By Dina Esfandiary, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dina Esfandiary is a research associate on the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The views expressed are her own.
The red line has now been crossed in Syria, and calls for intervention have intensified. Yet as things stand today, the United States has little or no hope of making a decisive impact on the course of the war. If President Obama wants to maintain credibility by responding to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s forces while minimizing U.S. involvement, he should make sure any intervention is couched in simple terms: anyone using or proliferating weapons of mass destruction will be punished.
The al-Assad regime has shown tremendous resilience during more than two years of fighting. Defeating them while securing Syria’s chemical weapons will not be possible without a significant ground presence, something currently not on the table.
Yet the war cannot be won from the air. Airstrikes are an attractive option, but unless they are in combination with ground forces they wouldn’t be decisive. They would have to take place on too great a scale to cripple the al-Assad regime – the casualties would be too daunting, and the commitment too heavy for this to be an option today.
The absolute minimum military intervention needed to affect the regime’s ability to survive would be to impose a no-fly zone, and even this would not be crippling to al-Assad. But last month, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared to dismiss even this option, stating that it was costly and the risks high.
More from CNN: Stay out, Gingrich says
What’s more, securing the very weapons that have sparked this controversy cannot be done by air. Indeed, bombing chemical weapons facilities would more likely lead to a humanitarian catastrophe far worse than what was seen in Ghouta last week. Meanwhile, any agents or munitions that were not destroyed would be left open to looting, spreading the very weapons we’re trying to contain. No option looks good for securing Syria’s chemical weapons.
And the war cannot be won by arming the rebels. This may have been an option earlier on in the conflict, but today, it’s too late. The United States should know who it’s arming. But the Syrian opposition is fragmented, disorganized and constantly evolving. The emergence of radical elements has added an extra complication. Arming just the “good guys” is therefore not possible.
So what can the United States do?
The short answer is punitive strikes. But the goal of this operation must be clear. A year ago, Obama drew a red line over the use of chemical weapons. It has been crossed. If the U.S. is going to act, this is the time to do it, and only as punishment for the use of such weapons.
The United States must make it clear that the use of chemical weapons will not go unpunished. This is not to say that the atrocities that have been committed by the al-Assad regime to date were not important enough to warrant a reaction, but merely that use of WMDs is unacceptable. Not today, not ever, and not by anyone.
More from GPS: 3 things to remember before Syria action
Such a limited and precise goal will allow for successful limited intervention. Airstrikes could target the following: missile batteries, airports (to stop Iranians re-supplying the al-Assad regime by air), Syria’s anti-air defenses and al-Assad’s air force to stop him bombing the rebels. This would be punitive and operationally justifiable.
But the goal must be clear: action is being undertaken not to change the regime, not to turn the tide of war and certainly not to try to secure al-Assad’s chemical weapons. It is simply to punish – to deter al-Assad from using them again, and other countries from thinking that use of any WMD will not receive a firm response.
No one is suggesting that such action is enough, or that this will ultimately solve much. And no one is saying that the atrocities committed in Syria should be ignored. Simply that today, there is no good option and no way of ensuring victory for one side. In fact, even limited airstrikes are a poor option – Obama will still look weak.
From a non-proliferation viewpoint, the best course of action for the United States today is to stand by its red line, maintain its credibility, and punish the use of chemical weapons.
usa will be beheaded if some irish potato farmers from dublin in usa think they can threaten the iran syria and hezbollah then 1 blow to the face and a push and the neck of usa breaks in to pieces. i say s h u t up and come on you p u s s y you want a fight then iran is going to give your mother up the a s s take that celtic fury and get out of this place.
Ass hole, go and pray allah, so iran stay quiet, moron retarded, you will fall because you are obsolete like the cave man and you want the world follow you. get loose
The best course of action is to secure a ceasefire and opt for the balkanisation of Syria. Assad should consolidate power in his little kingdom and the rebels declare a secession, which doesn't require a blessing of the UN. Once the warring parties have their territory, it will be easier to contain any conflict. To be honest, a national reconciliation is no longer realistic and a Yugoslavian-style breakup would bring more sustainable peace. Look at south eastern Europe now!
@JVH, or do nothing and let Assad win the fight, which he is doing.
It appears a 'Damasectomy' is in order: The 'Taking Out' of Damascus.
all middle east is rather angry after the Bushes and Phelestine issue was taken without any humanitarian aspect. Obama could not manage to close the gap. (Oh My I can critisize the President of USA more saely than I can do mine) Resolutions taken after Sept 11 must be questioned.
