Monday, August 26, 2013

Gas! Gas! Gas!

Has Syria's Assad government used chemical munitions on its rebels?
And, if so, would this constitute a casus belli for a foreign power?

Here's John Judis at the New Republic arguing that it would.

Here's the Telegraph (UK) claiming that such a strike is already underway.

Practically speaking, could a Western strike - presumably an airstrike - actually "punish" the Damscus regime?

Would the likely collateral damage outweigh the gains of such a strike? Would the punitive effect be worth the collateral damage?

Consider this an open thread to discuss...


  1. I think the whole thing stinks, and not of gas either . . .

    So on the same day the UN inspectors arrive in Syria, the Assad regime launches a chemical attack on rebel controlled areas in eastern Damascus? Those same UN inspectors accepted by the Syrian government to investigate suspected prior instances of the use of chemical weapons, that the Assad government claims the rebels were responsible for . . .

    The initial UN findings have not been conducive to the rebel's cause . . .

    So the war drums are beating like mad now . . . the old and familiar bait and switch scams play as the rubes prepare to get fleeced yet again . . . As the US stumbles into yet another senseless war the collective head of its "leaders" filled with presumptions of US exceptionalism, "we're too big to fail no matter how bad we f*** up", not to mention the interests of the various powerful political investors . . . Naturally, with no strategy worth the name since strategic theory/thinking died in the US halls of power a long time ago . . .

    All of that. But remember, it's not really about the Syrian people or even Syria . . . it's about Iran . . .

  2. The thing about this particular incident that I find peculiar is that so far as I can tell the UN inspection team is perhaps the only player that is NOT saying anything definitive.

    Maybe someone from the bugs-and-gas community can help us out here, but my understanding is that sarin is a nonpersistent agent, and so physical evidence of the agent itself may be gone in hours. So there may be no way to actually confirm its use by either side without autopsies of the victims, and I'm not sure if even that would be conclusive.

    But even assuming that this WAS a chemical strike by the Assad forces, as far as this as a trigger for military action from the West, my questions would be:

    How could you craft an airstrike that would "punish" the Assad regime and the Assad regime ONLY, that is, just inflict damage on the people directly responsible for using the chemical weapons?

    Could you do that in such a way that would not risk further destabilizing an already unstable situation? Would such a strike be an unacceptably high risk of producing unanticipatable and probably unwelcome (to the West) blowback?

    Would such a strike actually "send a message" to potential chemical-weapons users that such use would be "punished" or simply be seen - as you suggest here - as a case of the strong doing what they can and the weak suffering what they must?

    Frankly, to my mind none of the Western powers involved has provided a sensible explanation of how this will make matters in Syria "better". Assad and his people are fighting for their lives, a rebel win means the end for them. How much "punishment" a Western airstrike would deter them from using what weapons they have to save themselves seems highly speculative.

  3. Chief-

    I don't think it's supposed to "make sense" or "send a message", it's about getting the US and all the little dinghys that follow directly involved, now . . .

    I mean you couldn't make this up . . .

    "Evidence being gathered by United Nations experts in Syria was important, Kerry said, but not necessary to prove what is already “grounded in facts, informed by conscience and guided by common sense.” "

    And then there's this golden nugget . . .

    "Among the factors, officials said, are that only the government is known to possess chemical weapons and the rockets to deliver them . . ."

    So the "proof" is that only the Syrian govt, not our Al Qaida "allies" (well kinda, sorta, ya know, followed by furious winks and nodes . . . ), have chemical weapons and of course those evil rockets . . . so any use of chemical weapons is thus an act of the Assad govt . . . what could be more murky than that?

    I'm reading Sean McMeekin's "July 1914" and the comparison between then and now is amazing. There were real national issues at play in 1914, whereas today . . . in whose interest is any of this?

  4. The US and UK have not paid attention to what UN inspectors told them in 1997-2003, so why would anyone take them seriously now?
    Isn't it more reasonable to expect them to consider the UN merely as a tool in this?

    Besides, the whole thing is (as far as it concerns the Western countries) merely entertainment. The "news" media is actually infotainment/opinion media, and they use this because they think their audience can be entertained by sabre rattling and drama.

    The poll results in the US and UK are so enormously stacked against a military intervention that the "pro" figures are about as large as the usual joke replies. You can get about 5-20% pro anything in polls, after all.

  5. "Evidence being gathered by United Nations experts in Syria was important, Kerry said, but not necessary to prove what is already “grounded in facts, informed by conscience and guided by common sense.”

    Which means he ain't got shit.

    Look, between our and Russian satellite imaging, HUMINT and signal intercepts, the IC community knows what the truth is - that is a for sure - and if the truth was that Assad used chemical weapons the Washington hawks would be tossing that fact and supporting evidence all over the state propaganda arm - er.. um... I mean MSM.

    It is also a fact that we moved combat brigades, fresh from A-stan - to Turkey a couple months ago. The die has been cast.

    This is Bush's build up to war in Iraq all over again, make no mistake. I guess liberal saviors can do this crap just as good as conservatives. Our government at work for us once again.

  6. P.S. It is ironic that a Noble Peace prize awardee may accomplish what all the regular mortal Presidents managed to fail to do - get us into a war with Russia.

    Does anyone here think Russia will sit back and let us screw up Assad?

  7. Talk about no clear objectives!

    WASHINGTON -- The White House is making a legal argument for undertaking a military response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, but says any action taken against the Syrian regime is not intended to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States and 188 other nations are signatories to a chemical weapons convention opposing the use of such weapons. He says those countries have a stake in ensuring that international norms must be respected. Carney says that there must be a response to a clear violation of those norms.

    But Carney says, quote, "The options we are considering are not about regime change."

    He says a change in Syria's leadership must occur through political negotiations.

    Short version, "Well golly gee bum, folks. We gotta do sumthin. They were baddies."

  8. US military intervention in Syria is not warranted. It was a bad idea in Libya in 2011, in Iraq in 03, in Kosovo in 98, in Somalia in 92, and in too many other cases to take the time to list here.

    The use military kinetic means to punish evildoers around the globe - or as democracy promotion - or to advocate an ethic of kindness, benevolence, and sympathy lost its halo 50 years ago when John F Kennedy sent a few of us to Vietnam in order to prevent the Vietnamese Communists from kidnapping and murdering schoolteachers, nurses, doctors.

    Of course there will be blowback.

  9. . . . use "of" . . .

  10. Umm, unilateral US/British/French intervention is not just a mistake, it would be a war crime.

    I don't expect to see an American in the docket, but British Prime Minister could end up in an awkward spot if UN investigators reveal anything awkward.

    I expect a strong push to pull the inspectors out quickly.

  11. Gentlemen-

    Lest we forget this event of geo-strategic magnitude happened six days ago . . .

  12. Interesting discussion. I think, at this point, the evidence isn't clear enough to come to definitive conclusions. It's kind of dismaying the certainty displayed by the various sides. IMO, it doesn't "make sense" for either side to have conducted this attack, but someone conducted it nonetheless. The Administration promised some definitive intelligence and the reporting I read today indicated that they would release compelling evidence to include sigint intercepts of Syrian forces involved in the attack. We'll see.... Personally, I'll hold judgment.

    I think much of the "case" will come down to capability - namely, who had the capability to conduct this attack? The rebels overran several military bases and various facilities, and were bolstered by defections from regime forces. A critical intelligence question is whether any CW facilities were captured by the rebels and whether the rebels control any CW delivery systems (especially the delivery system used). If they didn't and don't, then it would be hard to argue that this attack came from the rebels. On the other hand, if they do....

    I would think the Assad regime would be incentivized to publicize any compromise of its CW capabilities, particularly now, but AFAIK they've said nothing. Strange - you'd think they'd at least hint at that even if it weren't true.

    I suppose for the sake of completeness we should consider third party involvement. There doesn't seem to be any evidence to support this, but, as of now, there doesn't seem to be any evidence eliminating the possibility either.

    Finally, as to the Administration's purpose for attacking, I think the Administration is trying to balance several things:

    - They don't want to decisively tilt the balance of power in the civil war to the rebels.
    - They want to be forceful enough to deter further CW use by Syria and reinforce the "norm" against the use of WMD.
    - They want to be forceful enough to establish the credibility of US red lines for deterrence purposes. This is as much about Iran as Syria.
    - They want to preserve the ability to take additional actions, so they won't want to blow their wad in one go. In other words, they want to preserve the ability to hit Syria again without tilting the balance to the rebels.

    There are, obviously, a lot of assumptions (many questionable) underlying those goals.

    So, like the Goldilocks, the Administration wants the action to be "just right" and in my opinion that will be an operation on the scale of El Dorado Canyon at the low end and Desert Fox on the upper end. My guess is it will be more like the former given the operational details reported by the major media outlets. Regardless, given the rhetoric, I think a strike is almost certain, so we'll find out soon enough.

