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Expert: Cruise Missiles Won't Be Enough in Syria

9:01 AM, Aug 26, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Eliot A. Cohen warns the Obama administration that simply sending cruise missiles into Syria is likely not going to be enough.

"A serious bombing campaign would have substantial targets — most plausibly the Syrian air force, the service once headed by Assad’s father, which gives the regime much of its edge over the rebels, as well as the air defense system and the country’s airports, through which aid arrives from Iran. But should the Obama administration choose any kind of bombing campaign, it needs to face some hard facts," Cohen writes in a Washington Post op-ed.

Cohen explains:

For one thing, and despite the hopes of some proponents of an air campaign, this would not be surgical. No serious application of air power ever is, despite administration officials’ claims about the drone campaign, which, as we now know, has killed plenty of civilians. A serious bombing campaign means civilian casualties, at our hands. And it may mean U.S. and allied casualties too, because the idea of a serious military effort without risk is fatuous.

The administration would need congressional authorization. Despite his professed commitment to transparency and constitutional niceties, Obama has proved himself reluctant to secure congressional authorization for the use of force, most notably with Libya in 2011. Even if an authorization is conferred retroactively, it needs to be done here because this would be a large use of force; indeed, an act of war.

And it probably would not end cleanly. When the president proclaimed the impending conclusion of the war with al-Qaeda, he disregarded the cardinal fact of strategy: It is (at least) a two-sided game. The other side, not we, gets to decide when it ends. And in this case neither the Syrian government nor its Iranian patrons, nor its Hezbollah, Russian and Chinese allies, may choose to shrug off a bombing campaign. Chess players who think one move ahead usually lose; so do presidents who think they can launch a day or two of strikes and then walk away with a win. The repercussions may be felt in neighboring countries; they may even be felt in the United States, and there is no excuse for ignoring that fact.

Nevertheless, Cohen thinks it would be "intolerable" not to act, at this point. "Despite all these facts, not to act would be, at this point and by the administration’s own standards, intolerable."

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