WASHINGTON, September 9, 2013 — One year after announcing that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line,” two years after declaring that Assad must go, and following the slaughter of over 100,000 Syrians, President Obama has finally decided to take “limited” military action against the Assad regime. But only pending Congressional approval.
There are at least two important points to take from the corner Obama has painted himself into. First, presidents would be wise not to draw “red lines” without first thinking through a comprehensive operational strategy in case a red line gets crossed.
Second, using American military personnel and assets for the sole purpose of sending a message is not a sufficient reason to engage in war. Nor should it be an end in it of itself.
If the strategic purpose of an air campaign is not to significantly weaken Bashar al-Assad’s military capabilities, save lives, alter the conditions on the ground, or drive Assad out of power, then why bother?
A couple of days of Tomahawk cruise missile strikes amounts to nothing more than a meaningless slap on the wrist by a president trying to save face. It will be viewed around the world as an insignificant military demonstration by a feckless America.
Cruise missiles and drones are serious weapons of war. They should not be used to protect a President of the United States from international humiliation. This crisis is not about Obama’s personal credibility or his careless red-line comment.
The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable and should not go unpunished. But is their use on civilians less acceptable than their wholesale slaughter with bombs and bullets? Is the message that chemical weapons will provoke an American response, but otherwise we don’t care?
Obama has failed to make a compelling case for military intervention in Syria. The case should be rooted in a broader strategic purpose of saving lives in the short-term and weakening the Assad regime in the long-term.
Military force can save lives, but it requires a sustained commitment — not with boots on the ground, but with an air campaign using decisive force to weaken Assad’s military capabilities by hitting command, control, communications, and other military infrastructure.
A limited campaign will have a limited effect on the Assad regime.
Again, if the strategic purpose of an air campaign isn’t designed to significantly weaken Assad’s military capabilities, save lives, alter the conditions on the ground, or used as a means to an ultimate goal of driving Assad out of power, why bother?
Ayobami is a graduate student in George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
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