The president's Syria game plan is already public.
As the first drops of a cool afternoon rain begin to fall from the sky, the administration that has been described as the most ruthlessly zealous in pursuit of whistleblowers is showering down its own rain of leaks about the upcoming attack on Syria.
Stand outside the New York Times building with a bucket in one hand and a thick wad of wood pulp in the other, and you may even be able to figure out whether we’re going to war or, as one official told the Los Angeles Times, the air strikes will be "just muscular enough not to get mocked"… but not sinewy enough to really upset Tehran and Moscow.
Anything from Clinton’s air strikes on Iraq to Obama’s regime assault on Libya may be on the table, but we seem to be headed into featherweight territory, with Obama telling PBS that the attacks would be a “shot across the bow”.
The New York Times, the usual leakhole of Obama Inc, quoted officials describing a limited one or two day campaign that would degrade Assad’s ability to launch chemical weapons, without forcing him out of power. That might be true, but then again no less a figure than Barack H. Obama had promised that the Libyan intervention would last “days, not weeks”. It lasted months, not weeks, let alone days.
Less than 50 sites are reportedly being targeted; a few command centers and chemical warfare units. That makes it a somewhat larger scale version of the attacks that Israel has already carried out in Syria.
The New York Times story doesn’t just lay out a broad guideline, but a detailed list of targets. Some of those targets are harder to move than others, but if the list is accurate, then the attack plan has already been leaked before it began and the strategic damage is sizable.
Senator McCain, who had been urging a harder intervention, said, “All of these leaks, when the strikes are going to take place, what’s going to be used, if I were Bashar Assad, I think I would declare tomorrow a snow day and keep everybody from work.”
Why leak a limited strike to the public? It may be to reassure Iran and Russia that Obama isn’t really serious about picking a fight with them; he’s just trying to avoid being mocked by the mean lads in the locker rooms of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Or it may be to dissuade the American people from treating yet another unilateral and undeclared war seriously by calling it the W word.
Considering all the Clinton people at the helm, Libya may have been Obama’s Yugoslavia, but Syria could be his Iraq. A few cruise missiles, a few targets that won’t be there by the time the missiles are launched and then everyone goes out for drinks at Lounge 201 with a few Media Matters staffers.
Or the leaks may be there to misdirect the Syrian military into protecting the wrong assets in a bombing campaign that will be waged against the same broad scope of military targets as in Libya. But McCain’s criticisms suggest that if the leaks are an act of misdirection, no one let him in on the game plan.
In an administration that lies reflexively about everything while maintaining an incestuous relationship with the media, it’s hard to know whether we’re hearing deliberately planted lies or truths that leaked inappropriately.
This state of confusion exists because instead of being told directly by the man they elected to represent their interests in the foreign affairs of the nation what he intends, the people have to sift through media leaks to learn whether they are about to be involved in a war or a slap fight. And there are now signals that unlike Libya, Obama will not even bother to address the nation. Apparently telling the people of the country why you began military operations on their behalf is passé in our blindingly modern digital age.
The American people, who in poll after poll oppose a war, are being told that the attacks are happening. And once the important people are done deciding what the attacks will look like, they may get around to informing them just how much of their money and lives will be spent winning Syria for the armies of the Muslim Brotherhood who have proven as inept at taking over that country as they have at taking over Egypt.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday that while Obama wants Assad out and is arming Syrian Sunni rebels who want Assad out, the attacks will not be about regime change.
Beginning a war with an obvious lie is never a good start. And a country with a media unwilling to call out the chief propagandist of its own government for telling it, tells us that in this conflict truth is already the first casualty.
Obama has done everything to help the Sunni rebels overthrow Assad short of actually attacking Syria. Now that he actually will be attacking Syria, the claim that the attacks are not meant to weaken Assad and help the rebels win is not credible. And indeed, a Free Syrian Army official has already said that the FSA is coordinating target lists with the United States.
If the goal were to stop mass murder, there are a lot of other places that Navy warships could go; like Sudan. This conflict has always been about achieving political goals, not humanitarian ones. The goal in Syria is not to end the violence or Obama wouldn’t be supplying weapons and dropping bombs.
Libya also wasn’t about regime change. At least not until we bombed Gaddafi’s convoy using a UN no fly zone as a pretext for attacking a bunch of ground vehicles. Assad’s equipment is a lot more lethal and up to date. It won’t pose too much of a challenge for NATO air power, but Syria will be Obama’s war. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, anything that happens in it cannot be blamed on Bush. Not even by the media.
That’s why Obama is afraid of Syria. This will be one war whose consequences he cannot escape. It will be fully his war. And he will have to own it.
War in Syria is wildly unpopular with Americans, who may give Obama a pass on a casualty free conflict, but if Americans begin dying, then the political casualties will include his controversial domestic agenda.
Obama may want to help the Muslim Brotherhood take Syria, but sacrificing his domestic agenda for their foreign agenda may not be a price that he is willing to pay.
And that is why he may stick to firing a barely muscular shot across Assad’s bow.
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