August 28th, 2013

Why telegraph an attack on Syria?

One of the odd things about Obama’s intentions on Syria is that the general plan has been leaked to the press. And unless it turns out be be a case of releasing incorrect information with the deliberate purpose of misleading Assad, it’s hard to figure out exactly why the administration would leak like this.

Obama’s defenders, such as Max Fisher, seem to think it’s a wise and well-thought-out move on the part of the administration:

Actually, publicly revealing when, how and where the United States (and some allies) will likely strike makes sense, given what Obama wants to accomplish. If his goal were to fully enter the Syrian civil war and decisively end it, then, yes, secrecy would be the way to go. But the administration has been very clear that it has a much more modest goal: to punish Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons so that he, and future military leaders, won’t do it again.

What’s about to happen, if the United States and allies do go through with the strikes, is less of a war and more of a ritual. This isn’t about defeating Assad, it’s about punishing him. And that calls for being really precise about how much punishment the United States imposes…

…[W]hat the Obama administration appears to want is a limited, finite series of strikes that will be carefully calibrated to send a message and cause the just-right amount of pain. It wants to set Assad back but it doesn’t want to cause death and mayhem. So the most likely option is probably to destroy a bunch of government or military infrastructure — much of which will probably be empty.

Aside from the fact that it is probably a fantasy that we could ever read Assad’s mind to that extent and calibrate our strikes so precisely, there is the mystery as to why telegraphing the scope and intent of the attack in advance would be necessary for the success of the plan as described. Fisher indicates that letting Assad know how limited the strikes will be is likely to keep him from escalating and would also deter him from future chemical (or other) attacks, but as Bruce McQuain points out at Hot Air:

Since it is a limited strike and it is going to be against specific units, Syria has the option of dispersing them, an option I’m sure they’ll take. They’ll also likely disperse them in to highly populated urban areas where they can…

Since they have thousands of artillery pieces capable of firing chemical shells, it is unlikely a limited strike is going to even seriously dent that capability. Moving artillery into the cities would likely deter the US more than the US would deter Syria. Helicopters can be moved as well. They don’t need long runways. Other aircraft will be dispersed And finally, command and control are easily moved and dispersed.

McQuain goes on to add that Assad is likely to use chemical weapons again afterwards, just to prove he can and that he is undeterred by the likes of Obama. And, as the WSJ editors point out:

…[T]he attacks are primarily about making a political statement, and vindicating President Obama’s ill-considered promise of “consequences,” rather than materially degrading Assad’s ability to continue to wage war against his own people.

It should go without saying that the principal purpose of a military strike is to have a military effect. Political statements can always be delivered politically, and U.S. airmen should not be put in harm’s way to deliver what amounts to an extremely loud diplomatic demarche. That’s especially so with a “do something” strike that is, in fact, deliberately calibrated to do very little.

Even then, I’m not sure why an advance announcement would be necessary. Perhaps the intent is just to accentuate what a brave and intimidating guy Obama is, and how he keeps his word when he talks about red lines? I think this move might be another subset of Obama’s well-known propensity to overvalue his own rhetoric, and to think that words can substitute for works, and bluster can serve as well as brawn.

[ADDENDUM: Ace takes us for a stroll down memory lane, to that long-ago time when Bush was president and Senator Barack Obama had these ringing words to say about the possibility of Bush's launching strikes on Iran:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

That was then. This is now.]

34 Responses to “Why telegraph an attack on Syria?”

  1. Sangiovese Says:

    Neo, I think you nailed it in your last sentence.

    The last time we tried something like this was back in the Clinton days when a few cruise missles were launched into an aspirin factory in Afganistan. That was also meant to send a message.

  2. expat Says:

    Obama’s red lines are actually a very pale pink and almost invisible to our foes. I don’t think anyone, foes or allies, fear or trust him. I bet most are thinking, “This too shall pass.” I’m still waiting for the memoirs of those who worked under him.

