Bob Schwartz

“Pentagon Is Ordered to Expand Potential Targets in Syria With a Focus on Forces”


This headline— Pentagon Is Ordered to Expand Potential Targets in Syria With a Focus on Forces—is from a New York Times story yesterday. It has not been as widely reported as it should. And it should, because it might make some people more uneasy than they already are.

The story begins:

President Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria in response to intelligence suggesting that the government of President Bashar al-Assad has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons while Congress debates whether to authorize military action.

Mr. Obama, officials said, is now determined to put more emphasis on the “degrade” part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria — to “deter and degrade” Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. That means expanding beyond the 50 or so major sites that were part of the original target list developed with French forces before Mr. Obama delayed action on Saturday to seek Congressional approval of his plan.

For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is a renewed push to get other NATO forces involved.

The strikes would be aimed not at the chemical stockpiles themselves — risking a potential catastrophe — but rather the military units that have stored and prepared the chemical weapons and carried the attacks against Syrian rebels, as well as the headquarters overseeing the effort, and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks, military officials said Thursday….

Obviously we are not going to blow up stockpiles of chemical weapons, even assuming we know where they are. But this news puts the question in starker relief. If our goal is to both punish Assad and to reduce the possibility of his using chemical weapons again, we are not going to do that by taking them out of his hands. But if not that way, then how? And the answer from this report is that we intend to weaken his ability to make war more generally—because the people and equipment that make chemical warfare possible are the same ones that make the overall bloody war on his people possible. And at that point, intentionally or incidentally, we have generally intervened in the conflict, no matter how limited the basis.

And that, as this news report helps clarify, is what is bothering members of Congress, members of the military and a lot of Americans.

Yellowcake and Red Line: The Colors of Casus Belli

You may not remember yellowcake. Not the kind you eat. The kind that is uranium, the stuff of nuclear fission, the stuff of weapons of mass destruction, the stuff that was supposed to be in Iraq but was never found there.

Colors seem to be troublesome in talking about reasons for going to war. So maybe President Obama should have picked a different metaphor than red line. Line in the sand comes to mind. Of course, lines in the sand have a different quality. They are harder to see, and are subject to being erased by wind or water, or by a quick brush of the foot.

Maybe better to stay away from colors and lines altogether, and instead do the much harder, painful and less appealing work, leaders and citizens, of talking honestly about our strengths and limitations, the world we have and the one we want to have, and how to practically and ideally get from here to there. That would be a nice grownup change from childish colors and macho ultimata.