The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 12, 2013

Military goals in Syria not explained

Why it matters: President Obama needs clearer goals on any military action in Syria to gain public's, world's support.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Following President Obama’s address to the nation Wednesday on progress over the Syrian conflict, Sen. John McCain called the Russian plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons a stalling tactic.

Immediately following the Russian plan, Syria then finally admitted it has chemical weapons and said it would stop production and present to the United Nations where the stockpiles are located.

The Arizona Republican was skeptical about the compromise and argued the White House should keep the clock ticking on any military response while diplomacy works its progress.

But in that same discussion with reporters, McCain said he was puzzled by a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry that any military action would be “unbelievably small.”

Apparently McCain is not the only one puzzled. It appears so is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. During congressional hearings, Gen. Martin Dempsey was asked “what is it you’re seeking” in other words what are the goals of any military action. The general responded “I can’t answer that, what we’re seeking.”

And that’s been the problem from the start with the president’s desire to “punish” Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons on its own people while not wanting any regime change or fallout to endanger our allies.

And if the military can’t figure out what the goal is much less how to achieve it, it is difficult for the American people and other world allies to lend their support.

The president said a limited military strike would “send a message to (Syrian president) Assad that no other nation can deliver.” But the military is not the U.S. Postal Service and it should not be used as a letter carrier. What is the end game? Any military action will set off a series of intended and unintended consequences. Are we prepared for that?”

No one doubts that Syria is using this time to bolster its defenses in anticipation of some military action. And if indeed the Russian gambit is merely a stalling tactic, then the White House should take advantage of this time to fashion a more coherent argument for what it hopes to achieve, how and with whom quickly and convincingly.

As we’ve stated here before, the United States needs to build a global response to Syria’s actions. But if he has difficulty in mustering even the faintest support from his own nation and some in his own party, then clearly he needs to revisit his aims and his tactics now.