Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Incoherent "Message" of the Syrian Missile Attacks

As I previously posted, the missile attack on Syrian following its use of chemical weapons had little military impact.  Syria was able to fly missions from that airbase the next next.  The real importance of this attack, therefore is symbolic and focuses on the message being sent.  Of course there are multiple potential audiences of this message.  They include the domestic American audience (with the message that Trump is not afraid to use military force), our Allies in the region (with the message that Trump has their back in the fight against Assad), and Syria itself (there are consequences of chemical weapons).

In the days following the attack, however, it is becoming more and more apparent that any message for this attack is muddled at best (other than to the applauding domestic audience of "serious" national security types).  Paul Pillar lays out the muddle nature of the message at The National Interest:
The best face-value interpretation of the attack in Syria is that it had to do with punishing and deterring use of chemical weapons.  But if the purpose was to enforce an international norm and international law about use of chemical weapons, persuading anyone of that was made more difficult by the lack of any effort to obtain international sanction, especially through the United Nations Security Council, before a retaliatory strike.  Moreover, other bellicose administration rhetoric about Syria has sounded much broader.  And indeed, casualties from chemical weapons have been a tiny fraction of overall casualties—including civilian suffering inflicted by the regime’s military operations—in the Syrian war.  So if it really was just about chemicals, how much good did any message-sending strike do?  The Syrian regime evidently was not deterred from  promptly attacking again the same neighborhood that was the scene of the chemical incident.

Messages—like names, and unlike sticks and stones—don’t necessarily hurt very much.  A message-sending military attack can actually help the regime or group that is targeted, by giving it an opportunity to demonstrate to its constituencies how it is surviving the attacks of, standing up to, and striking back against the American superpower.  And it does so with the added benefit of riding any popular resentment against foreign, especially U.S., intervention and resentment against any casualties inflicted by foreign military operations.

.  .  .

What is most important in the end is not only the message and the risk of escalation but a belief in the minds of the leaders of the other state that our own leaders consider the issue at stake to be so important that they are willing to fight a bigger war over it.  But that is not true of the civil war in Syria.  The United States simply does not have that kind of stake in its outcome, which is why the Obama administration wisely did not immerse the United States in that civil war.

Read it all here. 


  1. Thanks for the post , those claims presented here , are really baseless with all due respect :

    First , The moral and emotional support , for helpless victims of war , is really significant . The helplessness is unbelievable, such cruel war, such crimes, during years, and nothing is done almost (besides the UN agents, heroically risking themselves, for granting humanitarian assistance, but can do no more than that).

    Second , the amount of victims , is not the only issue . He who claims it, surely, doesn't understand nothing at all, concerning the laws of warfare. This is because , the international law , prescribe clearly , that , killing civilians is legal , but , should you kill them as the result of reasonable " collateral damage " means : by targeting , legitimate military target , and , advantage anticipated is proportional , to the killing of civilians . As such , you can kill one civilian , and be considered as war criminal , while , killing 100 , in one shot , yet , legally conducted . So , we deal not only with scale , but with nature of the crime . In this regard , attacking civilians , intentionally , as such , let alone , with chemical weapon , is crossing red lines , by all means , concerning legality .

    So , the utmost almighty military power , in history of the humankind , at the hands of the US , and reinforced by Trump ( as policy ) and all that , for just watching civilians massacred like stray dogs ?? Years upon years ?? And while crossing legal red lines ?? What is it for then ?? Why would superpower hold the Veto right in the Security council , without pushing and fulfilling any basic obligation ?? sham !! disgrace upon the face !! This is an obligation , and not only moral , but clearly legal !!

    Too complicated here ….



  2. Just demonstrating the legality of the concept of " collateral damage " here from the :

    ” Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.”

    Bearing the title of :

    “Protection of the civilian population ” and :

    Dictating so :

    ” 5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:
    (b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

    End of quotation :

    As such, the amount of casualties is not the only issue, let's imagine:
    Suppose that large scale of genocide is occurring (ongoing) huge amount of persons, belonging to a certain ethnic group, are massacred systematically. One of the superpower is directly ( or not ) involved ( like in the case of Syria ) then :

    No use, no point in passing any resolution in the Security council, right ?? Since veto , in advance guaranteed !! Then , no military action shall take place , and the genocide is on ?? During years?? And nothing can be done?? This is crap !! And the amount of victims , can change nothing !!


  3. Just clarifying it :

    Military intervention, doesn't necessary imply, full engagement, head on, as a start , but rather :
    Delivering warnings first , then a shot of clean demonstration, then: early notice, and a raid upon strategic facilities by the air force, or cruise missiles.

    Can be done, should be done : gradually, proportionally , with the right measures. In this regard , the attack in Syria , was pretty reasonable as such .