You seem inadequately informed about global history and culture, and filled with violence and hatred for an enemy you cannot even begin to understand.
USA has great, trustworthy partners in the NATO: France, Great Britain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Sweden, Netherlands, ... they all have very good local knowledge and information, while USA has strong military, ... but not germany, they do not share the same strategic interests and are no human rights protector, as often shown in history. Syria needs peace, and the time to act is now.
What the Germans need to do Mike, is to become once again self assertive and quit carrying out orders from Washington D.C. with blind obedience! This policy is disgusting to say the least and should be stopped by all means. Under the current leader Angie Merkel who herself is quite amoral, this obnoxious policy will only continue. We already know just what moral midgets the other leaders in Europe are. These people care nothing about morality are becoming less and less christianized as time goes on!
Excellent comment Joseph. Thank you.
DEMAND 1.000.000 PER EACH TELOMER OF DNA OF MENTAL TORTURE CASES.
WE RECIVE AT LIST ONE ATTEMPED MURDER AT DAY.
DENOUNCE POLITICS THEFT NARCOTRAFIC ASESSINATION HUMAN RACESTUDIES IN LATIN AMERICA VENEZUELA.
DRUG TRAFFICKING OF CHILDREN OF NORTH AMERICAN PRESIDENTS, LATINO AMERICANS PRESIDENTS, EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS, ASIAN PRESIDENTS:
AGENCIES ARE KILLING WITH NANO TECNOLOGY IN FOOD AND SATELITE?.
The first thing will be to take out of what is left of his anti-ship missiles the Israeli did not get them all. That is the primary target, then ballistics missile to target regional allies, he will scramble his air assets to make the harder targets but without air to air refueling they cannot stay up for a sustained period and will have trouble landing on airstrips that are damaged. Around 100 planes 50 to 60 operational. By the end of Sept Russia will resupply 12 to 14 Migs. Then command and control and logistical targets, fuel, muntions, parts. Thirdly primary units that he relies on the much talked about 4th. That will be about it. So sure it is limited but costly for the regime. Especially as it is over one event. It will make life harder does not turn the war leaves it with rolling fronts it ebbs and flows.
TEMGAN CUIDADO CON ESTE TIPO DE TECNOLOGIAS POR QUE AVECES LES ESTALLAN LITERA MENTE LOBULOS DEL CEREBRO ANUNLANDOLES NEVIOS PARA QUE NO SE ACUEDEN DE LOS CONOCIMIENTOS APRENDISO.
HAY VARIOS CASOS.
BE CAREFUL WITH THIS TYPE OF TECHNOLOGIES FOR BERTH TO STRIKE THEM SOMETIMES LOBE BRAIN MIND NERVS ANUNLANDOLES ACUEDEN NOT FOR KNOWLEDGE APRENDISO.
THERE ARE SEVERAL CASES.
Is not black out.
Is it possible or plausible that an external group commissioned this chemical attack? This reeks like the embassy attack in Benghazi.
Is there a group that believes that there are good reasons for limited resources on this planet? Could it be, that finding ways and means towards having enough to go around is against that groups core values? Would this group take advantage of the limited resources to commission atrocity so that everyone just fights for the limited resources instead of working together to find new resources beyond earth?
Were there goofy attacks like this in Iraq?
SERIAL NARCOTRAFICANT POLITICS.
ENGLAND QUEEN & HARPER – GENOCIDAL PROTECTOR.
MOSANTO EARNING MONEY FOR NANO COMUTERS SELL IN FDA UN INVESTIGATED FOOD. DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS ATOMIC FORCE MICROSCOPY???????.
EUROPEAN (ROB) THE SATELITAL TERRORIST DIRECTOR.
DO YOU KNOW THEY ARE SEEING THIS TEXTS AND DENOUNCES UNTIL 2000.
WE DEMAND 1.000.000 DOLARS PER EACH DAMAGED TELOMER.
If we punitively attack we would have to be careful not to go overboard otherwise we put Assad on the defensive and will react by either using more chemical weapons or giving them to proxy organizations. That is unless we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure these stockpiles. Really, the thought of a punitive strike is sort of weak in and of itself. It suggests that we are too impotent to do what is necessary, but also afraid of what people will think of us if we do nothing. I think that if we want to help the rebels we should go full steam ahead and do what's necessary to secure the stockpiles. If we are unsure who to support or who should be in charge in that country, we should stay out entirely. Suffer the short term embarrassment rather than getting too deep into an uncertain situation.
