As it considers a military strike on Syria in response
to the alleged use of chemical weapons by President Bashar Assad's regime, the
Obama administration says it is not intent on regime change, but sending a
message that deployment of such banned weapons will not be tolerated.
But while the administration says it has no intent of getting embroiled in a wider war, "nobody's talking about boots on the ground" in Syria, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday--analysts say any U.S. strike will inevitably lead to greater involvement and require a commitment to help bring the moderate opposition to power.
"To President [Barack] Obama, a regime-change policy appears as the quickest path to a quagmire," Michael Doran, an analyst in the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, wrote online for the Brookings Institution. "It is actually avoidance of regime change that will more likely lead to a quagmire."
The administration has not said what kind of strike it plans in Syria. Warships may target Syrian government infrastructure from afar in an effort to punish the regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons and deter it from future use -- but without securing weapons sites or toppling the government.
Some observers say plans for limited operations underline a gap in the way military and civilian leaders think about military force and its purpose. Technology has lowered the bar for military action at the same time popular culture has embraced the idea of the military's surgical precision, through the use of cruise missiles, drones and special operators. The result, these analysts say, is that military force becomes easier for civilian leaders to both imagine and justify.
In Syria, A lack of other good options may also play a role in the administration's eventual decision.
In a July letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, outlining options in Syria, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, warned any action would likely cost billions, risk American lives and potentially drag the United States deeper into war than it might intend.
"We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action," Dempsey wrote. "Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid."
Analysts say limited operations rarely lead to the success envisioned, and military precision is often over-estimated. For military forces trained to fight and win in overwhelming style, such operations can even suggest weakness or indecision, they say.
"There is a very wide, and I would say growing, gap between military and civilian officials on the perception of what limited force can achieve," Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a recent interview.
Zenko has coined the term "discrete military operations" to describe limited uses of force such as the one reported to be in consideration against Syria, where the goal is to achieve a narrow objective, under strict rules of engagement and without destroying an enemy, controlling its territory or changing regimes. He has counted 36 such operations since 1991, with varying levels of success.
The operations typically use long-range 'stand-off' weapons like cruise missiles
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