  3. Lizzy Says:

    Seems like he’s saying, “Don’t call my bluff, because I have a really good plan and I just might use it!”

    Obama is incapable of a coherent foreign policy, and he (and the MSM) still hasn’t figured out that foreign leaders haven’t bought into his reputation for eloquence and influence with mere words. In fact, they’re likely counting on his weakness at this point. I would simply be embarrassed if Obama’s cluelessness weren’t putting real lives at risk. (And we’re probably in for another doozey of a 9/11anniversary after Benghazi).

  4. Stark Says:

    If the President is determined to make an empty political gesture, his team may think that they will get more milage by announcing it and beating the drum. IMO the Campaigner-In-Chief won’t enhance his “red line” tough-guy stance with a hit and run one shot strike.

  5. Eric Says:

    Senator and Candidate Obama spewed a lot of BS about Bush, which he likely knew was BS when he spewed it. Any ConLaw professor, or student for that matter, knows that statement is false.

  6. Eric Says:

    “Some people say, ‘Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake. I agree with you about this,” Clinton told McCain during an event for the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Manhattan Tuesday night. “Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit — like, as long as you don’t make an improvident commitment.”

    Translation: Act based on a political cost/benefit calculation, not on actual effect.

    It’s the Democrat way of foreign policy.

  7. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Barack Obama

    It occurs to me that this is NOT hypocrisy on Obama’s part; Bush believed in the Constitution, so he was violating his own principles. Obama does not believe in the constitution, violation.

  8. Eric Says:

    Geoffrey Britain,

    That’s not a true statement in the 1st place.

  9. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    “…[W]hat the Obama administration appears to want is a limited, finite series of strikes that will be carefully calibrated to send a message and cause the just-right amount of pain. It wants to set Assad back but it doesn’t want to cause death and mayhem.”

    This was exactly what LBJ was trying to do in bombing North Vietnam. Put just enough pressure on Uncle Ho to get him to agree to leave the South as an independent country. How’d that work out?

    I was totally amazed when the bombing in Bosnia and Kosovo led to a peace agreement with the Serbs. But the bombing lasted quite a while and it ended when they started to hit targets that really disrupted their economy.

    Trying to punish someone through micro-targeted aerial bombardment (cruise missiles and airplanes) is a fool’s mission. Especially if the country is essentially a Third World basket case. Even the so-called bombing them “back to the Stone Age,” doesn’t have the desired effect. They’re already in the Stone Age.

    Tipping the plans in advance is just another of the usual progressive peacenik ideas. Well, we had to give them notice so no one would get hurt. We don’t really want to hurt anyone do we, old boy? It is to weep.

  10. Eric Says:


    Even in the Balkans, we put boots on the ground.

    We did get lucky there. I’ve heard stories about vulnerable and scared US patrols being watched roll by by angry heavily armed Serb military. I can only think that the threat of NATO’s big stick close by on stand-by was good enough.

  11. T Says:

    Why telegraph an attack on Syria?

    1) This administration is just not very wise or smart;

    2) This administration believes that people respond to threats; they demand, the adversary complies. They make no distinction between a threat and executing said threat, i.e., a credible threat and a hollow threat.

    The lessons of Reagan’s attack on Quaddafi’s palace have been lost and forgotten.

  12. blert Says:

    You apparently don’t comprehend: the MSM has replaced the Congress.

    He’s getting advice and consent from the NY Times and the Wa Po.

    If they don’t approve of his script, he’ll send it down for rewrite.

    As with Benghazi (gun running to al Nusra), Barry is keeping the Committee Chairmen in the dark. He doesn’t need their advice, nor their consent.

    He sure is not going to put the matter up to an actual VOTE.

  13. blert Says:


    Apparently you never read about the USAF’s psychological campaign that wore down the Serb generals.

    They were invited to America — and put up at Wright-Patterson AFB — in AUGUST — when the USAF holds its annual war game.

    They were given the primo accommodations — right next to the primary runway. The USAF threw in free cable TV and all access to the military’s own in-house channel.

