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An Accidental War
Perfunctory and ineffectual war-making in Syria is worse than nothing.


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Mark Steyn

I see the Obama “reset” is going so swimmingly that the president is now threatening to go to war against a dictator who gassed his own people. Don’t worry, this isn’t anything like the dictator who gassed his own people that the discredited warmonger Bush spent 2002 and early 2003 staggering ever more punchily around the country inveighing against. The 2003 dictator who gassed his own people was the leader of the Baath Party of Iraq. The 2013 dictator who gassed his own people is the leader of the Baath Party of Syria. Whole other ball of wax. The administration’s ingenious plan is to lose this war in far less time than we usually take. In the unimprovable formulation of an unnamed official speaking to the Los Angeles Times, the White House is carefully calibrating a military action “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”

That would make a great caption for a Vanity Fair photo shoot of Obama gamboling in the surf at Martha’s Vineyard, but as a military strategy it’s not exactly Alexander the Great or the Duke of Wellington. And it’s trickier than it sounds: I’m sure Miley’s choreographer assured her she was “just muscular enough not to get mocked,” and one wouldn’t want to see the United States reduced to twerking arrhythmically to no avail in front of an unimpressed Bashar Assad’s Robin Thicke. Okay, okay, that metaphor’s as thinly stretched as Miley’s talent, so what does unmockable musculature boil down to? From the New York Times: “A wide range of officials characterize the action under consideration as ‘limited,’ perhaps lasting no more than a day or two.”

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Yeah, I know, that’s what Edward III said about the Hundred Years’ War. But Obama seems to mean it:

An American official said that the initial target lists included fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are. The list includes command and control centers as well as a variety of conventional military targets. Perhaps two to three missiles would be aimed at each site.

Got that? So, if you’re a Syrian air-base commander, you might want to think about moving those Russian helicopters, or at least yourself — perhaps to that black-eyed cutie’s apartment, above the restaurant where the kibbeh with the pomegranate sauce is to die for, just for the night, until the Great Satan has twerked his ordnance at you twice or thrice and gone away to threaten the Yemenis or Somalis or whoever’s next.

In the world’s most legalistic culture, it was perhaps inevitable that battle plans would eventually be treated under courtroom discovery rules and have to be disclosed to the other side in your pre-war statement. But in this case it doesn’t seem to be impressing anyone. Like his patrons in Tehran and Moscow, Assad’s reaction to American threats is to double up with laughter and say, “Bring it, twerkypants.” Headline from Friday’s Guardian in London: “Syria: ‘Napalm’ Bomb Dropped on School Playground, BBC Claims” — which, if true, suggests that even a blood-soaked mass murderer is not without a sense of humor. Napalm, eh? There’s a word I haven’t heard since, oh, 40 years ago or thereabouts, somewhere in the general vicinity of southeast Asia.

The BBC footage is grisly; the British media have been far more invested in the Syrian civil war than their U.S. colleagues. But what’s the net effect of all the harrowing human-interest stories? This week, David Cameron recalled Parliament from its summer recess to permit the people’s representatives to express their support for the impending attack. Instead, for the first time since the British defeat at Yorktown in 1782, the House of Commons voted to deny Her Majesty’s Government the use of force. Under the Obama “reset,” even the Coalition of the Willing is unwilling. “It’s clear to me that the British Parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action,” said the prime minister. So the Brits are out, and, if he goes at all, Obama will be waging war without even Austin Powers’s Union Jack fig leaf. 

“This House will not fight for king and country”? Not exactly. What the British people are sick of, quite reasonably enough, is ineffectual warmongering, whether in the cause of Blairite liberal interventionism or of Bush’s big-power assertiveness. The problem with the American way of war is that, technologically, it can’t lose, but, in every other sense, it can’t win. No one in his right mind wants to get into a tank battle or a naval bombardment with the guys responsible for over 40 percent of the planet’s military expenditures. Which is why these days there aren’t a lot of tank battles. The consummate interventionist Robert Kagan wrote in his recent book that the American military “remains unmatched.” It’s unmatched in the sense that the only guy in town with a tennis racket isn’t going to be playing a lot of tennis matches. But the object of war, in Liddell Hart’s famous distillation, is not to destroy the enemy’s tanks (or Russian helicopters) but his will. And on that front America loses, always. The “unmatched” superpower cannot impose its will on Kabul kleptocrats, Pashtun goatherds, Egyptian generals, or Benghazi militia. There is no reason to believe Syria would be an exception to this rule. America’s inability to win ought to be a burning national question, but it’s not even being asked.


