The Syrian quandary


There is no doubt that the Syrian leadership has been killing its own citizens for years, nor that chemical weapons have been used in this campaign. What remains unclear at the moment is whether President Obama’s proposal to take military action is to punish Assad for use of those weapons, or to deter Syria and others from ever using them again. The underlying problem is that the proposed action would achieve neither.

The achievement of security in this unstable world in which nuclear, chemical and missile capabilities continue to proliferate relies principally on deterrence to avoid their use. Thus to deter use of these awful weapons, it must be made clear to potential enemies that the deterring nation has the capabilities and the intention of utilizing those capabilities to respond. Both elements are equally important because deterrence is far from a precise doctrine but is highly dependent on the perception that each side has of the other’s intentions. President Obama through his stated desire to eliminate nuclear weapons undermines the American deterrent posture while other nations, and even terrorist groups strive to obtain and enhance their nuclear capabilities.

The Obama administration’s Syrian proposals of a shot across the bow is not only a year and more than 100,000 deaths too late, but it would not degrade Assad’s ability to retain or use his chemical weapon stocks.

It is abundantly clear that Syria is enmeshed in a civil war, in which we would derive no benefit in aiding either side. So the president’s proposals amount to a public slap on the wrist, without benefiting either side. Such action would not impress Iran, and will certainly not enhance the security of Israel and our other allies.

It is sad but at the same time amusing that reports indicate that the American proposals for this limited action have the support of such stalwart allies as the French and the Saudis.


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