    Whether this operation will lead us down the path of decisive intervention in the Syrian civil war is an open question. This is another area where many make definitive conclusions based on little evidence. I guess we'll find out.

    1. Andy-

      "So, like the Goldilocks, the Administration wants the action to be "just right" and in my opinion that will be an operation on the scale of El Dorado Canyon at the low end and Desert Fox on the upper end. My guess is it will be more like the former given the operational details reported by the major media outlets. Regardless, given the rhetoric, I think a strike is almost certain, so we'll find out soon enough."

      Perfect analysis. As of 27 August. But could something yet happen, to keep the strike from coming . . . ? We'll see . . .

  13. Nice synopsis, Andy. I am thinking third party involvement is the correct answer (via Saudi operatives masked as, if not actual, rebels and, perhaps, ultimately handled by our own CIA).

    A further question that comes to my mind is who cares about the use of sarin - or whatever the agent may have been (if anything)?

    Dead by arty or dead by gas. What is the difference? And, let's face it, the rebels are largely comprised of the very people we have been actively fighting for the past 12 years. Head hunting heart eating jihadis. What is there to like about guys? They hate us and they brutally murder Christians in their own countries. These guys are no good and we should be relieved that Assad is beginning to crush them, gas or no gas.

    At the end of the day we have a weak incompetent POTUS that feels a need to appear to have a grown a pair by backing up a stupid statement that he made about "red lines" and who can't handle the McCain, et al warmonger crowd and who has no respect for the Constitution or tax paying citizens.

    So he will impotently shoot a couple of missiles at assets that Assad is, no doubt, taking measures to protect at this very moment. Who knows, if he's lucky, this thing might escalate into another protracted war that will distract from all of the domestic issues that he can't handle either.

    1. Wow, you bought into a lot of propaganda.
      Do you really believe that the rebels are largely AQ/TB type folks?

      News flash: You've been had by Assad's propaganda, which is really embarrassing because the "my governments enemies are terrorists/bandits/communists/whoever_whom_you_hate" line is really an old propaganda pattern.

  14. SO, Is this propaganda?

    composition of rebel forces:

    I could paste links supporting my statements until this blog's bandwidth is completely spent.

    Gee, maybe Al Assad has this massive propaganda wing that's infiltrated a myriad of global sources.... Or maybe you are a clueless zombie.

    Are you also one of those people who think the moon landings were faked?

    How have any of these Islamic spring revolution liberation war for democracy op.s worked out? How did arming the a-stan muj work out?

    I know, I know, the there's light at the end of tunnel, stay the course, blah, blah, blah....idiot

    1. Alawites and Christians are the minorities which support the Assad regime the most. Only a fool would expect no anecdotes about cruelty against such groups in a mean and long civil war.
      The very same cruelties happen to other people there as well - on all sides of the conflict.

      You seem to have missed the irony of you trying to disprove my claim of propaganda by showing pieces of it and its result and claiming you can provide more.

      Also, poor attempts at ad hominem attacks. Moon landing? Seriously?
      Wasn't it you who brought a conspiracy theory about the CIA into the discussion? Projecting a bit much today, huh?

      @ others; look at who is interested in having the Syrian rebels depicted as islamists-dominated:
      - Assad, to avert intervention
      - Russia, to avert intervention and justify its support
      - American doves, to avert yet another stupid Mid East war
      - Western journalists, to whom Civil war alone has become an old story (hence the islamists and gas stories).

      Also, Hezbollah supports Assad with thousands of fighters. Weren't they the designated (Shi'ite) islamist baddies of yesteryear?

      It is a bigger propaganda mess than Kosovo was.

  15. Hez or the IRGC are candidates also.

    As for the evidence, SIGINT can be spoofed. Let's hope there is backup.

  16. Chief

    Your question about detecting sarin use appears to be answered by the UN here.

    "Sarin can be detected in biomedical samples up to months following its use..."

    At present, the UN mission to medically determine IF sarin was used is a day or two into the process, yet there sure seems to be a lot of folks convinced on the basis of "intel". Why a bit of patience cannot be exercised while the UN visit the alleged sites of sarin employment is beyond me. We've been dicking around with this for over a year, but can't wait for some hands on laboratory results?

    Considering that the main motive for striking at the Assad regime is apparently a somewhat symbolic enforcement of a "norm", it just makes no sense to do so before the UN, which is on the ground and collecting hard evidence, tells us what they determined. While the UN mission may not be able to identify the party that deployed the alleged gas, wouldn't it be prudent to verify that gas was indeed employed?

    It appears we are claiming to take no political sides in this mess, but war is political. You can't strike one side without benefiting the other. Way too much convoluted logic for my geriatric brain. Why not just flip a coin and decimate the side that looses the toss?

  17. What is the compelling political need? The US is not in an election cycle that either party can capitalize on. Neither is Israel. McCain has been trying hard to produce some reason to deflect sequester away from the DoD and the specter of war can make some hay there, but its like picking Palin as a running mate. (I kinda see what you think you were going for Senator, but your execution is terrible.)

    At the end of the day, this will come down to secreted domestic appetites, IMHO.

  18. The haste and irrationality of all this only indicates to me that it has very little to do with Syria or what happened in Syria. Syria/Assad only provide the setting for the explosions . . . it is the act itself which is the "message" so to speak. BHO's message to the Russians, to the Israelis, to the Saudis, to the Iranians, to Hizbullah, to the Turks, to the Euros, to the R2P groupies, not to mention to the civil liberties "fringe groups" in the US (regarding the NSA scandal) . . . somewhere far down the list to Assad . . . something or other to Syria.

    I also suspect that the president will feel very content with himself immediately after the first explosions, especially after all "the lack of respect" he's had to endure from various quarters . . .

    It's a display of untrammeled power, of military violence, of what has become our preferred method of dealing with problems.

    That is not to say that the various domestic and foreign interests won't play BHO like a cheap fiddle and take him places he had no intention initially of going . . . definitely stay tuned . . .

    Question as to how US intel (that is foreign intelligence collection, not total domestic surveillance) fits into all this . . . The "smoking gun" had to be provided by the Israelis?

  19. S O, "Alawites and Christians are the minorities which support the Assad regime the most. Only a fool ...."

    The pattern of killing or exiling Christians, post revolution, throughout the so called "Arab Spring" countries is well established. Look at how the now deposed MB in Egypt has had its mobs burn down just about all of the Coptic churches over the past few weeks.

    Whether or not it has to do with whom the Christians sided with is moot. The fact remains that where ever takfiris take over, they project animosity toward large segments of the population and Christians, especially, are persecuted. Ancient Christian communities are destroyed. The evidence extents all the way from Afghanistan to Egypt, as well as into Africa.

    How can you not recognize this? How can the gassing of a few hundred people be cause to go to war in support of people that will certainly kill many times that number out of mere difference in religious perspective?

    Even the US gov't recognizes a significant jihadi component in the rebel forces. You seem to stand alone in your belief they the rebels are jihadis with AQ affiliation.

    What did Al Assad ever do to piss you off? What did the rebels do to make you like them? I don't get it.

    Maybe your a bit of cyber propaganda yourself, paid for by Al Qaeda.

  20. Basically, SO, you have disclosed where your loyalties lie. You only care about protecting jihadists and anarchists. Their failures and deaths trouble you and you would spend American lives and treasure to help these people who would attack the US and Israel as soon as they would be established in Syria.

    You have no regard for the sovereign governments of countries, Christians or regard for the interests of the US.

    NO? I'm wrong? Explain to me how replacing Assad w/ a mishmash of anarchists and jihadis is in America's interest.

    At least your sympathies and loyalties are in line with POTUS and the lunatic McCain.

    (we'll overlook international law and the ethics of overthrowing sovereign govts. We'll also overlook for now our success rate in these kinds of missions).

    1. Frankly, your BS is too far below me for a discussion.

      I recognise your pattern and I know from experience that people with this pattern are useless in difficult topics, annoying background noise.

      You're living in a fantasy world in which you have formed your opinion about me and my position, which is pure fantasy, of course.
      Express an intelligent thought if you want a discussion.

  21. SO,

    Explain to me how replacing Assad w/ a mishmash of anarchists and jihadis is in America's interest.

    Explain to me why the US even has a right - looking at international law - to do this?

    Explain to me what proof there is that the Al Assad govt deployed the chemical weapons.

    Explain to me what good lobbing a few cruise missiles at some vague targets (that are no doubt now protected) is going to do? Does it make the US look strong or impotent? Explain to me what the potential for unintended negative consequences might be in your opinion.

    When you can intelligently answer these questions, I might begin to take you seriously.

    Thank you.

  22. More info on the Israeli intelligence . . .

    "A large delegation of senior Israeli security officials is currently in Washington holding talks with top administration officials led by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice. . ."


