US Strikes Against Syria?

I’m never sure what to make of things I read at Debka. Some of the time, it appears to be little more than rumor mongering. At other times, it’s been accurate. That said, this is interesting:

Richard Armitage performed his last major mission before stepping down… This mission took Armitage to Damascus with nine American demands:

1. Start repealing Syria’s 40-years old emergency laws.
2. Free all political prisoners from jail.
3. Abolish media censorship.
4. Initiate democratic reform.
5. Speed up economic development
6. Cut down relations with Iran.
7. Announce publicly that the disputed Shebaa Farms at the base of Mt. Hermon are former Syrian territory.
8. Hand over to US or Iraqi authorities 55 top officials and military officers of the former Saddam regime, who are confirmed by intelligence to be established in Syria and running the guerrilla war in Iraq out of their homes and offices.

Then Bush lays the big stick on the table:

9. Syria had better make sure that none of the Kornet AT-14 anti-tank missiles which it recently purchased in large quantities from East Europe turn up in Iraq. US intelligence has recorded their serial numbers to identify their source.

Just in case any are found in Iraq, General Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq has already received orders from the commander-in-chief in the White House to pursue military action inside Syria according to his best military judgment.

This is fascinating and probably necessary. Bashir Assad learned much from his father Hafez. Chief among the lessons learned at daddy’s knee was the value of a skillfully executed proxy war. The Syrians have been waging a proxy war against Israel, via hamas, for over 20 years. Of course, they’ve also occupied Lebanon for 30 years, but since they’re not Americans or Jews, the UN and EU don’t really seem to mind. Move along, nothing to see here.

Proxy wars have two chief advantages for the sponsor:

1. Plausible deniability.
A) You’re being attacked by guerrillas and terrorists? Why that’s terrible!
B) Where could they be getting those rockets and mines? We have no idea.
C) Where are they getting their funding? Swiss bank accounts? Got us.

2. It’s highly effective. For minimal cost, your opponent can be attacked relentlessly. Each attack may be, in itself, militarily insignificant. But it erodes morale and political support. Death by a thousand cuts.

Clearly this is the strategy, the proxy war, that the Syrian Ba’athists have pursued against the US in Iraq. Having pursued it virtually without cost against the Israelis for decades, it was natural the method would present itself as first choice to confront, hamstring and confound those damned Yankees next door. We’ll make their life a living hell, and if accused, we’ll dust off our halos and feign outrage that our unassailable moral character could be questioned. Perfect!

Except for one little flaw. One tiny little oversight in Bashir & Co.’s perfect plan. The US is not Israel. Whatever level of escalation the Syrians can threaten in Iraq pales – no, dwindles to nothing – in comparison to the punishment the US can inflict on Damascus and its surrounds in a single night of conventional high intensity bombing. A couple of weeks of it might just give them a whole new outlook on things.

13 thoughts on “US Strikes Against Syria?”

  1. Hello Micheal, the strategic gains of moving into Iraq and Afghanistan are now being realized. Iran is outflanked, and Assad’s Syria is left dangling.

    I’m amazed the Democrats ran against this “strategery” in the last election when its potential for disrupting our real enemies, fundamentalist Iran and Baathist Syria, was SO darn obvious.


  2. Didn’t read Instapundit a few days ago?

    January 19, 2005
    MESSAGE FROM MY SECRETARY, currently serving in Iraq: “I hear Damascus is nice in the Spring!” More details later.

  3. Syria and Iran have both engaged in proxy war against the US in Iraq. Against John Kerry that strategy would have worked well. Against Bush one suspects that the rulers of both countries will pay a significant price before it is over.

    Isaac Asimov wrote in the Foundation Trilogy that “violence is the last resort of the incompetent.” But often in order to avoid violence, there must exist a highly credible threat of violence lurking in the background.

    After the Iraqi elections, when the Iraqi security apparatus functions better in cleaning up the Sunni terrorist reactionaries and their Iraqi civilian enablers, and the improved situation of most ordinary Iraqis becomes better known around the arab and persian worlds, the leaders of both neighboring countries will have a lot to worry about.

  4. And the Iranians just cleared up a law and said women can run for the presidency…

    That should set some turbans spinning.

  5. Sunday,
    In proxy wars, “Plausible deniability” plays on a paradox. At the same time that offending nations rely on the nationalistic, republican definition of “sovereignty” to define their borders as inviolable, they also lean on transnational deliberative bodies (U.N. committees, the Arab League, I.C.C. Judiciary) to shield this sovereignty from any tests. How Odd.

