From 4/28/13

The media is full of reports that the Assad regime in Syria used chemical weapons. As always, I am shocked by the ignorance and naiveté of the media pundits. It is just striking.

1. Ranking of Tragedy v. 2

It is striking that according to the media’s analysis, it is OK to kill more than 70,000 of your people using machine guns, tanks, helicopter-gunships, combat aircraft, and even scud missiles, but the moment you kill maybe one hundred using sarin gas, you have stepped outside the norm. Really? Should the measure not be the number of victims, as opposed to the means by which to kill them? Who are these people that make these types of moral judgments with straight faces?

2. Presidential Red Lines

The entire focus of the discussion in the media is what the president will do now that the red line that he drew in the sand has been crossed. The president typically is looking for cover and for a way to walk back his red line, a way to not act upon it. For once, I need to come to his defense, very limited defense. When the president made his (sort of) threat regarding the use of chemical weapons, any serious person understood that he meant widespread and significant use, and not the small sporadic here-and-there events that we are seeing now. Given the scale of this war, the fact that a small amount of chemical weapons may have been used in a few isolated occasions is really not something that should change any scales or trigger any intervention.

3. USA Deterrent

One of the more serious points, but again handled in the most naive terms, is the loss of the U.S.’s deterrent in the Middle East—and the world—as a result of the president’s walking back his red line. The pundits are correct that the effect of that on the U.S.’s deterrent is corrosive and very dangerous. The only problem in their analysis is that this deterrent effect has disappeared a long time ago. Under this president, the U.S. is considered a paper tiger around the world, to friend and foe alike. All over the world, evildoers small and large have long ago understood that this president will never use the might of American military to do any good around the world. He is totally an isolationist and appeaser. Look at his national security team—one after the other, they would get the “Munich 1938” award for the world’s great appeasers. No, there was never any doubt in Tehran or elsewhere that the president’s “line in the sand” is written on shifting sands. It is due to this perception of the U.S. as a paper tiger that the only time that the leader of Iran really gets angry and worried about military action is when the US gives Israel the right to unilaterally attack. Israel he is afraid of. But the U.S.? Nah, nada, zero.

I would go as far as to predict that even if Iran launches an unprovoked nuclear weapon attack on say, Israel, this president will find reasons why the U.S. should not retaliate against Iran. The focus will be, I am sure, to help the survivors and possibly achieve a “harsh” UN condemnation, and a “very” strong sanction regime, but no military action. None.

4. Syrian Air Defenses

Another myth perpetrated by many military “experts,” politicians, and the usual talking heads is that Syria has a first-class, dangerous, air defense system that can prevent the U.S. from establishing a no-fly zone. We heard the same warnings about Libya, and before that, Iraq. In both cases, the U.S. cut through these “defenses” like butter on a hot summer day. The last conflict the Syrian air force engaged in was in June 1982, when it tried to fight the Israeli air force that was busy in Lebanon at the time. The results? After about 4–5 hours of massive combat, the score was 0:82, plus 16. Let me explain that unbelievable number—Israel lost ZERO combat aircraft; Syria lost eighty-two, I repeat eighty-two. In addition, Israel demolished 16 surface-to-air batteries (batteries, not missiles), again without any loss. Since 1982, Syrian air defenses have improved, I am sure, but so has the capability of the U.S. air force. I am sure that if at all, the gap has widened.

No, this is a myth spread by appeasers trying to alarm us. If the U.S. wants to demolish the Syrian air defenses and air force, it can do it without too much difficulty. By the way, Israel can do it, too. I believe Israel does not want to do it in order not to alienate the Russians.

5. Iran’s Involvement

So…some pundits have concluded at long last that Iran may simply not allow Assad to fall. Welcome. It only took you two years. I have been saying it all along. Syria is too important to Iran and they will do whatever it takes to keep Assad in power. It may result in continuous war and the cantonization of Syria, but Syria is the critical link between Iran and the Mediterranean by way of Iraq and Lebanon, and as such, it must remain intact for the Iranians. It is nice to see that at long last, some “experts” have begun to maybe grasp what this conflict is all about.

As I said some time ago, it is probably too late for the U.S. to get involved in this conflict. Any involvement now has a serious risk of having unintended consequences. The forces of evil, Al Qaeda and the like, are by now too strong and too integrated into the rebels. Involvement two years ago, even one year ago, could have provided an easy and extremely important win to the forces of democracy and freedom in the Middle East, and a very strategic one at that. But it is not for this administration to get involved in promoting democracy. Let the kids play while we retreat to our shores. Unfortunately in today’s world, that does not work anymore and the consequences will be felt by us here sooner or later. But for now, it is Syria, the Syrian people, and the entire Middle East that is doomed to a very dangerous and continuing conflict for years to come. The Lebanese civil war took 15 years. Syria will be worse.