    A lot of interesting details in this article, including the view that it was perhaps all a mistake . . . but then on the other hand the Israelis are believed to have the ability to fabricate Sigint as well. They also claim Assad was behind the March attack which is not supported by UN reporting.

    Then there's their very big interest in getting the US involved in Syria and thus scupper any chance at an opening in US/Iran negotiations . . . so they are not a credible source imo, but then it's never been actually about proof . . . rather more cover for what was going to happen anyway given this opportunity . . .

  23. @ Seydlitz: ". . . The "smoking gun" had to be provided by the Israelis?"

    I read Harper's article on sst. Maybe it is true or maybe not. There are plenty of non-Israeli listening posts that are close enough to Syria to have made the intercepts: American in Turkey and British in Cyprus are two. And satellites? Are we to assume that those resources were asleep at the wheel? I doubt that seriously.

    In any case, no matter who supplied the intercepts, it should be looked at critically. URL (the old term - Usually Reliable Source) is a misnomer nowadays when it comes to SIGINT: too much post-WW2 bragging re ULTRA and too many leaks a-la-Snowden and hundreds of others.

    1. mike-

      Agree, but my point on this has been that it is all about action, doing something, now! and not at all about the facts surrounding the actual incident . . .

      The fact that the Israelis are so totally on board with this precludes a lot of potential opposition from the GOP and Demos as well . . .

      So far Harper's post has stood up well . . .

  24. SST is a great resource. Then again, some might say that the venerable Pat Lang has also swallowed a load of propaganda BS.

    I picked up this link from comments there:

    Would look like the chem attack originated with the rebels and/or their Saudi backers.

  25. Part 1 of 2

    From my perspective, it's hard to let go of the fact that potentially several thousand people were injured and multiple hundreds injured in a single rocket attack.

    As an experienced artilleryman, I'll say that's a hell of an accomplishment unless a) all the people are standing in the open and packed together b) you thoroughly saturate the area with shells a la WWI bombardment style c) you are using something more than HE.

    If the body count is that high and no grunts were present filling people with lead, it was almost certainly more than HE. Just no way to kill people that efficiently with indirect fires.

    Which leads to the question, was it the Syrian government, the rebels, or some other party? No idea. I can see why people would assume different sides, but no one actually does false flags like this. I mean they potentially killed a thousand civilians over the course of a couple hours. If those body counts stay consistent (which they have not) then it's either Al Qaeda's biggest haul since 9/11 or the Syrian government is getting serious about chemical use. If the body count stays murky then all of my assumptions go to hell and we can ignore the rest of this.
    Obama has struggled to do anything good with Syria. He thought Assad was gone a year and a half ago and then a year ago then six months ago. Assad is clearly in this to the death and for good reason. He's not losing. He's got a base strong enough and allies committed enough to keeping him in power barring major shift in the power equation. Of course, this won't get him a big win, but chemical weapons potentially could allow for this.

  26. Part 2 of 2

    So Obama continues to look impotent, he picked poorly in terms of wishing for the downfall of a guy that he really would prefer to stay in power. The West made this into a pissing contest and then found out its allies were devils they didn't want to deal with. But in this day and age, there are no strategic mistakes. That would mean we need a new chief! Obama's failure to understand that Assad is fully committed to winning a war is due to the fact that the US doesn't do that and the world hasn't seen a willingness to do the life-and-death struggle in a while. But because he miscalculated, he thought he could deter Assad. He can't. Assad is in this to win.

    Which leads to this current problem. Assad wants to win at any cost. Obama wants to keep him from winning by use of chemical weapons. He said so even though he clearly wanted to do nothing. Now Assad is using chemical weapons and so now Obama feels a need to try and deter Assad from further use, although the language has been consistently demonstrated a need to "punish" the regime. It's odd. Punishment warfare is something that is just strange to consider, but I have no ideas about it currently, so let's consider what can be done.

    Debka reported that there used to be a carrier in the Med that got sent away on its normal course, so the talk of a "build up" is probably exaggerated. Obama wants to attack Syria with enough force to keep chemical weapons from being used but too little to provoke a retaliation that escalates the conflict. Pretty much he wants to slap the bully to get him from stealing people's lunches without provoking an actual brawl. This seems hard to do, if not impossible, but I appreciate that he's hopefully taking those steps. It's better than the alternative of trying to provoke a fight.

    But, in all honesty, there are no good intentions when it comes to violence. Especially High Explosive violence. Not to mention that the US is apparently unable to attack the chemical depots for fear of spreading the WMDs themselves. So the US wants to prevent further chemical attacks by deterring their use while also not provoking a counter-attack, but they can only target systems that aren't the WMDs and are more likely C2 nodes and weapons systems.

    This is a fools errand. The best we can hope for is that it looks like we've won a victory and not provoke a retaliation. There's next to no chance that we can intimidate Assad while also not provoking retaliation. And if the US pulled carriers out of the region, it's to keep the risk of escalation to a minimum. So instead, we're going to lob some bombs into the country, declare victory and cross our fingers that we don't actually do anything real.

    Which is our strategy in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and all over the world, so I'm fairly confident that's our current strategy. I still don't get WHY we do this. It seems ineffective on a definitional level, but hey, keeps people home happy, so that's probably why we're doing it.

    PF Khans

  27. Seydlitz - Looks like Pat Lang has redacted Harpers claim that the Israelis were the ones to provide the evidence of the Chemical attacks.

    1. mike-

      Yes he did, but the Times of Israel article confirms the Israeli source as well as the Focus article does . . .

      Interesting I wonder why he took it out . . .

    2. "...confirms...????

      or perhaps "repeats" is a better word

    3. mike-

      The ToI article named a lot of names . . . easy to verify . . . have "Bennie and the Jets" advising Susan Rice?

      That and Focus tags Unit 8200 . . .

      We'll see . . .

  28. PF khans, Doctors without borders has the death toll at around 350; considerably lower than the admin. I think your point still stands with regard to the number of casualties that conventional arty would produce. An alternative explanation is that those victims were trapped without access to water for several days and died as a result. Probably not what happened, but, just sayin'......

    ......the supposed punitive strike will probably be used to degrade targets of Israel's choosing; targets that have long been of concern to them. This is the true purpose of the whole charade (that and the cake's icing being some kids' in the admin. notion of making Obama look like their concept of a man).

    It is absolutely a false flag op. sarin gas or no sarin gas. Note: There probably was sarin used, but not by Assad.

  29. PF Khans-

    The whole Vietnam war was about coercion or punishment. Hit the North Vietnamese hard enough and they would give up attempting to take over the South, or so it was seen by US policy makers at the time . . .

    This coercion doesn't make a lot of sense, but then as you say this is what we've been doing in other places as well, which goes along with my comment as to our preference for organized violence as the main means of attaining international goals. Not that we actually attain much, but then actual, coherent strategic thought is a dead animal among US policy makers . . . sadly.

    At this point with all the various pseudo-facts, real facts and rumors flying around, the truth as to what happened on the 21st of August is going to take some time to sort out. Given the character of the various players, either side could have used the gas.

    I tend to think it was the rebels for simple reasons of motives, timing and the fact that Assad's been rolling back the rebels on several fronts for the last several months. Add to that the fact of the Syrian govt allowing the UN in to check out sites they were fairly certain would implicate the rebels in the use of CW . . .

    So it makes no sense for Assad to do this, whereas it makes a lot of sense for the rebels to do it and pin it on Assad. Mistakes or course happen, but then so do false flag ops . . .

  30. I am curious to learn about what chemical agent was used and the details of the delivery. I also don't see why the west is in a hurry to launch cruise missiles. Much can be learned from the UN inspectors, if they are given the chance to report.

    Gwynne Dyer offers some perspective

  31. Might be of interest. A view of gas warfare by a participant in the Great War . . .

    "I have already stated, more than once, that killing is not
    the objective in war. If this statement be accepted, then, as bloodshed is uneconomical, surely an attempt should be made to devise a means of forcing an enemy to change his policy by bloodlessly defeating his army. Gas warfare enables us to do this, for there is no reason why gases as weapons should be of
    a lethal nature. In the last war they were frequently so, because soldiers and the civil suppliers of soldiers had become so accustomed to think in terms of killing, that, when gas was proposed as a weapon, they at once looked upon gas in the form of a microscopic bullet.

    On July 12, 1917, at the third battle of Ypres, the Germans gave up this idea, and, by making use of a chemical commonly known as mustard gas, disclosed to the whole world the future possibilities of gas warfare. Respirators to a great extent were now useless, for the persistent and vesicant nature of this
    chemical rendered whole areas, for days on end, uninhabitable and dangerous to cross. Men carried the oily liquid on their clothes, on the mud of their boots, and infected dug-outs, billets and rest camps far back on the lines of communication. Few died, but many were incapacitated for months on end. Here,
    curious to relate, is the true power of gas as a weapon — it can incapacitate without killing. A dead man says nothing, and, when once buried, is no encumbrance to the survivors. A wounded man will spread the wildest of rumours, will exaggerate dangers, foster panic, and requires the attention of others to heal him — until he dies or is cured, he is a military encumbrance
    and a demoralizing agent. Gas, as I will show later on, is, par excellence, the weapon of demoralization, and, as it can terrorize without necessarily killing, it, more than any other known weapon, can enforce economically the policy of one
    nation on another."

