How Long Would Limited Strikes In Syria Stay Limited?


credit: PanARMENIAN_Photo / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

What, exactly, would the White House hope to accomplish with an attack on Syria? So far, the answers from the administration have been pretty vague.

In an interview with PBS yesterday, Obama said that "if, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict" those actions might serve as "a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this." Obama further suggested that the limited actions under consideration "may have a positive impact on our national security over the long term and may have a positive impact in the sense that chemical weapons are not used again on innocent civilians."

That Obama will only say they "may" implies he knows that they may not. One reason to be suspicious is that it's unlikely that the U.S. would be able to take out Assad's chemical weapon stockpiles using the limited strikes that Obama has hinted at so far. Those stockpiles are often buried in protected facilities, making them difficult to destroy from the air.

And that assumes we can even find them. As the Associated Press reported yesterday, "Intelligence officials say they could not pinpoint the exact locations of Assad's supplies of chemical weapons, and Assad could have moved them in recent days as the U.S. rhetoric increased." Which creates an additional risk. "That lack of certainty means a possible series of U.S. cruise missile strikes aimed at crippling Assad's military infrastructure could hit newly hidden supplies of chemical weapons, accidentally triggering a deadly chemical attack."

One thing it's clear that limited strikes wouldn't do is stop Syria's dictator Bassar al-Assad's regime from continuing to kill Syrian civilians. If the United States chose to respond, he told PBS, "that doesn't solve all the problems inside of Syria, and, you know, it doesn't, obviously end the death of innocent civilians inside of Syria."

What so-called limited strikes would do, however, is put the United States on the road to further, not-so-limited military action. Obama says he does not want to get "drawn into a long conflict," but what happens if there are further chemical weapon attacks—in Syria, or, eventually, somewhere else in the world? Presuming that chemical weapons were used in the most recent attack, and that they were used with Assad's approval, then we know he has already risked international military reprisal once. There's little reason to think that a round of limited strikes would convince him not to do it again. Assad would essentially be in the same position he was in before. We, meanwhile, would have taken military action—and picked a side in an ugly, bloody civil conflict. 

And if Assad deploys chemical weapons again, then what? Another round of "limited" strikes? And after that, another? How long before those limited strikes evolved into something more expansive? As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told NPR last month,  "Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid." The best way to do so is to stay out of the conflict entirely. 

NEXT: Reactions to DOJ Marijuana Memo: Dismay, Exuberance, Skepticism

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Define “limited” please.

    1. Whatever we decide is needed to achieve our vague ideas of acceptable outcomes which are still being formulated.

      1. Are you angling for Jay Carney’s job, Naz?

  2. At this point I’m just hoping that Obama just wants to drop a few bombs and missiles and save face.

    1. I wonder if the objective is to kill some specific people in Syria, say those that have information of what really happened in Benghazi, to cover up for this WH and the next demcoratic candidate that recently elft the State Department?

      1. I’ve seen more than one progressive commentator say that we should “accidentally” bomb some of the Islamist-held rebel strongholds. Wouldn’t shock me if that was part of the deal.

  3. Until the Russians or Ceinese start shooting at us? Maybe until Israel goes after the Iranians? I don’t know. There are s many ways this can go wrong.

  4. Boots on the ground
    Boots on the ground
    Lookin’ like a fool, with your boots on the ground

    1. Generals and Majors ah ah
      They’re never too far
      From battlefields so glorious
      Out in a world of their own
      They’ll never come down
      Till once again victorious

  5. Two, maybe three hours, at most.

  6. The ironic war plan

    He would promise swift action only if true red lines were crossed. The deaths of 100,000 people would not be one of them.
    He would feel self-conscious about looking weak, so he would talk to those in the press who truly understand his complex views. In doing so, he would spring a surprise on his advisers and say the movement of or use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be the trigger to “change my calculus.”…..z2dOIUPhMG

  7. How Long Would Limited Strikes In Syria Stay Limited?

    This is a trick question, isn’t it? “In Syria”, indeed!

  8. Does the administration even have some kind of objective here? Or are they just careening from issue to issue at this point, with the McCain crowd’s screams for blood and WAR BONER influencing them? Because this shit is just so unfocused.

    1. “What’re we gonna do, Mr. President?”

      “We’re gonna lock and load and go out there and ki-, ki-, ki- . . . !”

    2. Does the administration even have some kind of objective here?

      Epi, Obama needs to kill Syrians so that he might bathe in their blood while Joe Biden speaks the words hidden within a dark book bound in human flesh which confers upon the God King the gift of eternal life.

      1. Good, I hope a hundred generations of American kids have the opportunity to tell O what a sad sack of shit he is. “Thanks for the debt, Obummer!”

      2. So they’re acting out Army of Darkness? I can appreciate that.

        Klaatu Barada N… Necktie… Neckturn… Nickel… It’s an “N” word, it’s definitely an “N” word! Klaatu… Barada… N…[pause] Okay then… that’s it!

