So I spent about an hour listening to John Kerry talking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about President Obama’s proposed strike. Here are some thoughts:

1. Kerry argued that the refugee crisis from the Syrian civil war was destabilizing Jordan. That strikes me as more of an argument for a military operation designed to bring down the Assad regime as quickly as possible rather than the “targeted” strikes that Kerry admitted Assad would weather.

2. Kerry argued that one purpose of the proposed strike is to deter future chemical weapons attacks by Assad. Assad’s regime is in a struggle for survival. How confident are we that a “limited” strike can be calibrated so as to deter the use of chemical weapons if Assad believes they might make the difference between victory and defeat. It would seem that the most likely deterrent would be the certainty of defeat. This limited strike for the purposes of deterrence sounds a bit like the “graduated pressure” strategy in Vietnam.

3. Kerry argued (very reasonably) that it would be very dangerous for Syria’s chemical weapons to fall into the hands of extremists in a chaotic post-Assad Syria. Are we at all certain that this strike can comprehensively destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles? Isn’t this an argument for bringing down the Assad regime as quickly as possible and doing whatever it takes to prevent the emergence of Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda statelets within post-Assad Syria? Isn’t Kerry proposing a strategy in which the most likely scenarios are that either Assad survives or that the factions of a post-Assad Syria fight over somewhat smaller chemical weapons stockpiles?

4. But who, other than John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham are arguing for anything like this kind of commitment?  Could public opinion sustain such a policy as the public seems to oppose even the more limited bombing proposed by President Obama?

 5. A problem for the Obama administration is that their arguments are most persuasive on those points where their proposals are insufficient.

Articles by Pete Spiliakos

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