    JFC Fuller, The Reformation of War, 1923

  32. Chemical agents with temporary effect would indeed have been useful and might be used to reduce casualties and other horrors of warfare.

    The problem is that biochemistry doesn't appear to know many such agents. There were a few promising ones, but their use was mostly practical only in enclosed rooms (Russian knockout gas) or had seriously mean side effects. There was no "I make you blind for two days with a odorless, colourless agent of the same gas density as air at ground level" chemical agent, for example.

    Mankind has thus come to the conclusion that it's best to simply ban the crap altogether, to make their use a taboo. The taboo is even more powerful than the taboo on nukes. Only the police's tear gas is still fine.

    I can live with this.

    "Much can be learned from the UN inspectors, if they are given the chance to report."

    You're talking about a U.S.government here, so I suppose this was irony?

    1. S O-

      It's interesting the assumptions Fuller makes in regards to mustard gas . . .

    2. European nations were during the 1930's expecting the next great war to be a lot about gas bombing campaigns against cities. Civil defence preparations stressed gas masks, including for children and hospital patients.

      The fear was eventually so great that there was no widespread chemical warfare during WW2 at all, but a much was done with fire. It did likely help that Hitler was once gassed himself; he had useful quantities of revolutionary nerve gas, but didn't use them.

  33. There are still a lot of inconsistencies out there.

    My understanding was that the UN CW investigation team had been in country for quite awhile. They had been negotiating with Assad's government about which sites they could visit. Finally they were given permission to visit and inspect only three of the 13 sites where the use of gas had been reported earlier. But then the incident at Ghouta happened and they got rerouted there. So is that and the other three (out of 14 now) ongoing or are they all stalled? Why are the other 10 sites off limits?

    The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies records Syria as having Sarin, VX and Mustard. The Turks reportedly have some HUMINT from a Syrian Army defector that Assad's forces used BZ-CN (supposedly a mix of a hallucinating agent with a militarized version of Mace), the US doubts that according to wikipedia.

    1. mike-

      Thanks as to how long the UN's been there. I didn't know that.

      Still, the country's in the middle of a civil war. The UN has been in country for some time . . . negotiating with Assad which must be an "interesting" process.

      From a legal perspective, Syria never signed the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.

      Of course if BHO were interested in adhering to international treaties/obligations he could arrest Dick Cheney and send him to Den Haag for investigation and possibly trial regarding the Convention Against Torture . . . not much chance of that . . .

  34. @Seydlitz: "It's interesting the assumptions Fuller makes in regards to mustard gas . . ."

    Yes. Although Mustard Gas may have been designed as an incapacitating agent, it was lethal in a great number of cases from blistered windpipes or worse yet the lungs.

    My grandmother's brother who served in the AEF had a battlefield tracheotomy to keep from asphyxiating. As a child my cousins and I were always delighted to hear him whisper to us through what he called the 'whale blowhole' in his throat.

    And the Brits used Mustard too. Not only at Cambrai in 17 and when breaking the Hindenburg Line in 18; but didn't they also use it in Iraq in 17? Hmmm, a test case I wonder? And later in 19 they reportedly used it (or gave it to the White Army for use) against the Red Army, but that was denied as Red propaganda. The Italians used it in Ethiopia in 36 according to A. J. Barker's book. General Badoglio was about to have his army split in half at Tembien so he used Mustard on Ras Kassa's force and avoided another defeat like Adowa. Or maybe he was thinking of Caporetto?

    Most interesting to me re Mustard Gas was reading Mukherjee's book "The Emperor of All Maladies" about cancer and cancer research. He indicates that derivatives of the Mustard Gas were used early on as experimental chemo-therapies for childhood leukemia. And they worked in many cases! I am sure my great-uncle Clarence would have approved. Of course they have come a long way since then and no longer use that particular formulation.

    1. mike-

      Yes, I remember you telling us about your great-uncle.

      So much for "humanitarian" warfare . . . of course now they try to sell off drone strikes along pretty much the same lines . . .

  35. Here's where I find myself thinking like an enlisted man.

    Putting aside the bigger questions of evidence and influence, I look at this like the maneuver commander's targeting section chief and here's what I'm hearing;

    "OK, Chief, I need a target list. But you can't hit the enemy's HQ element (we don't want a decapitation strike) and you can't seriously degrade his maneuver forces (because we don't want his combat power to collapse) and we don't want you to destroy more of his CSS resources than you have to (since his civilian population depends on it, too), oh, and we want you to severely - severely - limit collateral damage and civilian casualties."

    So I start thinking.

    I can't hit the enemy's CINC. I can't target his troop units or destroy a significant amount of his combat power. I also can't hit anything in a built-up area, anything with potential civilian access, or anything that his military or civilian adherents might need or want (i.e. dams, power stations, bridges...)

    So I have a hell of a problem, in my estimation. What the hell CAN I hit?

    Basically, I'm pretty much left with "government buildings". Ministries, barracks (presumably empty, since most of his units are in the field...), munitions storage sites (though I have to be careful NOT to target potential chemical munitions depots to avoid release of the agent through the detonation of my own projos.

    I can easily see myself handing my commander a list of what I know are empty office buildings in Baghdad.

    1. Sounds perilously close to LBJ's Rolling Thunder.

      Back then (65 thru 68) that bombing campaign was devised in a way calculated not to threaten the Ho Chi Minh regime’s survival. Thru backdoor diplomatic channels LBJ repeatedly assured the rulers of North Vietnam that his bombs were not targeting them. Government Ministry buildings were never targeted. The North Vietnamese ability to communicate was left almost untouched. And their foreign trade - especially in weapons - were not touched except for a single rail line in the north which was rebuilt daily.

  36. And, for what it's worth;

    1. IMO it's nonsensical to natter on about "how is this in America's interests?" and whine about cui bono and piss an moan about the whys and hows of this thing. Just as many of America's wars this is not about what is but what seems and what's seen within the corridors of power in D.C.

    And there I think our man seydlitz has it cold; the U.S. policymaking forces have an extremely difficult time thinking coldly with "national interests" and has for a long time.

    There's a reason they're called the "Washington Rules". People in positions of influence (from the POTUS all the way down to the think tank sonsofbitches and idiot punditocracy) in DC think in terms of Thucydides: "Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." That's where we're coming from here.

    2. That said, you'd think that even with those sort of moron-grade-policy-beer-goggles on, someone in D.C. would stop and think:

    "Hmmm. Wait a moment. This Assad guy, he's in a struggle to the death with rebels in his own country, which is rapidly descending (or has already descended) into the sort of sectarian chaos that enveloped places like Yugoslavia and Iraq and the sort of factional chaos that has overwhelmed Libya and Tunisia.

    He's well aware that when you play the game of thrones to lose is to die. If the rebels win if he's lucky he'll get what Siad Barre' and what Ben Ali got. If he's UNlucky he'll get what Ceausescu got and what Gaddafi got and what Saddam got.

    What the hell does he have to lose sliming his rebels? The U.S. is gonna blow up some of his stuff? To put a bunch of rebels like the TNC or worse in power?

    How the hell you gonna get a guy like that to play nice with a couple of cruise missiles?"

    And WHY nobody will do that, well...see #1.

  37. Chief" What the hell does he have to lose.....?

    Effectively, a loss for Assad is equivalent to "Total and Unconditional Surrender", and we know how much that hastened the end of WWII.

    Just received the Alumni magazine from my Alma Mater. They have a section entitled "Overheard on Campus", which is notable one or two sentence quotes from distinguished speakers' presentations at various forums and seminars on campus. Amongst this issues quotes:

    "Democracy is a really great import for countries that want it, but it's a really terrible export." David Sanger, NY Times, speaking at the School of Journalism.

    I'm not sure what we are trying to "export" into Syria, and I'm not convinced the Administration or Congress is either, but it gets seemingly more terrible with every passing day.

    Ael" "I am curious to learn about what chemical agent was used and the details of the delivery".

    So, it would seem, are the UN inspectors, who have not released any definitive details so far. The alleged intercepted phone traffic where a Syrian defense official excitedly demanded an explanation for the attack from someone in a chemical weapons unit can be interpreted several ways.

  38. The reformation-part-two roles along in the Islamic world. Social catharsis is inevitable since the constellation of ideologies, institutions, resources and leaders are unable to bear the weight of a growing, urbanized population. I wish Arnold Toynbee were alive to see it. The current state of affairs appears to be unsustainable, but whatever social equilibrium will be reached probably has to be allowed to emerge rather than be imposed. I'm not sure what good it would have been if Britain decided in 1865 that Grant's siege of Petersburg, or Sherman's march to the sea were just too awful and intervened, muting our ability to answer Lincoln's question whether a Nation of, by and for the people can survive. There are some fights that need to happen. I humbly propose that we man the firebreaks and attempt to keep the worst sparks from spilling over.