Strike on Syria
As diplomatic rhetoric escalates over alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces, the White House is mulling plans for a potential U.S. strike on the Assad regime. Here’s how that strike might look. Pictured, the destroyer USS Gravely, currently deployed off the coast of Syria.
The Obama administration has been busy laying the diplomatic and political groundwork for a strike, but has not confirmed any specific strike plan. Pictured, Secretary of State John Kerry discusses Syria at a press conference on August 26.
Media reports have coalesced around the concept of a quick strike primarily using Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from surface and submarine vessels operating in the Mediterranean, possibly complemented by heavy bombers. Pictured, Tomahawk launch from USS Sterett.
The strikes would target regime infrastructure, command centers, and artillery batteries. They would likely not target chemical weapon manufacturing or storage facilities because of the risk of collateral damage. Pictured, Syrian government tanks in Damascus.
Such a plan would inflict targeted but serious damage on the Syrian regime without putting U.S. pilots in harm’s way. Pictured, Syrian president Bashar Al Assad meets with army troops.
The Pentagon has confirmed that four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers are already in the eastern Mediterranean: The USS Ramage, USS Mahan, USS Gravely, and USS Barry (pictured). A fifth destroyer, USS Stout, is also in the region.
The Arleigh Burke class is built around the Aegis Combat System, a powerful combination of radar and missile technology. A mainstay of the Navy’s surface offense capabilities, there are currently 62 active Arleigh Burke-class vessels in the American inventory. Pictured, USS Barry.
At just over 500 feet in length, Arleigh Burke destroyers can cruise at 30 knots and have a range of up to 4,400 nautical miles. Pictured, USS Ramage.
It is likely that at least one submarine is also in the region, but submarine deployments are rarely made public even during peacetime. Pictured, the USS Florida, which took part in operations against Libya in 2011.
The Tomahawk flies at speeds of up to 550 miles per hour and as low as 50 feet to avoid enemy air defenses. With a range of approximately 1,500 miles, it could hit any target in Syria.
The latest generation of Tomahawk missile can loiter over the battlespace for hours, transmit battle-damage assessments, and be re-targeted in flight.
The Tomahawk can carry a single, 1,000-pound warhead or drop smaller bomblets in precision strikes. Pictured, a Tomahawk launches from USS Shoup.
The Tomahawk can also be fired from submarines while submerged. Pictured, a Tomahawk launch from USS Pasadena.
Arleigh Burke destroyers can carry about 90 Tomahawk missiles. Their launches, often at night during the opening moments of a campaign, have been covered by news media since Desert Storm. Pictured, Tomahawk launch from USS Sterett.
The Tomahawk has been a workhorse of naval combat operations since its debut in 1991 against Iraq in Operation Desert Storm; 288 were fired in that conflict. Pictured, a Tomahawk launches from the battleship USS Wisconsin during Desert Storm.
Tomahawks were used most recently against Libya in Operation Odyssey Dawn, where more than 100 were fired from USS Barry (pictured) and British Royal Navy vessels.
Heavier ordnance would likely be delivered by Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, which operate out of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
The B-2 would be preferred for its ability to penetrate advanced air defense systems, a mission for which it was specifically designed. Syria’s air defenses use Soviet-built equipment.
The B-2 can carry 40,000 pounds of guided munitions, in either 500- or 2,000-pound versions. It is refueled in flight to give it intercontinental range.
Air Force fighter aircraft could also be used to launch precision-guided stand-off weapons — such as the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon or AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile — without having to enter Syrian airspace. Pictured, an F-16 deploys the AGM-154.
Fighter aircraft involved in an operation over Syria would include F-15 and F-16 aircraft, and would likely operate from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and possibly facilities in Jordan. Pictured, an F-15 Eagle.
The Navy could also deploy strike aircraft from two carriers in the region — USS Harry S. Truman and USS Nimitz — which operate in the north Arabian sea, as well as from Sigonella Air Base in Italy. Pictured, an F-18E Super Hornet launches from Truman.
British forces in the Mediterranean are also likely to participate in action against Syria. The British could field strike aircraft from Akrotiri Royal Air Force Station on Cyprus, as well as their own Tomahawk missiles (pictured) launched from Royal Navy vessels.
Drones such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (pictured) would likely play only a small role, if any, mainly to gather intelligence. Their weapons loads are too small to take out any target beside a vehicle.
A strike on Syria would be similar to those undertaken against Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011 and against Iraq during Operation Desert Strike in 1998. Pictured, Tomahawk launch from USS Shiloh during Operation Desert Strike.
In Odyssey Dawn, more than 100 Tomahawks were fired from USS Barry and British Royal Navy vessels, while three B-2 bombers struck 45 targets on the opening night of the operation. Pictured, Tomahawk launch from USS Stout during Odyssey Dawn.
Syria has an aggressive air defense capability that could pose a threat to manned bombers. The Syrian air force is estimated to have 365 combat aircraft and 150 anti-aircraft missile batteries, with some 8,000 anti-aircraft missiles at its disposal. Pictured, a Syrian MiG-23 drops bombs in 2011.
Updated: Aug. 28, 2013

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