Airstrikes in Syria won't help

  • Article by: Eliot A. Cohen
  • Updated: August 29, 2013 - 1:10 PM

In 1994, after directing the U.S. Air Force’s official study of the Persian Gulf War, I concluded that “air power is an unusually seductive form of military strength, in part because, like modern courtship, it appears to offer gratification without commitment.” That observation stands. It explains the Obama administration’s enthusiasm for a massive, drone-led assassination campaign against Al-Qaida terrorists. And it applies with particular force to a prospective, U.S.-led attack on the Syrian government in response to its use of chemical weapons against a civilian population.

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pumiceAug. 28, 13 8:06 PM

From Eliot A. Cohen: "The other side, not we, gets to decide when it ends." Cohen is of two minds on airstrikes in Syria--it's intolerable to order airstrikes; it's intolerable not to order airstrikes. Is Cohen vacillating? Is Cohen covering all the bases? Or did Cohen--serving under Condoleezza Rice--learn hard lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq? Did Cohen and others at The Project for the New American Century discover how difficult it is "to promote American global leadership [which by PNAC's definition] is both good for America and good for the world"?

Why is Cohen, who supported "a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity" in Afghanistan and Iraq, having so much trouble defining "moral clarity" in Syria? Could it be because he remembers these predictions: "Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff predicted: War in Iraq will be 'short, short'. Cheney and Rumsfeld predicted: War will be short ('6 days or 6 weeks, not 6 months'), Iraqi resistance limited and Iraqi citizens welcoming. On costs: According to the Guardian: On September 15, 2002, Lawrence Lindsey, head of the National Economic Council, priced the operation at from $100 to $200 billion, but added: 'That's nothing.' He said that, as a one-off cost, it would have little effect on the national debt, now running at about $3.6 trillion."

Why is Cohen suddenly conflicted about the seductiveness of air power? After all, according to the end credit, he wrote the book. And the book resulted in Shock and Awe.

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davidpalmerAug. 28, 13 8:49 PM

Attempting to police the Middle East is a fool's game. In the case of Syria it is absolutely a no-win situation. A symbolic drone-cruise missile strike by the US will probably only provoke attacks against Israel and Americans abroad, create more enemies of the US and solve nothing. Syria has little significance to the US and does not warrant spending a nickel attempting to make a statement.The Middle East is a quagmire filled hateful, religious fanatics. I would never send a family member to fight a war to "help" the situation. Let these people solve their own problems

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twspt7Aug. 29, 13 7:26 AM

It is clear Mr Cohen harbors much disdain for our President: "...so proud of his record as a putative war-Ender...Despite his professed commitment to transparency and constitutional niceties, Obama has proved himself reluctant to secure congressional authorization for the use of force...Why should anyone, anywhere, take Obama’s threats (or for that matter, his promises) seriously if he does nothing here?" And as a typical neoconservative, he explicitly offers no solutions, nothing positive, only negative outcomes and slightly repressed glee at the dilemma Obama is faced with: "The question before the president is whether he will make matters worse by convincing himself that he has found a minimal solution to a fiendish problem." Of course, Mr Cohen wants total war on the Syrian regime, he just won't come out and say it. It is the standard chickenhawk reaction from someone who has never personally been on the sharp end of the stick, as far as fighting a war is concerned.

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olelarsAug. 29, 13 8:15 AM

Well well Mr. Cohen, you apparently want some big bombing vs. little bombing because that would require some "commitment" of the type you endorse. In the past, you have disdained our military leaders as well as civilian control over that same military. What DO you want? Please explain what happens AFTER you win? The pattern of YOUR type of war is recent and easy to follow:
1. Permanent bases located in more or less hostile areas requiring massive amounts of money.
2. No timelines because, in your camp, that type of deadline equals surrender.
3. Huge Private Contractor presence where a load of laundry is billed to the US taxpayer for $99, even it is only a single towel.
4. No help for the innocent locals displaced after you win.

We are waiting to find our what happens AFTER the big bombing. What will become of the Christians in Syria, or the innocent among the Alawites, the Druze? For over 20 years the silence of the Neocons about what happens AFTER "victory" has been deafening. The answer usually given is the name of another place where we should go, while you stay safe here at home.

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hobie2Aug. 29, 1312:23 PM

Every military target of importance in Syria has chemical weapons stored at it spread out so no one strike can destroy it all at a site, for one purpose - any airstrike releases the gas on the local population and makes the attacker an irresponsible danger in the eyes of the world... The question of strikes is not the problem - what to strike and be meaningful is the problem... To put it another way - the US hits a target in Syria and 500 lbs of nerve weapon released in the explosion drifts across Syria and into Jordan and Israel and kills 5,000-10,000 civilians - who gets the heat for taking the cork out of the bottle? And you can bet that even if we don't hit it, they will release the nerve agent themselves at the site and say we did it when we bombed... With the chemical weapons where they are, a bombing of Syria is more a win-win for them than for us.

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mspshadowAug. 29, 1312:25 PM

I'd really like to know where the Arab League is on all of this. Last I heard, they condemned Syria, but stopped short of supporting retaliation. Shouldn't they be showing more responsibility in this whole mess? It's become evident that whatever the US decides to do, there will be those who claim it was justified, those who feel it wasn't enough, and those who feel that we overstepped our bounds.

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stpaulisbestAug. 29, 13 2:27 PM

Are we the world's cops? Why not Turkey? They're right next door. Why not France? They're closer and used to own Syria. Why not Great Britain? They're closer and have years of experience in the region. Why us? Could it be because we're too stupid to realize that the rest of the world wants us to take all the risk, do all their dirty work, and take all the terrorist retaliation? Isn't it time we told the rest of the world that we're just one country out of 200 and it's time the rest of the world stepped up or shut up?

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DufferHAug. 29, 13 3:54 PM

This s an interesting article, and I agree with some of his arguments, but not all. In all this discussion, the administration and many commenters forget one important fact. A war has never been won from the air. Air power can "soften up" a target, but it still requires an on-the-ground presence to end it. Do we really want to put troops on the ground in Syria?

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gemie1Aug. 29, 13 4:56 PM

Let the middle east powers handle this one. Obama is sounding more and more each day like Bush Jr. Let the Arab league, Turkey, etc. figure it out. If this conflict sparks a war in Lebanon, how is this our problem? If they want to kill each other, how is that our problem? The Sunni and the Shiites have been at odds with each other for centuries. Not our place to intervene.

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