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Strike Syria

It would send a message to Russia.

4:15 PM, Mar 10, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
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The United States has no narrow national interest in Ukraine, but as caretaker of the world’s security architecture it has a vital interest in pushing back against Putin. In order to send Putin a message in a language that will make sense to a man who has repeatedly posed bare-chested, political and diplomatic measures need to be integrated with hard power. Putin needs to be hit hard somewhere. Cold War thinking shows that there are a number of vulnerable pieces on the board and possible moves for the White House to make. The most obvious is to go back to the origin of Putin’s campaign—Syria.

Assad is not getting rid of his chemical weapons as Putin promised, so the administration should move to show that, in fact, it’s the Russian’s word that can’t be trusted, not America’s. The strikes on regime targets that Obama planned last September could serve as the White House’s notice that as far as the United States is concerned the deal’s off. Destroying the air force that Assad has used to drop barrel bombs on innocent civilians would not only restore some order to the international system, but also highlight the fact that, contrary to his boasts, the former KGB officer is incapable of protecting his allies. American allies on the other hand, from the Middle East to Asia and central Europe, will once again be reassured that their interests are safe in American hands. What a gift for Obama to bear the Saudi king when the president visits Riyadh later this month: “I told you—I got your back.”

For America and our allies, the most salutary effect of Putin’s machinations is to remind the White House of what the Cold War looks like in reality. If the administration believes that it can contain and deter an Iranian nuclear weapon, it has to reckon truly the costs involved. As it stands, Obama administration officials have an academic conception of containment and deterrence, meaning that it’s the opposite of anything like military action. As the half-century-long U.S.-Soviet standoff showed, real containment and deterrence of a nuclear power is bloody and expensive. Ensuring that the Iranians never acquire the bomb, whether that’s through sanctions and a credible threat of force, or more perhaps eventually a bombing campaign to show that the regime in Tehran will never get there, means safeguarding the global order. Let Putin and Assad serve as an example to put Iran on notice.

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