    PFK, thanks for bringing the artillery perspective.

  39. I think a fair assessment of the significant level of uncertainty is presented here: CLICKY

  40. "The problem with all the scenario playing in Washington is, of course, that it is just a way of analyzing a problem without any connection to the real world. It includes no metric to measure success and the results over the past twelve years have been dismal, resulting in U.S. decline and impacting negatively on the well-being of every American citizen. Constructing possible scenarios for the Middle East will not mean an end to American military intervention worldwide, as the events of the past week have demonstrated, and it will not stop the insidious domestic policies being carried out by the Obama administration, which has been described as the most secretive and constitutionally damaging in American history. But Obama’s evident reluctance to fully engage the U.S. military after the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan and his embrace of half measures could mean an abandonment of attempts to use American boots-on-the-ground to change governments overseas, replaced by a much more cautious path towards something akin to accountable government based on incremental change engineered by shadowy and secretive quasi Non-Government Organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy. Toppling foreign governments directly will be replaced by coercing and suborning them. However, it might not work any better than the old way of doing things as it assumes that outside players can really influence developments in a place like Egypt or control the fractious politics of countries like Syria, which are almost certainly false assumptions that play out well in National Security Council tabletop war games but not so well in real life."

  41. Thinking like an officer, there is no military solution to this problem set.

    "So I have a hell of a problem, in my estimation. What the hell CAN I hit?"


    Or, let's just say it's what you will hit. And then you will take the fall for a major fuck up that damages the US reputation further in the region.

  42. As for boots on the ground, as I have said, it is a fact that combat brigades were moved to Turkey for the purpose of missions into Syria around three months ago. These guys were mostly just back from a year in A-stan. Barely had time to rest and refit. 9 suicides amongst them. Worn out troops with worn out equipment. Think the Russians and Syrians don't know the questionable combat readiness of these outfits?

  43. no one: "As for boots on the ground, as I have said, it is a fact that combat brigades were moved to Turkey for the purpose of missions into Syria around three months ago."

    Care to link an authoritative source? Other than Patriot missile crews in Jan 2013, no deployments have been made known.

  44. Aviator, I am the authoritative source. I know some of the families of these guys. We kept in touch for mutual support through two combat deployments of our sons. My son was deployed with them in Iraq and A-stan and he'd be in Turkey with them now if he hadn't been injured in the stan and DC'ed. He knows these guys. After his last deployment and before DC, an approximately three month period, my son was with brigade level; S1. For that reason he knows exactly where they were being sent and why. The TO&E reflects the mission. He keeps in touch with some of his fellow officers and he knows where they are. They are in Turkey. These are US Army combat brigades.

    There's a lot we are not being told. As an aside,it is also a fact that a number KIAs and died of wounds are not publicly reported and are not counted on those resources designed to show the cost of war. There are good reasons the suicide rate of those who had been in combat deployments is so high. Those are not being revealed to the public either.

  45. Should have said wounded in the stan, not injured.

  46. here. five seconds of "googling" provides some support since you probably don't like what I have to say:

    We're getting hussled here guys. This is worse than Iraq. At least for Iraq it was possible to enjoy a happy fantasy. In Syria there is no happy ending - except for those whose goal in life is spread war and destruction into Iran.

  47. no one-

    The presence of US combat brigades in Turkey could indicate premeditation . . . that the decision to become involved in the Syrian civil war was made well before 21 August.

    You should consider bouncing this info over at SST and see what the response is . . . could be very interesting . . .

  48. seydlitz - a couple of points.
    1. I apologize for thrashing around here with attitude. I am extremely pissed off. We are being buffaloed, again. My son, a college grad and once a bright young man with a bright future is permanently disabled as a result of the last - and ongoing - imperial farce (along with many other sons and some daughters). I am also pissed that our country is being hijacked by god only knows who and for what purpose.

    2. This blog and Jim's are not too popular as far as the number of visitors and their prominence in society. No offense. I am no one myself. However, not true of Pat Lang's place. Revealing troop movements - especially if the gov't has gone to some lengths to keep them concealed - is a crime. I have considered that someone reading there might have the ability and desire to track me and my son down. So I am cautious, but, now that you mention it, think there might be a way of bringing it up and having someone else look into it and say it for me.

    3.I was reading an Army Times piece written in June 2013. If I recall (recall getting more if'y these days), it mentions about 60,000 troops on deployments other than A-stan without specifically stating exactly where many of these are deployed. I suspect that the troops in Turkey are amongst that murky subset.

  49. P.S. I was told, back in May, that the deployments to Turkey are for the purpose of going into Syria. So premeditation? Yes. That is why I am so skeptical of the gas story. Once decisions have been made they are rarely unmade. All that's left is for a saleable reason to emerge. Same as Iraq.

  50. no-one : Your link to the antiwar site talks about Jordan not Turkey. And what "combat" troops were left there in Jordan after Exercise Eager Lion other than the Patriot unit???

    The 26th MEU (a Marine float unit, battalion sized - not a brigade) was there. But according to their FaceBook page they left months ago when the exercise was over and are now in the UAE in the Arabian Gulf. Some are still on ship, others as of three days ago were ashore enjoying the beaches, water parks, 4-wheeling in the desert, golf, amazing malls, shopping for gold in the souk, etc.

    There are in fact Army and Air Force units in Turkey. But the only Army ones I am aware of are Patriot anti-missile batteries (sent there last December by Panetta at the request of the Turks). Since the cold war a ton of USAF units have been at Incirlik and some support facilities in Izmir and Ankara.

  51. no one-

    Nothing wrong with asking some kinda specific questions . . .

    But then maybe you shouldn't be listening to me. I'm a former military intelligence officer who supports Edward Snowden . . .

    Still, interesting stuff - like Harper's post - gets up on SST all the time. The mention of unit 8200 might have been a bit over the edge which is why it was removed?

    Your anger and frustration is something many of us share. What has happened to your son gives you more than enough right to blow off some steam, so I wouldn't worry about that.

  52. "Revealing troop movements - especially if the gov't has gone to some lengths to keep them concealed - is a crime."

    Feel free to present the exact law and paragraph for this. Soldiers can be gagged like this, but I doubt that civilians can be.

  53. S O

    "Loose lips sink ships" . . .

    1. A very questionable idea once you factor in a healthy dose of disinformation.

      Much secrecy is pointless, especially the secrecy about topics which involve thousands of people who know the big picture.

      Either you fragment the whole so very few people know the big picture or attempts at maintaining secrecy would be wasteful. Disinformation is often much better than secrecy.

      You can for example fool an entire brigade about its later deployment into a crisis zone for weeks if you tell them they'll deploy to a climatically similar yet different area. You cannot keep the whole deployment secret, though.

      I don't remember a single incident of ships getting sunk because of HumInt.
      The Allies knew about every sub which left or arrived French or Norwegian harbors during WW2, and it was only useful for bean counting.
      The German army intelligence of WW2 was capable of tracking about 500 Soviet divisions for most of the time, and they hardly depended on "loose lips".

      Secrecy is too often applied without much thought and too often applied for the wrong reasons.
      I do vaguely remember studies about black programs being vastly more expensive than less secret programs; the additional secrecy inhibited industrial cooperation, slowed down personnel replacements, limited open air testing and it protected wasteful programs from oversight.

    2. S O

      It was supposed to be a joke . . . still operational security isn't a bad idea . . .

  54. "Your link to the antiwar site talks about Jordan not Turkey....."

    I know that it talks about Jordan. Like I said, 5 seconds of google. The art. says 1,000 combat troops. My read is that those are in addition to the Patriot Missile guys.

    Look, you don't have to believe me. I'm saying what I think needs to be said. I wouldn't come here and lie or publish embellishments. I have better things to do with my time (and yours). I will see if I can get "my source" to tell me the specific outfits that are in Turkey waiting to go into Syria. Maybe that will settle the debate.

    seydlitz, my daughter is MI (Navy) attached to the DIA.

    1. no-one - I have not, and will not, call you a liar.

      The 1000 combat troops mentioned on website to my knowledge were the 26th MEU which is now long out of there regardless of what says.

      I am against military intervention in Syria myself. And please accept my heartfelt feelings for your son's wounds.

  55. "Revealing troop movements - especially if the gov't has gone to some lengths to keep them concealed - is a crime."

    And this blog, although it may be unpopular is hosted by a Google subsidiary. Google has been outed as passing users private info to the NSA. The NSA is particularly interested in communications from overseas, including blog comments. Many of the correspondents on this blog are from overseas - I know of at least Germany, Portugal, Greece, Taiwan - and probably others. So your comments (if accurate) are just as much in danger here as on Pat Lang's blog or on the front page of the NYT or Wash Post.

