To have an effective strategy requires articulation and understanding of how goals and options relate. They consist of punishment, deterrence, and coercion. To punish is to render harm for prior action; to deter is to prevent future behavior, e.g. don’t do again what you have done in the past; to coerce is to get an actor to take an action in the future, e.g. do something it has not yet done. Punishment is associated with minimum goals; deterrence with medium-size objectives, and coercion with maximum expectations.
Now consider the replay of Syrian chemical weapons attacks; they are in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention of Apr. 29, 1997. It is noteworthy, the Syrian attacks occurred on Apr. 26, 2017, almost 20 years to the day the Convention came into force among the “States Parties.” It is also good to see President Trump acting, in defense of international law and institutional norms, contrary to his critics’ expectations.
That said, Bashar Assad’s attacks reflect the option of punishment for prior action. But when he launched another assault on Apr. 9, 2018, on Greater Damascus, the allied response, on Apr. 13, exemplified an alternative not only of punishment, but also deterrence. To prevent Assad from acting would entail, e.g., striking his command control facilities, rather than just chemical weapons sites.
It there were a repeat of the Apr. 26 chemical weapons attacks by Syria, deterrence will have failed, and coercion would be necessary, that is, if the allies wanted to maintain their credibility for the future. Coercion would require forcing Assad to take some action, such as destroying his chemical weapons stockpile, verified by the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In short, a credible national security strategy requires specification of an entire range of goals and options, and how they interrelate.
President Trump has a new security team of (nominated) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, newly-minted National Security Advisor John Bolton, U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Gina Haspel, the newly-nominated first-ever female Director of CIA, in place.
Because of his goals and options, Trump should be in an excellent position to relate objectives to options, toward a coherent national security strategy. In this sense, all goals and options are on his table, ready for implementing. Beware President Assad of Damascus, President Rouhani of Tehran, and President Putin of Moscow!
On Apr. 13, U.S. cruise missiles and the aircraft of France and the UK, struck Syrian chemical weapons facilities. President Trump stated the assaults were to degrade and deter chemical weapons by Damascus. Secretary of Defense Mattis also said the attacks had the stated goals of diminishing the capacity of Syria to use chemical weapons in the future and deterring their future use.
Russia blamed Israel for the attacks. They are a defining moment for President Trump and his new national security team.
“Missiles hit an air base in Syria early Monday in a strike that Russia blamed on Israel, an assault that comes on the heels of an alleged chemical-weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that killed dozens of civilians and spurred calls for international action,” per The Wall Street Journal of Apr. 9.
Iran continues to maintain significant drone forces at a base in western Syria, giving them dangerously easy access to the Israeli border and raising the risk of escalation. And to complicate things more, three Iranians supposedly died in the attack on the air base, which might have been an Iranian facility.
Hence, yours truly shares the view: The next crisis will be Iran (and now Syria, because of the assaults).
There is a middle ground between our launching cruise missiles against Syrian chemical sites and deploying more U.S. ground forces. That Goldilocks’ spot consists of: UN Security Council Emergency Session that began meeting on Apr. 9; NATO and EU political-military, military-diplomatic-economic options; and President Trump can select options, in view of objectives presented to him by National Security Advisor — Amb. John Bolton.
On Apr. 2, Trump met with former CIA Director, and if confirmed, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Bolton, whom Trump named as National Security Advisor, on Mar. 22; Bolton formally began on Apr. 9, as the attacks occurred, but has been doing the duties at the NSC a few days, after being named.
In this respect, on Mar. 29, Bolton made a visit to the Pentagon. Mattis said, “I heard you’re actually the devil incarnate, and I wanted to meet you.” They both laughed, and entered the Pentagon, smiling.
On Mar. 22, The Wall Street Journal posted a piece in which Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, states that, “Bolton is a believer in the robust use of all instruments of American power,” and “…perhaps the perception that Trump, Bolton and…Pompeo are willing to use these instruments will make it less likely they have to be used. (Ayatollah) Khamenei, Kim Jong Un, (Vladimir) Putin and others become more — not less — aggressive when they perceive American weakness.”
On Mar, 13, 2018, The New York Times reported that, Pompeo and Bolton agreed with Trump’s position: The nuclear deal should be renegotiated or scrapped, before the May 12, deadline. It would be as much a sign of weakness not to renegotiate, as it would be to refrain from a military-political response to the Syrian attacks.
On Apr. 9, President Trump said that he might seek to hold accountable not just Syria but its patrons in Russia and Iran for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people outside Damascus over the weekend, a move that could widen a geopolitical conflict already roiling the Middle East.
On Apr 10, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, spoke at the UN Security Council meeting on Syria. She ripped into Bashar Assad, would be held to account. She called him a “monster,” whose hands were dripping with blood of Syrian children suffering from a chemical weapon assault.
On Apr. 12, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had its hearing on the Confirmation of CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to be Secretary of State. Attending the hearing were luminaries like U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.
Two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers are still in the Sixth Fleet’s area of operations in the Mediterranean Sea and able to get within striking range within hours to days, if there were a need for additional action.
The Way Forward
The research reported here suggests three steps:
First, there needs to be an update of the joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States. 2001 S. J. Res. 23 (107th): Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Second, President Trump should fully implement sanctions Congress passed against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp.
Third, President Assad of Damascus should be placed on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN) Human Readable Lists.
Taking these steps, President Trump would be in an excellent position to implement a coherent national security strategy of goals and options.
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@ProfRTanter) served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Tanter is on the comprehensive list of conservative writers and columnists who appear in The Wall Street Journal, Townhall.com, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Human Events, The American Spectator, and now in Newsmax. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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