      3. Or are they just careening from issue to issue at this point


    3. It’s the hallmark of this administration–Stagger randomly, and carry a big stick.

      1. That’s pretty good, unfortunately.

        1. Now if the administration were intentionally appearing to behave randomly, I might be impressed. That’s part of the Nuke the Moon strategy that’s been proposed. But we all know they have no fucking idea what they’re doing from one day to the next.

          “I wouldn’t dig in if I was you. Next one might be at your head. I don’t know where it’s gonna go. Swear to God.”

          1. At some point Biden is going to call Putin and say “look Michelle can’t even threaten him anymore. We don’t know what to do or what he is going to do next”

    4. No they don’t. Jay Carney said yesterday that they do not intend nor want Assad’s ouster. Well then what the fuck are you bombing him for? This is like the Iraq war’s retarded cousin. There is no goal, plan or objective beyond doing something.

  9. Threadjack: Only Bad People Send Their Kids to Private School.

    You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad?but bad like ‘ruining one of our nation’s most essential institutions in order to get what’s best for your kid bad.’ So, pretty bad.

    I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations.

    She’s a living version of any number of Ayn Rand villains. Good grief.

    1. I think someone posted this in the AM links.

      1. Woo-hoo! My evil genius plan to get everybody else to point out when stuff is being posted repeatedly continues apace!

    2. Sacrifice your children’s education and future for the collective, damn it! What are you, a rational actor?!?

      People like this are abject scum, and are some of the primary reasons we live in a fucked up world.

    3. Have sympathy for her, she was mis-educated in a public school, where they failed to teach her the Mark Twain truism about not opening your mouth if others think you a fool.

      1. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln

      2. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln

        1. Only great quotes get posted twice.

    4. I fucking do not live for you or anyone else, lady. Neither do my kids.

    5. I posted this in the comments of that article earlier today:

      “Also remember that there’s more to education than what’s taught. As rotten as my school’s English, history, science, social studies, math, art, music, and language programs were, going to school with poor kids and rich kids, black kids and brown kids, smart kids and not-so-smart ones, kids with superconservative Christian parents and other upper-middle-class Jews like me was its own education and life preparation. Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me. In fact it’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about public schools.”

      I didn’t agree with you at first, but once you assured me that public school would allow my children to spend four years learning nothing while getting drunk in a trailer park, I began to see the merits of your argument.

      Add a few emoticons and a story about your best friend’s meth addiction and I am all in.

      1. Oh, nicely pwned.

    6. My comment was:

      But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve.

      If every single parent sent every single child to private school, education would improve.

      1. …and my taxes would go down. I have a cottage I am building that I will likely use about 1 mo/yr. My property taxes will probably be just shy of $7k. I hope those kids around there enjoy my sponsored government programming…

  10. Once we do these strikes and the civil war keeps going on, McCain et al will start arguing how we’re looking weak for starting something and then stopping before the mission is over.

  11. I say we either bomb both sides equally OR arm both of them and just let them have at it…the longer it goes and the more killed on both sides can only be a good thing for not only the region but for the rest of the world…

    1. I say we get with the Russians and Chinese and agree to supply both sides with arms, allowing all three countries to make billions through their respective armaments industries.

      1. Yep. This is a golden opportunity to fix the global economy. We can even move all the refugees into assisted living facilities and make even more money!

        1. Operation Broken Windows.

      2. Talk about a stimulus package!!! THat’ll prime the old pump…

        1. Heck, let’s arm every nation over there–general Middle Eastern war! We could bring the Israelis in as both a proxy and as an arms supplier. Win-win-win.

      3. That only works if we also agree to buy each others bonds so we can extend credit to the Syrians to pay for the weapons. STIMULUS Krugman style. Making the world a better place one human tragedy at a time.

  12. How Long Would Limited Strikes In Syria Stay Limited?

    If you are running a pool on this, I want the low range.

  13. What, exactly, would the White House hope to accomplish with an attack on Syria?

    Push the many,m any scandals off the front page, win some news cycles, generate some kewl photos of the President sagely directing his military forces.

    You know, politics uber alles and fluffing the personality cult. Aren’t those the reasons why this administration does absolutely every single thing it does?

    1. Bomb a few days and go home. It is not like any of the American media are going to report the chaos you leave behind. It will like Libya go down the memory hole and be remembered as a great victory.

  14. They won’t stay limited as long as Obama wants them to stop Assad from using gas. He will just bomb a bit thinking Assad will now know he is serious and Assad will continue on after realizing the bombing didn’t make much difference.

  15. IF we know what facilities are producing these chemical weapons, I’m not opposed to bombing them from afar. Or taking out rebel leaders and others who are using them via drone strikes.

    I hear that the public is growing tired of interventionism. But what’s their true tolerance level isolationism? No troops on the ground coordinating with local security forces? OK. But not even air strikes? Economic sanctions?

    I’m find with watching Syria burn. But we’re not some random country in East Asia. Obama better make damn sure that some illegal Russian kids aren’t learning how to cobble together makeshift chemical weapons they can deploy at Yankee Stadium. Because if something like that happens, we’re going in!

  16. Biden can just scare the Syrians with two blasts from a shotgun.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.