration, but only summarized. The “Government Assessment” was also, for some reason, released by the White House, not the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The tactics, targets, and strategic implications of a hypothetical U.S. strike on Syria have also not been disclosed by the Obama administration except in the broadest possible sense (“And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.”). Obama’s public reasoning (probably not his private reasoning) appears to be:
First, we shall attack the following categories of regime installations in Syria: [???], [???], and [???], such as the [???] in Damascus, Assad’s [???] in [location name goes here], the [name of installation goes here] near the village of [???], and the [???] in [location name goes here] with Tomahawk missiles for a couple days in order to accomplish these immediate tactical goals on the ground: [???], [???] and [???]. The successful fulfillment of these tactical goals on the ground will have strategic implications for the Assad regime such as a reduction in its ability to use chemical weapons, [???], and [???], thus sending the broader messages to Assad that [???], that [???], and that the Obama administration will accomplish [tactical goals [???], [???], and [???]] in the case of [event in Syria goes here]. The following changes to Assad regime policy shall thus be effected by the U.S. actions rather clearly described above: Assad shall refrain from at least some possible future chemical attacks planned by him and may possibly expect further U.S. strikes (or worse) in the case of future chemical weapons use by his regime, [???], and [???]. The above-mentioned U.S. actions will probably not significantly weaken the Syrian government, and certainly will not lead to increasing U.S. action culminating in the fall of the Assad regime.
1. Strike something or other in Syria!
3. Get Assad to renounce using chemical weapons!
(Or “Profit“. That could work, too.)
I strongly doubted that anyone could be stupid enough to think this way. This is why I made my August 27 prediction. The Syrian rebel lobby in the West continues to maintain a thinly veiled hawkish stance, though not as hawkish a stance as it used to be. The Senate bill was apparently written by War Hawks; the bill incorrectly states that the President has the goal of Assad leaving power (even though this is an Obama administration talking point, actions speak louder than words) and that the U.S. has the goal of achieving a democratic government in Syria. The Syrian regime had, surprisingly, captured Ariha near Idlib on September 3, 2013, signaling its attempt to take most of Idlib province, especially the strategic town of Maarat al-Numan on the M5 highway, possibly to open a supply line to Aleppo.