    Which just happened to be rebroadcasting the total take down of Saddam’s machine, 1991. This was their first introduction to non-stop precision strikes.

    Next, the USAF invited the generals to observe the latest in computer imagery. The USAF had mapped out — 3D — in shocking detail — all of the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

    Naturally, the Serbs assumed that the imagery was merely artistic — a fake. Assured otherwise, he put it to the test: his birth village. The USAF electronically flew him right into his mothers bedroom window starting from the Adriatic coast. The display permitted him to ‘walk’ around his old home town, too.

    The USAF informed the general that overhead weather actually meant nothing to precision guidance; weapons rode a satellite signal straight on in, and the USAF had mapped Yugoslavia going back years and years.

    He was informed that the sole and only reason that infrastructure had not been touched was due to orders from above. Failure to reach a settlement would cause the rules of engagement to change. No doubt he discovered that even his strategic bunkers were already in the database.

    The settlement came within just a few days after that stunt.

    It was all written up in Forbes, IIRC.

    Clinton also took out the Chinese embassy — its code room and transmitter. This had been a strategic asset for the Serbs. Losing it blinded them. This bombing was such an accident that Clinton used a major general at the controls of a B-2 flown all the way in and back from the US. It was isolated from all other activity, and caught the embassy with only three men in the bullseye. (operatives)

    The Serbs were led to believe that just such a strike could be ordered at any time against their national leadership — and or their TV broadcaster.

    If you recall, the Serbs evacuated their broadcast facilities in the capital, IIRC. Everyone else stayed put. (!)

  14. Ann Says:

    Eric, you mention the Balkans and the “threat of NATO’s big stick close by on stand-by was good enough” to restrain the Serb military from attacking US troops.

    Do you think there’s any chance of NATO getting involved in Syria? They’ve just made a statement saying Assad’s use of chemical weapons is a “clear breach” of international norms that “cannot go unanswered.”

  15. blert Says:

    I should’ve mentioned: the war game runs 24 hours a day for at least two-weeks.

    Consequently, the generals never got any sleep.

    Air National Guard formations from all over congregate for this event. Every American plane in the inventory usually makes an appearance.

    The typical scenario is the USAF is fighting the war in Europe — only in Ohio — so the tempo is frenetic.

  16. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Sangiovese , the aspirin factory was in the Sudan. You’re confusing it with the empty tents, those are what was successfully taken out by Clinton in Afghanistan.

    As build up in tension for Obama’s big “I’m a real leader” inevitable retaliatory bombing of Syria; well if you are going to put on a show you have to advertise ahead of time to get an audience.

  17. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Expat, anyone who Obama allows near Obama will only sing his praises, and any memoir will be written to self justify working for a pompous charlatan. Expect only supplication to and praise for our savior, and a boot stamping on our face, also forever.

    By the way I recently found out that ear leader and spouse surrendered their law licenses when it became clear that they were to be suspended. Michelle was facing insurance fraud problems. Does anyone know why Obama’s was to be suspended?

  18. Mr. Frank Says:

    Obama is conflicted because both sides are Muslims. He can’t decide who to hammer and who to help.

  19. kaba Says:

    This goes to neo’s repeated question of fool or knave.

    Surely no sane person can believe the announced strategy will do anything to deter Assad. And will only serve to invite retaliation on Israel, Europe, or domestically.

    On his way to his next golf game he should stop at an animal shelter and kick a pit bull in the cojones.

  20. Dave E. Says:

    That talk about “carefully calibrated” strikes is just another manifestation of the “Masters of the Universe” arrogance that has stunted the economy under Obama and will destroy health care in fairly short order.

    The “experts” know just what levers to pull and just which buttons to push, or so they think. In reality, they are messing with systems and situations beyond their ken.

    I’m not a big fan of Gen. Dempsey, but at least he seems to have some sense of knowing what he doesn’t know. Hopefully he will be able to keep this generation of the best and brightest from screwing up too badly here.