    But I dont think you have much to worry about. Moving a US Army combat brigade or two around the globe is a major enterprise which no amount of secrecy could keep from the public. It involves not just the soldiers but their dependents and the entire supporting establishment it would take to ae them, tens of thousands of people. It could have been done in WW2 maybe. But if done now the Turkish public, the American congress (and therefore the American public), the Russians, Bashar al Assad, and millions of other people would know about it.

    That is not to say that there have not been some beefing up of US forces in Turkey. I mentioned the Patriot batteries earlier. And I am sure the Air Force has strengthened their combat air wing presence there. Various Army & AF supporting units have probably been put there lately as well. But combat brigades? Maybe in the future. I will eat my golf hat if that has happened up to now. Or will vow to wear a cap embroidered with your choice of words - barring obscenities.

  56. no one-

    Yea, US Army intelligence in Berlin back in the day. That after a tour in the USMCR and a tour as an active duty MC officer. Overt strategic intelligence collection first as an interrogator and later as an ops officer. The big draw down in the 1990s ended my career . . . in education now and enjoy it. Strategic theory on the side. I've posted lots of stuff on our insane torture policy, strategic incompetence, and strategic theory in general . . . kinda allows me to blow off steam . . .

  57. No one

    Troops are considered "deployed" if they are in Korea, Okinawa, and other places far from Turkey.

    Don't you think a couple of missing combat brigades would be missed? Newspapers around military bases are well tuned to whether units or ships normally based there are present or not.

    And again, as Mike noted, the troops that remained in Jordan after eagle Lion are common knowledge. Hell, I left a battalion of my Aviation Group there an extra month in 89 to do some extra war games with the Jordanian Army, extending their deployment from 6 to 10 weeks. About 2 weeks after our CENTCOM task force arrived for war games, Prince Faisal requested a helo battalion remain longer, offering to pick up the fuel, food, logistics and transportation to home station costs. CENTCOM bean counters loved the idea of free flying for a month, and Stormin' Norman sold it to DOD and State. Not unheard of at all.

  58. "I will see if I can get "my source" to tell me the specific outfits that are in Turkey waiting to go into Syria. Maybe that will settle the debate."

    Hopefully he is good enough at OPSEC to shine you on; otherwise, I hope his unit commander knows that he has issues with security.

    Couple of minor notes here:

    1. GIs are the greatest bullshitters, storytellers, rumormongers, and outright liars in the known world. I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone tell me that "This is no shit!" that we were deploying to Botswana, that we were going to fight drug lords in Bolivia, that we were going to jump into Cuba and kidnap Castro. Just because some guys in some maneuver unit have "heard" they're going to Syria don't make it so.

    2. That said, every time we DID deploy somewhere that had any kind of even-close-to-a-need-for-tactical-surprise the first us snuffies heard of where we were headed was after the gates closed down on Green Ramp and we were locked inside.

    Now your guy may be in his BN or BDE 2-shop, no one, and therefore be one of the small number outside the HQ element to be in the "need-to-know" mode more than 72-hours-ish prior to deployment - and, again, if he is I hope he isn't telling you squat. But if he's not, and he's telling you just what he's heard around the mess tent?

    Could be true, but I'd give it no better than a 50-50 chance. Just as likely to be a war story, IMO...

  59. And a couple more thoughts on this whole business in general.

    1. I know this sounds hard to believe coming from me, the skeptic of the "national interests" school of Great Power bullshit, but I actually buy the notion that an otherwise reasonable political/military authority could believe that smashing a gas-using state is in our national interests. Bear with me.

    We're the 800-pound gorilla of conventional war. If nothing else, Gulf Wars II and III convinced pretty much every other national leader with a functioning hindbrain that taking on Uncle Sugar in a conventional donnybrook was just stupid. You would get creamed. Period.

    But bugs and gas (and nukes, but those are ridiculously hard to get hold of or make) are great levelers. They're the sleeper hold of warfare. Comprehensively slime U.S. troops and you go a long way to reducing their combat efficiency to the level of just any other gomers.

    Now, obviously, the problem with this is that most Second and Third World troops are WORSE at operating in a CBR battlefield than US forces, but, whatever, your guys were shit on toast anyway, right?

    The U.S. foreign policy (and military policy, since our foreign policy has become very militarized...) is to brook no peer foe. You try and compete with Sammie's Arsenal of Democracy? Here's some incoming for you, Tojo! U.S. policy, as it currently stands, cannot accept the possibility of some crappy little ruler of some crappy little country trying to use chemical weapons to level the military playing field.

    So clearly the U.S. doesn't want to encourage ANYBODY to think that way. So fuck Geneva and international law; it's in the U.S.'s best interest to remind anyone who even thinks of using chemicals that the result will be a massive ass-whupping of the most medieval sort.

    So...peer through the screen of humanitarian bullshit (and that's not to say that some of the speakers don't ACTUALLY want to punish Assad for sliming his own people, assuming that his guys in fact did and in fact did it deliberately, something I consider still speculative at best...) there's a hard core of naked self-interest here...


  60. (con't from above)

    Mind you; that self-interest proceeds from the notion that the U.S. defense policy HAS to be based on bitchslapping everyone who even looks capable of cocking a snook at us. I don't agree that this is a smart defense policy. But it appears to be the one currently accepted in D.C.

    BUT...again, here's my problem with this situation;

    The notion that punitive force is a "deterrent" in this case is laughable.

    Assad is playing the Game of Thrones in Syria; he wins or he dies. And he is, if not losing, at least not winning. So at this point he has little to lose risking American "punishment". He knows that the Yankees have no love for his enemies, and that they cannot do more than give him a love-tap for fear that his chaotic mess of rebel foes (who make Libya's TNC look like the Athenian civic improvement society, from what I can tell...) will up and take over.

    Plus, frankly, for the U.S. to do this while ignoring all the other vile crap we've either encouraged (or at least ignored) in "friendly" states or places we didn't care about, from Saddam's sliming the Iranians back in Gulf War I to Rwandan genocide, to "yellow rain", to the Egyptian coup...well, if you're a person sitting in darkness it sure looks less like "justice" and more like the strong doing what they can...

    I find it interesting that the British lawmakers aren't playing. They got into the clown car back in '03, and they've seen where this idiot carnival ride ends.

  61. Chief-

    I can understand "humanitarian" reasons for trying to influence the means a given government (or 'rebel" group) uses to kill their domestic enemies. However, if the given government (or "rebels") show no indication that they plan, can or likely will use such weapons against another sovereign???

    But then, we have a certain eternal pot stirrer in the region issuing gas masks to the general population, and my "authoritative source", says he and his family were issued theirs three years ago, so the "threat" must be real. At least he and many of his fellow countrymen think so.

    So we risk destabilizing an entire region for "humanitarian" purposes?

    It's a very complex problem, yet, at least publicly, it's being addressed in less than complex terms.

  62. I don't know why I'm wasting time trying to prove something to the hot stove league last time:

    My "source" used to eat lunch, literally, with the mentioned 200 soldiers from Ft. Bliss and he knows what the mission is; including the 20,000 troops mentioned by Hagel.

    What has been happening - and apparently it works based on comments here - is that there has been a deployment shell game going on. There are patriot missile batteries set up, but there are combat troops, quite separate from the missile crews, that also go in. There are training exercises, but some of those troops stay behind. Then there is a rotation of those troops, but more come in than go home. In this way the build up is slow and secret and people like you are kept in the dark. One of these days I'll enjoy coming back here and telling you "told you so".

    Actually, I hope that day never comes arrives.

  63. I am revising my original statement, though, as I was in error. It is not full Brigade combat teams that have moved to Jordan and date. It is battalion level elements of the BCTs. This US Army (not Marines) and does not include patriot missile units or wing.

  64. FD Chief,

    I like it, and I can follow the logic, but I think we'll hit Syria for using gas to satiate the demands of our own calculus. It will make us feel like we asserted a norm, it will get McCain off Obama's back, and its likely to resolve absolutely nothing in Syria.

  65. FD Chief-

    Don't buy it. That might be the official US argument, but it's not what's really driving this. Instead of national interest, I think we have the opposite here, foreign, or even private interests . . . taking advantage of US political dysfunction, in this case the venality of our political elite. This is not a reflection of US power, but of our lack of coherence, even our inability to understand what the use of force in this instance could get us into, as in the probability of this escalating to something very nasty.

    What it seems to me to be is more the nature of a "favor" from one satrap to another, which in turn accurately reflects the actual state of our political relations. Those at the top count for everything while those at the bottom, the former citizenry, current subjects, account for nothing. Those in between serve those with the power unquestioningly (or rather are expected to).