Is this author serious? Punish Assad? How about also punishing some of the rebels who have tortured civilians, kidnapped and tortured American journalists? How about getting to the countries arming the rebels and then work for cease fire on both sides and some measure of light on this civil war...Chemical Weapons? Who did it? Not sure yet?
Sunni and Shia warfare are root causes there and in many near by countries... Second. May US only enter into military strikes under UN action and approval.. Yes, it means diplomacy... not knee jerk military action to intractable problems after the years of European colonialism in Middle East and years of religious strife there. US cannot be the policemen of the world. Get over it.
Thank you, Betty Lee. That was well said, but the bottom line here is that the U.S. not only wants to "punish" Syria but to take it over completely by using these so-called "rebels" and for that reason, the right-wing media is conveniently forgetting to mention the atrocities committed on their part!
"US can't be the policemen of the world"...yet it was the USA that established itself as the world's policemen after WW2. USA put themselves in that position to ensure they are the top dog and to increase their business tentacles into other countries...even to the point of usurping other countries leaders and putting in their own puppet masters. This is why USA spys and bugs embassies and UN offices to ensure they remain top dog. Why blame the rest of the world for USA's own decision.
If Syria and Al-Assad do fall, let's hope this is the beginning of them end for Hezbollah as well. I was in Lebanon for the 2006 war. Not a pretty sight at all. I just really hope that Hezbollah and Nasrallah do fall so I can go back to Lebanon without having the thought of a war happening or thinking "I am risking my life being here."
It seems American foreign policy is to bomb and invade. The results of such a policy, looking back, has always been disastrous. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results.
The bomb and invade part of America's foreign policy is called war...that's pretty much war is about.
Sounds good to me.
I have serious doubts as to who actually used the chemical weapons. The use should certainly be punished, as any use by anyone needs to be discouraged. At present we are being told that it was the Assad regiem which did it... perhaps that is true.
What I do know is that BOTH sides are enemies of the US. Since Assad seems to be winning, I'm all for hitting him to weaken him. That way these enemies ouf the US can continue to kill each other instead of trying to kill us – which to me is the best case scenario.
I say this in spite of the fact that Assad seems a better choice than the al-queda rebels. Assad allowed other religions to live freely, something that Islam seems incapable of doing when they rule. Assad kept the peace with Israel for 40 years. Show me a better solution than Assad and I'll leap for it, but these Rebels certainly are NOT better!
I agree, TiredOfPaying. The Assad regime should definitely not be taken out. In fact, we need to quit this stupid policy of trying to take over Syria by proxy and reconcile with the Assad regime and ditch the good-for-nothing Arab League. The leaders of these countries are no good at all who just want to take our money!
All this talk of punishing Assad is absurd, the man and his country has been punished for the last two years, these rebels are fanatics and if they get their hands on Assads Chemical Weapons you can bet one will go toward Paris, one will to toward London and one into New York. The rest wiill end up in Israel. We keep talking about a red line, but if Assad didn't really do it, why are you going to take out his means of defense against the rebels that did. We need to stop this warmongering before we end up in WW3
Very well put, Daniel. Thank you.
REMEMBER HITLER.......USA MUST ATTACK AND DESTROY THE SYRIA COMMAND AND CONTROL...THEY ARE THE EVIL POWER FED BY EVIL IRANIANS AND HIZBOLLAH THOSE THUGS AND KILLERS WILL USE CHEMICAL ON ISRAEL ONE DAY USA MUST ACT NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE...
Hey you above, just what is the big idea of trying to bring shame upon Canada with that stupid post of yours? Are you deliberately trying to make your countrymen look stupid or what? I believe that you know better than that.
he is an israeli right winger using a Canadian alias, or a settler bum!
USA OWE IT TO ISRAEL.......CUT THE AID TO EGYPT ARMY WHY SENDING BILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO THEM , GET RED OF SYRIAN THUGS AND DESTROY HIZBOALLAH NOW AS THEY ARE THE ARMS TO IRAN WE CAN CRIPPLE IRAN IN THAT REGION AND WE CAN BE READY TO DEAL WITH IRAN WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION NUCS...
israel is a tumor on every americans sphincter....they are a parasite
Run that by me again, why do we owe the settler bums? We already send billions and billions to support their worthlessness. It is time Israelis started supporting themselves, or get themselves to a safer place, don't you think? I can't see why they insist on living in the middle of four hundred million hostiles. They can come to US and Canada and by jolly they are welcome!
