Monday, June 10, 2013

Thought Game on Syria

News media, supported by some intelligence agencies, says that Assad's government has used a chemical weapon against the Syrian people--probably targeting rebels.  President Obama stated that use of chemical weapons is a Red Line and that the US will take action to respond.

As a thought experiment I want to think about what "action" in Syria requires.

A) What is necessary for President Obama to send Forces to Syria?  What steps must the President go through to get boots on the ground? 

First, the President must have minimal support from the American public to get the military machine moving.  The popularity of the cause is important because it leads to political support in Congress, which releases funding for military action.  It is difficult for a military to sustain operations in an unpopular campaign where money, manpower, and priorities fluctuate based on political winds.  In an ongoing operation the military needs those items to keep going.  

Second, the President will need to work on the international opinion to build a coalition with a variety of international weight.  Coalitions and alliances can fight a war in a way that unilateral action cannot -- with international support comes legitimacy, at least in appearance.  Justifiable reason isn't enough to bring in the weight of the international community, the justification must be for a Just War.

The President will have to work through domestic and international politics to build support.  The President has latitude on military action without Congressional sanction, but they can still shut off funding to any operations by simply not funding operations for Syria or expressly rejecting the President's actions.  At this point, the primary blockage would be in the House of Representatives.  The House is not inclined to allow the President to seek any action that could possibly go well for him in public opinion.

In the international sphere, the President has to actually build a Coalition for some action.  There may be countries lining up to go in (Great Britain, France, Turkey, some others), but there are countries that continue to support the Assad regime.  Primarily, we're looking at Iran and Russia, and, I suspect, China.  

An United Nations Security Counsel Resolution (UNSCR), while not an absolute requirement, will add international legitimacy to the intervention and the ability to take "all necessary action" to protect Syria non-combatants.  However, with Russia and China supporting Assad, an UNSCR is very unlikely.  Russia and China both would benefit from the US and other Western nations loosing face over an UNSCR, but they could also benefit from sucking the US and the West into another Middle East conflict.

Assuming that Pres Obama is able to mobilize the nation and a coalition ...

B) What are the Strategic and Operational Objectives?  What are the National and International Objectives?  What is the conflict termination criteria (when do active combat operations cease)?  What is the combat termination criteria (when is there peace)?  What should Syria look like at the end of active combat operations and what should it look like after stability operations?

These questions, along with many others, are the ones that planners for Iraq (2003-2011) failed to address, analyze, and put any conscious effort into solving until after the Iraq fell.  It is one of the leading reasons that Iraq went from a corrupt stable country with a functioning police force and military to one that was unwillingly occupied and lacked any government, police, or stability.  US and British forces fought three basic enemies: first the Iraqi military, second the insurgents, and third the terrorists.  The second two are largely the result of a failure to plan for the post-Saddam regime.

As a Nation and as an International Community, before we step into a war we should have a clear idea of what we want by the time we get out of the war.  Post-war planning during the initial planning phase helps ensure that our operations are guided towards a strategic and operational end-state.  You need to see the destination if you want to know what road map to use and route to plan.  It also helps us understand the short-term goals and how those work into the long-term goals.

Once we've covered (B), our leaders and military planners can really focus the How.

C) What kind of Forces are necessary to accomplish the mission?  Do we need more that military forces, such as civilian chemical and radiation specialists, FBI?  Do we need to organize with the UN, NATO?  How are we suppose to handle Syrian allies?  Do we incorporate rebel forces in whole or in part or not at all?  Do we overlook connections to terrorists?

The answers to (B) will help here.  If the answer is simply to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons, then we may be able to rely on extensive air operations targeting stockpiles, factories, and specific units.  If the answer includes regime change, then we should have the top cover from the UN to put ground forces into Syria.  Without UN authorization, international intervention is suspect and limited.  Just because it is right, doesn't mean we can do it. 

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