  21. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    Bush’s certification to Congress (and thus to the American people) that the conditions necessary for Congress’ 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq had been met were based upon, at the least, ‘slanted’ intelligence analysis. Had Bush presented, “the truth and nothing but the truth” he could not have made the case to invade.

    While I agree that he didn’t break the letter of the law, I do believe he broke the spirit of the law. I also believe Bush to be a man whose principles would normally preclude that rationalization.

    Thus he allowed his belief that our long term national security would best be served by transplanting democracy into the ME to override his principles. A clear case of the end justifying the means.

    In life sometimes the end does justify the means. The trick is to discern the proper balance of when it does and does not.

    So all in all, IMO my statement stands on its merits.

  22. James Says:

    J J,
    “This was exactly what LBJ was trying to do in bombing North Vietnam”. You stole my thunder. L B J and Co. also spelled it out as far as their goal. Uncle Ho and the boys just ignored it and put pressure on us.

  23. Eric Says:

    Geoffrey Britain,

    You’re incorrect. The conditions necessary were met.

    Remember, the burden of proof was not on the US and UN. The burden of proof was entirely on Iraq, just as it was in 1998, just as it was in 1991. In 2002-2003, Iraq again failed to meet its burden of proof.

  24. Eric Says:


    NATO’s ability to project force, specifically ground forces, into Eastern Europe – which NATO was originally designed to do – is different than its ability to project force into the Middle East.

    The Afghanistan mission has been a NATO mission from the start, yet its still understaffed with shortfalls assumed and expected to be made up by US troops.

    I don’t see that NATO strike force in Syria would be a substantial upgrade over a US, UK, French organized coalition.

  25. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    James: “You stole my thunder. L B J and Co. also spelled it out as far as their goal. Uncle Ho and the boys just ignored it and put pressure on us.”

    Both of us named James. ‘Tis a grand name. Also, great minds and all that. :-)

  26. T Says:

    Earlier I wrote:

    Why telegraph an attack on Syria?

    1) This administration is just not very wise or smart

    I offer as another viewpoint on the stupidity and ineptitude of this administration the following link which I suggest is a must-read (H/T Instapundit How does he find this stuff?)

  27. Ymarsakar Says:

    Some people actually think there is One Single Truth, and that they know it.

    When they can convince their family members on the Left that the Left is evil and that they shouldn’t be participating in shoveling off people into concentration camps… perhaps I’ll be able to believe in their One Single Truth afterwards.

  28. Roman Says:

    Launching 30-40 Million dollars worth of cruise missles to take out a couple of squads of infantry while the Dear Leader sits in his palace bunker sipping cognac will not deter any despot, anywhere.

    Where there are no real consequences to your actions, what is the deterance?

    The dinosaur media will trumpet the latest foreign policy gaff as wonderful and Chairman O will continue to reign supreme.

  29. Eric Says:


    Closely related to the subject matter of the DiploMad post, Chicago Boyz, back in 2007, had a typically insightful post comparing pre-WW2 France to present-day America.

  30. T Says:


    Thanks. This essay, too, is a keeper. Once again, nihil sub sole novum.

    O/T but I was struck by this sentence:

    And the bombing was psychologically-shattering, especially for inexperienced troops. The famous historian Marc Bloch had been exposed to many artillery barrages while fighting in the First World War: in reflecting on his service in 1940, he observed that he found aerial bombing much more frightening even though it was, objectively, probably less dangerous.

    Recently some have offered this exact theory (fear and inexperienced reporters) as the reason for the negative press coverage of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam (i.e., negative regarding the US).

  31. Ymarsakar Says:

    When the sky itself has turned into your enemy and smites you down randomly… no human can contest it by themselves. Such is the Will of Heaven and what primitive ancestors once knew very well.

  32. blert Says:


    Edouard Daladier, and the French Government let the British and the Czechs down, not the reverse.

