Sunday, April 9, 2017

Syria Situation Summary

The broader the administration’s goals in Syria, the more prone it will be to pressure to escalate there. Already, some regional allies that have long dreamed of dragging the United States into a war with Assad, such as Turkey, have described the strikes as “insufficient” and called for more forceful action. And congressional hawks, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), are urging Trump to follow up on the strikes by providing Syrian opposition groups with more weapons, imposing a no-fly zone, and conducting further airstrikes to pressure Russia and Assad to agree to a political settlement. Meanwhile, the Syrian air force has already resumed bombing the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhoun — the same area the regime gassed last week. And as Assad continues to kill civilians, with or without chemical munitions, the calls for deeper U.S. involvement aimed at ousting Assad will mount.

May I just say here that conducting further airstrikes to pressure Russia and Assad seems like the height of folly.

And also, the "resumed" Syrian bombing of "the same area the regime gassed last week" sounds very like saying that the Syrian government's explanation for what happened - that they hit a terrorist store house that was holding chemical weapons - is in fact what happened. That is not to say that they didn't know there were chemical weapons there, but that's not the story the US government is floating. They say the Syrians have chemical weapons that they are using to bomb people. In times like these, the details are important.
If the United States goes down this road, the prospects of a military confrontation with Moscow are real. A few thousand Russian military personnel are distributed across Syria’s key military bases. Moscow has also placed some of the world’s most sophisticated air defense systems in Syria, and Russian planes police Syrian skies. So an extensive U.S. campaign aimed at coercing Assad by targeting Syrian air bases and command-and-control facilities would run big risks of killing Russian troops on the ground. The same holds for a no-fly zone, which would likely require targeting Syrian and Russian air defenses and could lead to air-to-air incidents between Russian and U.S. jets.
Particularly since, in retaliation for the US attack, Russia has discontinued the hotline connection between the two governments that was set up to avoid such incidents.
Compounding matters, in an effort to generate counter-leverage, Russia and the Assad regime are likely to respond to further U.S. strikes or a no-fly zone by reorienting their integrated air defense network toward U.S. and coalition aircraft engaged in fighting the Islamic State or by attacking opposition areas in northern Syria, where nearly 1,000 U.S. troops are on the ground. This could derail the counter-Islamic State campaign at the very moment when the militant group’s capital, Raqqa, is under assault by U.S.-backed forces.


Trump chose a limited strike package precisely because he and his advisers understood the grave risks if the United States attacked a broader set of targets.
Well, to be fair, Trump's advisers chose it.
The Syrian dictator (perhaps prodded by Russia or Iran) may attempt to test Trump again, hoping to prove the president is a “paper tiger.” And Trump, having invested his personal credibility in standing firm, may find himself psychologically or politically compelled to respond, despite the very real risks that it could result in a direct military clash with Russia.


Given Russia’s vital interests in Syria, Moscow is not likely to respond positively to U.S. ultimatums and maximalist positions.


Before Tillerson arrives in Moscow for meetings on Wednesday, the administration needs a clear plan to avoid stepping on this slippery slope.
Tillerson's reported personality makes it seem like he's not the man to perform this delicate task.

 ...but hey, do what you will anyway.

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