So much for the “coalition of the willing.”
At the New York Times, Mark Landler, David Sanger, and Thom Shanker write of President Obama’s decision to strike Syria even though the British Parliament refused to allow Prime Minister Cameron to follow through on his pledge of support.
The decision to proceed without Britain is remarkable. … Even in the Iraq war, Mr. Bush relied on what he called a “coalition of the willing,” led by Britain. Mr. Obama has made clear that this initiative would come from the United States, and that while he welcomed international participation, he was not depending on foreign forces for what would essentially be an operation conducted largely by the United States, from naval vessels off the Syrian coast.
It’s just as well for Obama and Cameron: what could be more humiliating than comparisons with George W. Bush and Tony Blair’s bromance. But, when it comes to those unilateral decisions that Bush held so dear, Obama seems to be surpassing him. In that vein, the United States has rejected Syria’s request to extend U.N. chemical-weapons inspections. As for implicating intelligence, the Times team again:
A critical piece of the intelligence, officials said, is an intercepted telephone call between Syrian military officials, one of whom seems to suggest that the chemical weapons attack was more devastating than was intended. “It sounds like he thinks this was a small operation that got out of control,” one intelligence official said. … Several officials said that the intelligence dossier about the attack also includes evidence of Syrian military units moving chemical munitions into place before the attack was carried out.
Why can’t we see that “dossier”? Is it just a case of “Not much to see here, move along”? Or just a reflexive secrecy on the part of the Obama administration equal to or greater than that of the Bush administration? The day before the Times reported:
American officials said Wednesday there was no “smoking gun” that directly links President Bashar al-Assad to the attack, and they tried to lower expectations about the public intelligence presentation. They said it will not contain specific electronic intercepts of communications between Syrian commanders or detailed reporting from spies and sources on the ground.
Anyway writes, John McCreary, the defense intelligence veteran who authors NightWatch for Kforce Government Solutions at Warscapes: “Actual use cannot be inferred from radio intercepts or any other indirect or remotely collected information source.” He also covers some angles you may have not seen elsewhere. For instance:
[The Russians used] a chemical agent in 2002 when Chechen terrorists held more than 800 Russian hostages in a Moscow theater. … that killed 116 people, but enabled 650 to be rescued. The agent is not banned by the Geneva convention on chemical warfare. If the Syrians used such an agent … there would be no international legal justification for attacking Syria based on the Geneva convention.
… the use of lethal gas is notoriously and inherently dangerous, often depending on the weather and the delivery system. It can blow back, in some instances, for miles. That is why military forces do not use it. [Also there] are no large numbers of people left alive but suffering. … Casualty reports from Syria are precisely opposite of the lethality pattern in a chemical weapon attack.
As if all that shouldn’t give the Obama administration pause before launching an attack, here’s McCreary today (emphasis added):
The rebels have strong motives to internationalize their fight and to manipulate the US into fighting on behalf of Islamists whose colleagues attacked the US in 2001. Some American officials and experts have asserted that the rebels have no chemical weapons. Not even the rebels say that.
What has not been reported nor evaluated are rebel claims, published by Sky News in July 2013 for example, that they have a sarin chemical weapons program and delivery systems.
Regarding a U.S. strike, McCreary from Warscapes again:
… US media have given Syrian forces more than enough warning about an impending action to enable them to protect themselves and their weapons. Leaks about US attack plans represent either monumental incompetence in operational security or a deliberate effort to tip off the Syrians for arcane political purposes.
In either event, the leaks ensure that Syrian military forces will suffer no significant damage from a US attack.
In other words
An attack under these conditions must be considered entertainment for the benefit of the international press instead of a serious military operation.
Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.