August 28, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
we must stop doing israels dirty work..no more wars for israel
Punish for fighting terrorism brought to Syria by outsiders?????Oh, I forgot-this article is by another of those "foundations" paid for by war profiteers.
Remember, the cost of the "adventure" could have provided free healthcare to many in the US .
I've always found it rather amusing that we draw imaginary "red lines" when a conflict arises. "Don't use nuclear bombs" we say. "It will be bad to use chemical weapons" we scream. Seriously? 1300 people died to a "forbidden weapon", and we get up in arms and cry that something needs to be done. 100,000+ people have died since the conflict started, and yet, our reactions were more subdued?
We should have done something months ago. Now, we're stuck with a regime that definitely hates us, and a rebel group that might hate us.
What if it turns out that it was the rebels that used chemical weapons, just the same way it was found out that there were no WMD in Iraq? As the world has come to realize, USA decides how and what people think. You can only be a bad guy when USA says it or otherwise. No problem, every empire has its beginning and its end. When a country begins to go against the law of GOD, it lays the groundwork for its own destruction. Kudos USA, the master and saver of the world!!!
President Obama obviously cannot reveal anything about what US intends to do. I think it's a good move to say its being delayed, that should keep the Syrians on edge, and worrying when the attack will come.
A surprise attack is the most effective one.
Assad will not leave until he accomplishes his mission of completely destroying all the infrastructures in Syria. He and his murderous generals should be the targets.
first of all we don't even know who used chemical weapons. the only argument the Western leaders give about Assad being responsible is that the terrorists don't have access to rockets or chemicals, we have no way of knowing either. Western leaders may also be lying and may have provided the terrorists with chemical weapons. We don't know that either.Besides the Russians have made it clear that any attempt at attacking Syria is a "red Line" for them. Besides the American people are not going to be happy about wasting tax dollars on a war with a country that hasn't attacked us, just as the economy is recovering from the recession that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars plonged us into.
So why are we even talking about it?
ALOOO USA SHOULD STRIKE LONG TIME AGO YOU DONT GO AND TELL YOUR ENEMY YOU GONE STRIKE THIS DATE IT IS STUPID WHERE IS THE TACTICS AND SURPRISING ELEMENTS THAT ARMY TEACHES YOU...SYRIA ALREADY MOVE ALL THE WEAPONS AND CHEMICAL BOMBS HIDING IT IN LEBANON WITH HEZBOLLAH SAFE HOUSES, AND ALSO HIDING THEM WITH THE SHIIA MOSQUES SAFE HOUSES CALLED HUSSAINIA PLACE AND ALSO IN THE OFFICERS HOUSES AND HOMES , SOME OF THE JETS ALREADY HIDDEN AND SOME WENT TO IRAQ AND LEBANON SOME TO RUSSIAN SHIPS....SO USA WILL ATTACK EMPTY BUILDINGS AND SOME ARMS AND CAMPS.....USA SHOULD ATTACK HEZBOLLAH BASES IN LEBANON IF THEY WANT TO DESTROY SYRIA EVIL ARMY AND IF IRAN WANT TO INVOLVE IT IS BETTER TO HIT 3 BIRDS IN ONE STONE ONCE AFTER ALL THOSE EVIL MUST GO...
shia Iran cult government Iraqi almaleki shia government Syria shia thugs along with Hezbollah stole billions and killed more than 1 million Sunni kurds and Christians already those evil thugs killed 1444000 in Syria alone..and usa are silent!!!!!!!!!!!!attack them now before it is too late Syria sent most of the weapon to be hidden with Hezbollah and Iraqi shia wake up usa...
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
Every week we bring you in-depth interviews with world leaders, newsmakers and analysts who break down the world's toughest problems.
CNN U.S.: Sundays 10 a.m. & 1 p.m ET | CNN International: Find local times
Buy the GPS mug | Books| Transcripts | Audio
Connect on Facebook | Twitter | GPS@cnn.com
Buy past episodes on iTunes! | Download the audio podcast
Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
RSS - Posts
Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.
Join 4,852 other followers