    In a pacifist, transnational, U.N.-ophillic world- view (like that of Carterite Z. Brzezinski ) Proxy Wars may be the “acceptable” alternative to open warfare. Could it be that this current spate of Proxy warfare evolved in direct response to the international governance schemes of these 70’s-era pacifist progressives? Isn’t it the only (quasi) militaristic recourse left open to infirm republics cowering under umbrella governments?

    (Kinda like a big, hairy, bully hiding behing Mommy’s skirts!)

  6. Steve,

    I think the fundamentals stay the same, only the political aspects change.

    The question is still, What do I have to gain and what do I have to lose by responding to the proxy sponsor with open warfare?

    In Korea and Vietnam, the risks the US ran by responding directly to the Chinese and Soviets with open warfare exceeded the perceived benefits. Neither Korea or Vietnam was considered so important that it warrented the risk of opening a direct war with a major power.

    The questions remain:
    1. How much pain is the proxy sponsor inflicting on me and my ally?
    2. If I open up warfare with the sponsor, how much more pain can they inflict on me and my ally?
    3. How much pain can I inflict on the sponsor? Enough pain that it’s not worth it for them continue?
    4. Is the political and military power differential such that #3 sufficiently outweighs #2?

    Cleary, Syria is not comparable to China or the Soviets. We can ratchet up the pain on them to an infinitely higher degree than they can to us. And we can keep it up indefinitely. The strategic situation is completely in our favor here. Will they sacrifice many hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and hundreds to thousands dead to sustain their support of some insurgents? I seriously doubt it. The downside for us is that they continue their support, so what have we got to lose? Very little. I think Bashir is smart enough to go through this excercise. And if he’s not, he’s got a serious ass-kicking coming his way.

    Notice that I’m not recommending an invasion. Just some sustained stand-off bombing. That way, we inflict maximum pain with minimum cost in blood and treasure.

  7. Michael, I agree completely with your cost-benefit analysis of Bush’s “big stick” on Syria (and it may be applicable to Iran, too. Some F-117 overflights of Ahwaz, Abadan, or Kharg Island may get their attention).

    But I see another, and possibly more maleable front tucked behind your proxy-war analysis. (By nature, I tend to search for systemic solutions to system-wide flaws. This is my admitted bias.)

    I believe “indirect” wars utilize a protective political and media super-structure to shift the balance of your analysis in THEIR favor. My point is that we need to act to reform that structure, as much as we need to warn Syria militarily.

    That global govermental structure, pre-Bush, was conducive to indirect, proxy actions. An example: by allowing ambiguities in its own laws and actions the U.N., pre-Bush, condoned intra-national violence (Rwanda and Sudan), even while it censured a member (Israel) for defending its sovereign borders.
    Then add to this confusing stew the body’s strident opposition to any forceful enforcement among its inter-national members (Resolution 1441).

    They might as well just issue a license to engage in Proxy Warfare.


  8. Ah not paying much attention are we? The most interesting thing about the recent US – Syria bru-ha-ha is that it’s payback time for Putin.

    Remember that little Soviet foray into Afghanistan, in the 80s. Well they finally got chased out by Osama and his boys with the backing of the CIA and a bunch of, and this is the payback part, stinger missiles.

    Putin has just closed several deals with Syria and Iran and it appears advanced radar and fire control along with very capable anti air is what is being installed in Damascus and at several sites in Iran.

    The SA-18 missiles are very capable and change the balance of air power in the middle east. The 20 that are going to Syria are truck mounted as a sop to the US but they are also a shoulder fired weapon. There are also sales of SS 26 surface to air and SA 10 shoulder fired anti air in progress.

    As I said it looks like payback time to me.

    Do What Now ??? … Standads and Practices !

  9. “The SA-18 missiles are very capable and change the balance of air power in the middle east. ”

    Pen Gun, If they can’t control their own airspace, they can’t effect the balance of regional airpower for very long.


  10. “”The SA-18 missiles are very capable and change the balance of air power in the middle east. “

    Ummm, no.

    Although in theory shoulder fired missiles can bring down a jet aircraft, their actual track record in doing so is very, very poor. The missiles must home in on the jet engine which means flying up into a controlled explosion. The force of the warhead must oppose the force of the jet exhaust. Shoulder fired weapons have been shown to be to small to accomplish this. Add to that the fact that modern military jets tend to show up and depart long before somebody using an optical sight can get a lock.

    Shoulder fired are hell on helicopters and propeller driven aircraft but against jets of all kinds they don’t really pack much punch. The Israeli will still retain air superiority for the foreseeable future.

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