NIGHTWATCH: Foolish US Statements on Syria

04 Inter-State Conflict, 07 Other Atrocities, 08 Proliferation, 08 Wild Cards, Ethics, Government, IO Deeds of War, Military, Peace Intelligence

Syria: Special comment. The Ba’athist government in Damascus appears to be holding its own. The best indication of increased stability is that the focus of most combat reports is the city of Aleppo, most of which has been under opposition control. This means the government and its allies are taking the fight to the anti-government fighting groups.

The security situation generated [foolish] comments by two senior US officials.

Today, the US Secretary of State denounced Syria’s use of barrel bombs dropped by helicopters. He described the tactic as barbaric. The statements deserve comment because they imply that opposition forces are too feeble to shoot down helicopters dropping 50 gallon drums packed with explosives and they exaggerate the tactical use of barrel bombs.

The Secretary acknowledged a significant shortcoming in opposition capabilities because at least a million shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles are readily available for purchase in the gray arms market. Nevertheless, the Syrian opposition fighters have no defense against helicopters dropping barrels.

A few old hands will recall that Vietnam used barrel bombs dropped from slow and low flying transports to help defeat the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 40 years ago. Barrel bombs proved to be more precise than iron bombs dropped by faster moving combat aircraft. They are a poor country’s precision bomb. One commentary described the barrel bomb as an aerial Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

The US Secretary of State provided no explanation why aerial IEDs are more barbaric than ground-based IEDs.

The second odd comment was by National Intelligence Director Clapper. He said that the chemical weapons disposal deal between the US and Russia saved the Ba’athist government in Damascus.

The facts show that long before the chemical weapons disposal deal, the opposition in Syria was a flop. As one Brilliant and Insightful Reader noted, there never was a single opposition. There were and remain many oppositions, fighting each other more often than the Ba’athist forces of the government. They never coordinated and never accepted higher leadership.

The chemical weapons destruction deal actually helps stabilize regional security by reducing the threat to Israel beyond anything the Israelis could accomplish with their own military and diplomatic skills. The agreement already has produced a degradation of the missile-born chemical weapons threat to Israel. The US-Russian agreement never had much to do with the fighting in Syria.

Syria has so much tonnage of chemical weapons and precursors that it could long ago have wiped out most of the opposition pockets and their civilian supporters. Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons includes non-persistent agents that could be used with little risk of detection.

The failure to meet artificial deadlines about removing chemical agents in the midst of an armed uprising should surprise no one. All intelligent observers knew that the deadlines depended on security conditions. The US imposed a deadline but offered no security to help Syria meet it.

Syria’s willingness to continue the program is far more surprising and reassuring, especially to Israel. Plus it has Russian backing.

Clapper’s staff seems to have confused correlation with causation in the briefing materials they provided him. The improved condition of the Ba’athist government is primarily a function of Russian assistance, Iranian assistance, help from Hezbollah and the utter ineptitude of the opposition plus incessant internecine fighting. Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities have no bearing on those factors.

The US policy and intelligence failures in Syria have created a reprieve for the Christians, other minorities and ancient monuments of human civilization in Syria, all of which the Islamists promise to destroy. The chemical weapons deal is primarily a windfall for Israel.