    1) The sole dominant issue was the French commitment of its army. Period, stop. Under no conditions can one posit that the BEF with its trival 6 divisional equivalents be of any consequence in a land war with Nazi Germany. Even at the height of the war, Britain couldn’t sustain more than one army sized BEF. All of the rest of her forces came from her Commonwealth. In 1938 such elements were off the table.

    2) The route into Germany was EXCLUSIVELY French. Any other gambit entailed an amphibious invasion of Germany, proper, or an invasion of Belgium (neutral) thence on to Berlin.

    In sum, the ENTIRE fulcrum of decision was on Paris, not London. Chamberlain was and is the goat because he infamously waved diplomatic tissue paper at the airport. He should have SHUT UP.

    However, his spending belied his utterances. Britain was, under his pen, spending large on ALL of the weapons that Churchill would employ to pull Britain through:

    Merlin aero-engines (Spitfire, Hurricane, P-51, Lancaster,+ …)
    Chain Home radar network
    Bomber Command
    George V battleships (so frantic they went with 14″ rifles)
    Universal carriers (aka Bren Carriers) (a tracked jeep)
    Bletchley Park (it was already up and running for Winston)
    ASDIC (aka Sonar)

    Research labs that ultimately developed

    10 cm (airborne — counter- U-boat) radar


    Lastly, modern history omits Goring’s impact. He was the man who thwarted prompt and immediate war. Adolf was crazy enough to want it right then and there!

    After walking away, Hitler was so angry (considering himself out-foxed) that he wouldn’t even speak to Goring! This went on for weeks.

    It was only after reviewing the Czech defense works that he came to his senses. The German Army would’ve been shattered if it had attacked. Absolutely none of his vaunted panzers could’ve survived the encounter. The years of overgrowth had entirely hidden the nasty pillboxes and firing positions built by the Czechs over the years.

    If Paris had not buckled, he would have been assassinated, as the German Army suffered WWI scale fatalities — in a WWI style attack.

    As it was, Adolf picked up the Skoda Works for nothing. They ended up providing half of the panzers for the defeat of France.

    Consequently, Goring became Adolf’s best buddy all over again. (Similar tiffs with other Nazi generals were to occur later in the war. Like Barry, Adolf just could NOT bear to hear that he’d EVER been wrong.)

    France was defeated in 1938 — at Munich. All subsequent diplomacy turned on their feckless performance then and there.

    However, English speaker constantly run Chamberlain up the flag pole to take pot shots. He wasn’t in any position to be the decisive power.

    During the Cold War, both London and Washington had to station substantial formations in Germany precisely because no-one wanted to chance that DC would ‘pull a Paris, 1938′ when the going got tough. It’s something that neither power had ever done before. Such is the legacy of Munich.


    The commentary about French aircraft production is all wrong. Paris was spending as much on her air force as Goring was! It’s just that with each change in government, the previous contracts were torn up, and the business shifted over to friends. The result was an endless series of prototypes that never made it into mass production — even though such factories had actually been built — and paid for!

    The French answer to the Bf-109 only started scaling up in the Spring of 1940. (!) It was utterly swamped by numbers. There was no time to even get the bugs out. It was thirty-months behind the Spitfire, all because of politics.

    The F-22 and F-35 production tempos are shades of this dynamic, though the specifics differ.

  33. T Says:


    I never meant to imply that Obama had the insight credited (at least in this article) to Daladier. Sorry if that’s how my citation came across.

    Rather, Obama and the American public together appear to me to be similar to the French populace in 1940 (thus Eric’s citation above); both lauding their respective governments’ leadership all the while digging their own grave.

    I say “the American public” because that is certainly true of those Americans of the bien-pensant Progressive persuasion, but also those of the conservative persuasion who, in 2012, were willing to sit back and watch instead of voting. They are accessories-after-the-fact to this clown show of an administration and just as damnable.

  34. Obama | Syria | Hamlet | To be or not to be Says:

    [...] Syria, it seems Obama’s made up his mind about what to do but then again perhaps he’s not made up his mind at [...]

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