August 28, 2013

CNAS Commentaries: The Way Forward in Syria

By Gordon Miller, Katherine Kidder, Nora Bensahel, Patrick M. Cronin, Phillip Carter, Richard Fontaine, Richard Williamson and David W. Barno, USA (Ret.)

Nine experts at the Center for a New American Security offer analysis and commentary on the range of issues relating to the U.S. response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria.

The President is Right to Intervene, but then What? by Richard Fontaine, President President Obama is right to take action in response to the Asad regime’s chemical attack on Syrian civilians. Yet in the absence of a strategy that aims at ending the broader humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, the impending attacks will raise as many questions as they answer.

The Danger of Strategic Distraction by Shawn Brimley, Vice President and Director of Studies The United States will respond to the horrifying use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. It is in America's interests to be seen as leading the charge against such an abomination, and in the process help accelerate a dictator's departure. We should be under no illusions however that any use of force opens the door to a brighter future for Syria's oppressed and vulnerable population. Asad's departure will not end the civil war – it may even make things worse.

How Does this End? by LTG David W. Barno, USA (Ret.), Senior Fellow and Director of the Responsible Defense Program President Obama is poised to launch a military strike designed to "deter and degrade" Syrian President Bashar-al-Asad's ability to deliver chemical weapons against his own people...But before the first U.S. cruise missile leaves its launcher for a Syrian target, the American people deserve to know the answer to David Petraeus' famous question from the Iraq war: "Tell me how this ends?"

Where is Asia? by Dr. Patrick M. Cronin, Senior Director of the Asia- Pacific Security Program American military action in Syria will not divert the United States from rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, but it will spotlight the need for Asian governments to step up their contribution to global security. International Law Constrains U.S. Action in Syria by Phillip Carter, Senior Fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans and Society Program Two basic legal principles animate our current international system: states are sovereign, and they shall not, generally speaking, attack each other. . . . As the U.S. weighs action against the brutal Syrian regime, it must decide whether to abide by these laws, or abandon them in pursuit of some greater good to be gained through an arguably unlawful intervention in Syria.

The Limits of a Limited Strike by Dr. Nora Bensahel, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of Studies We now know a great deal about how a military strike against Syria might unfold – but it is far less clear what broader strategic objectives such a strike would achieve, if any. The reported details of the planned strike strongly resemble Operation Desert Fox in Iraq in 1998 – a limited four-day bombing campaign that had virtually no strategic effect.

Syria and the Responsibility to Protect by Ambassador Richard S. Williamson, Adjunct Senior Fellow The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a powerful emerging international norm. President Obama has given it lip service and he has taken modest, yet important, bureaucratic steps to give R2P meaning. But the real test is on the ground in situations such as Syria where atrocities towards innocents is a daily occurrence.

Consequence Considerations of a Syrian Strike by LtCol Gordon Miller, USMC, Senior Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow President Bashar al-Asad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people is a tragedy. If the United States conducts strikes in Syria, it is imperative that US leadership at all levels be keenly focused on the intended objectives. Before any authorization is given, it is necessary to contemplate and take appropriate action to mitigate any negative consequences from the strikes. There are at least three potentially devastating consequences for the Middle East that could come from the strikes in Syria: Asad uses chemical weapons again, an Iranian military response, and Israeli involvement.

Refugees and Regional Security Interests by Katherine Kidder, Research Associate Asad's decision to use chemical weapons on his own civilian population evokes a strong sense of humanitarian outrage – and rightfully so. Yet the toll of conflict on the civilian population began well before the use of chemical weapons...[A]ny long-term strategic plans for a response in Syria must take into account the impact of the conflict on the civilian population, and--more importantly – subsequent implications for regional stability. Of particular importance is the increased flow of refugees throughout a region already wracked by conflict and unrest.

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