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No to Token Military Action in Syria
It won’t preserve what’s left of American credibility.

USS Barry, one of four destroyers deployed to the eastern Mediterranean.

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Thomas Sowell

I cannot see why even a single American, a single Israeli, or a single Syrian civilian should be killed as a result of a token U.S. military action, undertaken simply to spare Barack Obama the embarrassment of doing nothing, after his ill-advised public ultimatum to the Syrian government to not use chemical weapons was ignored.

Some people say that a military response is necessary, not to spare Obama a personal humiliation, but to spare the American presidency from losing all credibility — and therefore losing the ability to deter future threats to the United States without bloodshed.

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There is no question that the credibility of the presidency — regardless of who holds that office — is a major asset of this country. Another way of saying the same thing is that Barack Obama has recklessly risked the credibility of future presidents, and the future safety of this country, by his glib words and weak actions.

Some people who disagree with Obama’s issuance of a public ultimatum to the Assad regime in the first place, and who also disagree with his recent threat of military action against Syria, nevertheless say that we must back up that threat now, simply to forestall future dangers from a loss of American credibility in the eyes of other countries, including both our enemies and our allies.

But will a transparently token military action preserve American credibility? And dare we risk an unintended escalation, such as began both World Wars in the 20th century?

Since so little real history is taught in even our prestigious colleges and universities, it may be worth noting how World War II — the most catastrophic war in human history — began.

When a weak and vacillating leader, Britain’s prime minister Neville Chamberlain, belatedly saw Hitler for what he was, after years of trying to appease him, he issued a public ultimatum that if Germany carried out its impending invasion of Poland, Britain would declare war.

By this time, Hitler had only contempt for Chamberlain, as Putin today has only contempt for Obama. Hitler went ahead with his invasion of Poland. Chamberlain then felt he had to declare war. That is how World War II began. Britain’s action did not save Poland, but only jeopardized its own survival.

Unintended consequences are at least as common in military actions on the world stage as they are in domestic policies that start out with lofty words and end with sordid and even catastrophic consequences.

Assurances from either President Barack Obama or Senator John McCain as to the limited nature of the military actions they advocate mean nothing. As someone said, long ago, once the shooting starts all plans go out the window.

If a purely token military strike will do little or nothing more to preserve our national credibility than will a failure to act at all, why get people killed to spare Barack Obama a personal humiliation?

This man’s runaway ego has already produced too many disasters at home and abroad, and nowhere more so than in the Middle East. A personal humiliation may be all that can make him stop and think before shooting off his mouth in the future, without thinking through the consequences beforehand — something he clearly has not done in this case, as shown by his recent delays and vacillations.

Nor is it at all clear that his previous policies and actions in the Middle East were well thought out, unless he was deliberately trying to weaken the position of the Western world, including Israel.

Whatever Obama’s rhetoric, the reality is that his policies in Egypt and Libya have led to replacing stable regimes, at peace with Israel and the West and tolerant of their own Christian minorities, with chaotic regimes in which fanatical anti-Western terrorists have played a large and growing role, with hostility to Israel and murderous attacks on Christians in their own countries.

Barack Obama will try to salvage his policy and his presidency with a speech to the nation. Rhetoric is his strong suit. The big question is: How many Americans have learned to distinguish between his soaring words and his sorry record? Matters of life and death can hinge on the answer to that question.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


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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