    What's the situation so far? The Brits have jumped ship. Clapper has leaked the DNI assessment to the press that this is "no slam dunk" and throws the whole thing into question. Congress is waking up. Then there's the (currently) only rumors that the Saudis provided CW to their rebel groups in Syria . . .

  66. @no-one:

    Hot Stove League? You are right about that at least. I was even second guessing generals and statesmen when I was on active duty drawing Pfc pay over 50 years ago. And don't you belong to that hot-stove-league category also?

  67. Yes, Mike, I resemble my own remark.

    Some rebel factions themselves are saying that the Saudis supplied the chemical weapons to other rebel factions, who then used them on the Syrians.

    Gosh, who would have guessed?

    No one

  68. Mean question:

    What if it was proved to be a false flag attack and rebels DID use sarin to kill hundreds of civilian?

    Would the Western warmongers be non-hypocritical and promote strikes against at least this specific rebel group?

  69. S.O., The story, coming from reporters on the scene in Syria, (the link doesn't work for me on this computer and maybe not for others?) is that a certain saudi royal that is highly sympathetic to bad guys, like AQ, supplied the weapons to rebels of that mindset, who, in turn, had "good rebels" - rebels we like for whatever reason - move the gas into the tunnels where they lager ordnance. The good rebels didn't know what it was that the bad rebels were having them lager. Some how or another the good rebels then got talked into deploying these chem weapons, but they didn't know how to. This doesn't surprise me. These kinds of insurgents are frequently deployng home made rocket launchers and such and often experience lethal fails. Any how, they don't deploy the weapons properly and they end up going off in their own neighborhood.

    Now their surviving neighbors, who have a pretty good idea of who is responsible for what, are ticked off at the good rebels, who are, in turn, pointng the finger of fault back at the bad rebels for getting them involved with these dangerous weapons without training or other instruction.

    Ok. That's where we are.

    What if it's true (and I am pretty convinced it is)?

    Your question is not mean at all. It's a damn good one.

    What we should do: Take the opportunity to shift a paradigm that has been corrosive for some time now. Call the Saudis out on their support of terrorists.

    What we should do lite: Make a statement that it has come to our attention that the rebel forces are heavily inflitrated by AQ elements. As such, we cannot support them. Allow Russia to assist Assad in crushing the bad rebels with the promise that Assad (and Russia) will make certain concessions post victory. Also, Assad would open a window of opportunity for good rebels to disarm and be repatriated. In other words, the buck stops with AQ.

    no one

    1. I doubt that Assad can crush the "bad rebels" any time soon.

      (1) Rebel groups have not fully separated territories; they overlap. He cannot focus on the baddies properly.
      (2) Assad's armed power consists by now in large part of rather undeployable local militia and police forces. His military forces have been decimated by desertions, purges, combat casualties and a collapsed conscription system. Furthermore, he is probably by now very low on heavy arms ammunition and there's an arms embargo IIRC.

      There's furthermore no reason at all to expect Assad to keep any promises after a victory of sorts.

      Maybe Russia can instead guarantee the right to stay and work permits to the Assad regime and its supportive minorities. Some of the regime's frozen bank accounts abroad could be unlocked on the condition of exile and the remainder of it be used to settle the refugees.

      The best odds for a somewhat moderate outcome domestically would probably be an invasion by Turkey, but Israel would go nuts over it (interesting how the U.S. gov has to feel in this dilemma; asserting the right of foreigners to intervene and yet forced to hold back the Turks). Erdogan would probably favour Sunni groups, but large scale ethnic cleansing, progroms, overt dictatorship or power to AQ would be ruled out. Also, the Kurds would dislike such an intervention a lot.

      Or imagine China intervenes en masse through Lebanon and turns out to be a perfectly neutral pacifier which stays in-country as long as the U.S. stayed in Iraq. Europeans AND Americans AND Israelis AND Turks AND Iran AND Saudi-Arabia would go nuts over it.

  70. Re; the whole "good rebel/bad rebel" business, Al Jazeera had a pretty good in-depth piece on how thoroughly fucked up this war is making Syria:

    What I get from this is "If you liked Iraq, you'll LOVE Syria". This war appears to have effectively destroyed Syria as a nation-state. Whatever emerges will be unlikely to be capable of being ruled by anyone in particular, "good" or "bad".

    I suspect that your Turkish invasion might founder not just on the Kurds and Israelis but the Turkish Army's inability to control what's left, both it's own "allies" in the Sunni rebel camp, the jihadi groups, Alawites...invading Syria at this point is a complete booby prize and I suspect that Erdogan - given his domestic troubles - might pass even if he got encouragement from within the region as well as from the Western powers...

    1. Keep in mind the Turkish army has decades of experience in suppressing the Kurds, isn't small and could be enlarged easily.
      And Syria next door to Turkey, not some distant place as was Iraq for the U.S..
      The troops could be stationed permanently in Syria, and still easily take one-week or weekend vacations.
      Finally, the Turks would hardly face the same difficulties in raising indigenous forces as did the Americans in Iraq. The customs and religion match much better as well.

      Erdogan's domestic troubles might actually motivate him to play more in foreign policy and show less activism in domestic policy. This was he could distance himself somewhat from the troubles caused by Turkey's parallel rapid economic growth and slow de-secularisation.

    2. make a good case.

      Having worked with the TKK, I agree that they're decent troops. And I suspect that you're right that they'd probably get a fair amount of local support, especially if they made it clear that they were there to enforce the law, keep the peace, and leave once a government was up and running. sounds like this war has done a damn good job of busting up Syria. I think we might not know for years, maybe decades, whether it becomes, say, South Africa after the end of the apartheid wars or Somalia after the fall of Barre'...

  71. Thinking about where we've taken this thread, I have a question for the group.

    Let me start by saying that IN THIS CASE I see pretty much all the military options available to the U.S. as "bad". I don't see how anything short of a fairly massive effort will have any more than a nuisance effect, while anything short of a successful Turkish invasion and occupation (Sven!) has IMO a fairly serious risk of Somalizing this whole portion of the Levant. This particular case is one where the "First, do no harm" rule pretty much comes into force.

    Now. That said, what I'm wondering is whether the whole political drive from within the Obama Administration (aided and abetted, of course, by the usual Republican Warhawk Chorus Starring John McCain!) isn't a 2013 variation of the sort of thing that Great imperial Powers have always done to small states and peoples who irritate them?

    At least here for the U.S. the actual "risk" is pretty minimal...there's little likelihood of losing three legions in a forest, or an entire punitive expedition in the Hindu Kush (

    So while it's frustrating for U.S. citizens to watch our government do this stuff, but I'm not sure how you avoid it unless you're sensible enough to not play the Imperial Game at all, and I can't think of a Great Power in history what hasn't, from the Expedition to Syracuse through Crassus' legions in Parthia to Adowa to Isandlhwana to LZ X-Ray...

    Is it me, or is this a sort of imperial-hubris-mad-cow-disease that just comes with being a Great Power?

    I'm not trying to minimize the additional misery this will do to the already-pretty-damn-miserable country or that irritation with the ridiculous way it seems to being ginned up, but I guess I wonder; is this another example of U.S. geopolitical/strategic cluelessness (as seydlitz starts out suggesting)...or just another common or garden variety imperial punitive expedition fomented by the Great Power's instinct to hammer down any nail it doesn't like to see sticking up?

    Are Obama and his people making a unique mistake, or are they doing the same thing that Kublai Khan did in Java in 1293, Deng Xiaoping did in Vietnam in 1979, or Woodrow Wilson did in Mexico in 1916?

    So my "big picture" question would be " there a way for the U.S. in particular to avoid this, or is this sort of thing a feature of being a Great Power, not a bug in this particular Administration or ANY U.S. Administration..?"

    Like I said at the top; it's an open thread, have at me.

  72. Chief- Been about 40 years since I last read them, but Azimov's "Foundation and Empire" books would suggest that we are not looking at a "bug", but a "feature", as far as the US is concerned. Is it not imperialistic to impose our notion of democratic rule on peoples who do not show a strong desire to suffer the ravages of conflict to adopt democracy themselves? After all was said and done, even our own Revolution and Independence had tribal underpinnings. It was a white tribe's revoluion, for the white tribe and only the white tribe. Blacks gained nothing, and the new mini-(continental) empire set out to drive off and subjugate the Red man. Neither was embraced into the tribe. Star Trek's IDIC is WDWC in American practice. The American notion of "melting pot" really means become WASP-like, not create a new or multicultural "stew". Our dysfunction abroad is rooted in our dysfunction at home.

  73. FD Chief-

    To me the whole sorry spectacle has only indicated yet again that our current political setup is a shambles. No credibility, no legitimacy, no integrity . . . which has been the case since Bush was installed in 2000. Some of us thought there might be a change in 2008, but we certainly have not received what was promised.

    The decision to attack Assad was made and then the excuse put together, which is what our intelligence services are all about today . . . essentially total domestic surveillance and providing excuses for what the executive has already decided upon. Notice there is resistance within the intelligence community to both these . . . the NSA-related whistleblowers and then Clapper doing a Snowden with the DNI leak. I mean how does one even describe Clapper, his range of actions clearly transcend/contradict anything he holds as DNI . . . so simply "Clapper" must do rather than a legal position or office. He's more like some semi-independent noble - with his own power base - in some decaying feudal system . . .

    As to the question whether this is what "Great Powers do" . . . what other Great Power acts like this?

    Imperialism was the rage 100 years ago, but times have changed. One of the main reasons that the US has the image it has today is our frequent resort to military force with little positive effect. That and the simple fact that our targets are usually weak and incapable of resisting effectively. Saddam didn't even have control over his own airspace in 2002-3, we pounded him with airstrikes for months prior to the March 2003 invasion and it wasn't even considered an act of war . . . when's the other time that's happened? So the message seems to be, "if we don't like you and you're weak, watch out, but if we don't like you and you might be able to fight back, don't worry". Hardly the actions of a "Great Power" . . .

    1. I guess I'm thinking not so much of a "modern" Power but of the sorts of things the European Powers (and to some extent the Chinese, who were a Great Power in Asia until the rise of the West and have resumed that role to an extent since 1949) used to do all the time.

      First, they tended to act independently, based on their own perception of their "interests", and often those were the interests of the political and/or commercial elite rather than the "national interests". Think Britain in the Opium Wars. What was the "national interest" of John and Jane Bull in forcing the Qing government to open their country to British trade?

      Second, they tended to avoid direct conflicts with the other Great Powers as often as they initiated them, instead hitting peripheral areas and small allies and proxies of the enemy Powers. So Britain and France are notionally at peace while bumping into each other in Africa and Asia, Russia messes around with Turkey and in the Balkans and only mixes it up once with the British and French...

      So I'm wondering if this isn't an artifact of the U.S. inheriting the power-projection capabilities (relative to Russia and China) of the old European powers and consequently becoming infected with the same mind-set; we slap these small nations around...because we CAN, and if we DON'T the world will start thinking we CAN'T.

  74. So, that the "objective" view of our political relations. What of the "subjective" view of US policy regarding Syria?

    Has there actually been a US policy on Syria since the start of the civil war? Or is it much more simply us supporting Saudi policy? I suspect the latter since we have been "secretly" aiding the rebels for over a year . . .

    Saudi policy was initially the overthrow of the Assad govt, but unable to achieve that they have settled on supporting a war of attrition. So far from being some sort of moral judge as to the terrible things that have happened in Syria, we are one of the behind the scenes enablers supporting the rebellion which includes Al Qaida (imagine that?) . . . BHO's hands are hardly clean at this point, so how can he preach to anybody? Given especially the character of the Saudis and what they support . . .

    Had the US wished to act like a "Great Power" we could have worked together with the Russians and at least deescalated this civil war or with luck even have ended it by now without the foreign Islamist element being entrenched in country as it is today. In all a massive failure of leadership, vision and strategic competence since I'm sure this option was never seriously discussed by BHO's crew or the McCainiacs . . .

    1. I won't argue that the U.S. has really done poorly in Syria from the beginning. All of a piece with U.S. "Middle East Policy", IMO, but what of US policy towards Syria that hasn't been simply incoherent has been a disaster...

      But I guess my next question would be how could the U.S. have de-escalated the Syrian Civil War, short of some sort of massive overt act like imposing a complete blockade on arms shipments to both sides? The local actors had serious interests involved, as opposed to the U.S. whose "interests" were fairly abstract and remote.

      From what I can tell this is a genuine rebellion based on the sort of zero-sum politics inherent in Syria. I don't see how it ends short of one side completely dominating the other. Even if the U.S. does a Duvalier for the Assad clan that still leaves all the Alawites, who know that things are going to hugely suck for them once the former downtrodden Sunni factions take over...

      Add to that the difficulty of "working with the Russians" in that it would have effectively meant working to prop up Assad. I'm sure we would have LIKED to do that (and possibly tried, early on) but once the U.S. public was introduced to the idea of the Assad government as monster - not that it always pretty much wasn't, just the the brain-dead U.S. public didn't know and couldn't have cared less - the possibility of openly working with Russia to help Assad crush the rebels would have been difficult if not impossible...

      So while I agree with you that the U.S. has made a mess of this, I don't honestly see how it could have gotten involved in a way that WASN'T a mess.

  75. In the beginning, the uprising in Syria was largely a secular struggle.

    The USA could have improved the situation by sitting on the Sauds and telling them to stay the fuck out of Syria.

    Gulf money greatly assisted the transformation into a religious fight.

    1. Sometimes I doubt that the U.S. really has that kind of independent foreign policy.

      Sometimes it looks awfully like a ship out of control, in which foreigners enter the bridge full of corrupt and confused personnel, and get them to change course or speed in a desired way.

      It's probably as realistic to think of Saudis telling the U.S. to stay the fuck out of an issue as to think of the U.S. doing the same to the Saudis. After all, the U.S. rarely if ever violates Saudi interests, while Saudis violate U.S. interests as if it was their business model.

  76. Greetings Gentlemen-

    Seems BHO has stepped back from the edge so to speak, maybe there will be a responsible debate in Congress, maybe . . .

    Pfaff's view:

    Imo the Russians had every reason to work with the US regarding Syria once it was clear that the Assad govt was threatened. Had we then acted like a Super Power and reigned in the Saudis and others from fanning the flames we would have proved our ability to influence events . . . Russia's response? I think it's obvious . . . and we would be dealing with a very different situation now.

    But the US acting like an actual Great Power is simply not in the cards since we are not the masters in our own house . . . more likely our "friends" and the various political investors are. Our foreign policy is run by amateurs as Pfaff says with little notion of the actual uses of military force and its limits . . . How does a dysfunctional state apparatus define "national interest"?

    We're prisoners as well of our own incoherent narrative - the war on terror - which if the latest charges of Saudi machinations in Syria are true, is even more fragile than I had suspected. We're at the point now where our govt has to filter out so much information just to "appear" to be acting credibly . . .

  77. S.O., Are these some of your "good" rebels?

    apparently the rebels quoted in the article hate the US more than they hate Assad. If the US attacks Syria, they will unleash suicide bombers and other capabilities against US targets (presumably Israeli as well).

  78. Seydlitz, yes, thank god- it seems there is hope for cooler heads* to prevail. At this point it also looks like the only evidence for govt forces being the source of the chem attack is a single Mossad intercept. The US govt appears to be the only one buying it and they won't - or haven't yet - released this alleged "evidence".

    * and hotter heads too. In a bizarre twist, ultra hawkish McCain says he will vote "no" to BHO's proposition to bomb Syria b/c it won't be destructive enough. Nothing short of Armageddon itself will satisfy McCain's lust.

  79. no one-

    Please don't take this personally, but on this thread at least I think I would refer to you as a "hothead" . . . sorry. We'll have to wait and see how things pan out over the next couple of weeks . . . should be interesting . . .

  80. no offense taken seydlitz.

    btw... 6th ESB (83 -87) and 1st SIRG. Maybe we have met somewhere along the way? Semper Fi.

    1. No One

      Is That 1st Sirg or 1st Srig...or as we derisively called it, The fightin' Srig?

    2. F.E. yeah, fat thumb. 1st SRIG. After college and the tour in the reserves, I thought I wanted to be an active duty officer. That outfit was newly formed in '89 and there were issues.... Another story for another day.

  81. no one-

    A bit of overlap in terms of time, but a different unit, mine was 1stMarDiv. Semper Fidelis.

  82. No one,

    What you describe seems perfectly normal to me - I've been involved in just about every one of these "cabinet wars" since Desert Storm. I think what your son is seeing is the normal preparation of contingency plans in case things don't go as expected. Prior to execution of a strike like this, the military will be ready to quickly respond to any number of scenarios, most focused on defending allies (Turkey and Jordan in this case) from Syrian reprisals, or managing the potential collapse of the regime, or assisting with increased refugee flows, etc. It's also about putting some "skin in the game" for our allies or to provide a tripwire. Advance teams are, no doubt, in Turkey and Jordan now and the national command authority has identified forces and notified them to be ready in case. Such information inevitably flows down the chain of command a bit like the game "telephone."

    Furthermore, if there were significant ground forces staging to either Jordan or Turkey, we would hear about it. Not only is US OPSEC complete crap, but it's simply not possible to secretly move such large formations across the the planet - at least it's not possible to keep it a secret for long.

    Also I agree with Chief that the US situation in Syria is more about gross incompetence by the US foreign policy establishment generally and this administration specifically than the machinations of certain factions...

  83. Prudence it is called . . .

  84. "bait and switch" . . .

    You heard it here first . . . what we are witnessing imo is the collapse of even the ability to formulate national policy . . . rather "the US" has become a tool of outside interests . . .,1