Syrian Warplane Bombing: A Turning Point In The Conflict?

The US sends Assad and Russia a message.

Front Page Magazine, by Joseph Klein, June 20, 2017:

n what may turn out to be a major inflection point in the Syrian conflict, an American fighter jet on Sunday shot down a Syrian warplane, which was said to be dropping bombs near U.S.-supported Kurdish and Arab ground forces fighting ISIS in the vicinity of ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa. It was the first time during the six year Syrian conflict that a U.S. jet had shot down a Syrian jet. In fact, it has been approximately 18 years since the U.S. had shot down a warplane belonging to any country since a Serbian plane was shot down over Kosovo in 1999.

The U.S. Central Command leading the anti-ISIS coalition effort said the Syrian jet was “immediately shot down… in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces.” The statement added that the coalition’s mission was to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and was not to fight the Syrian regime or its allies. However, it added that the coalition would not hesitate to defend itself or its partner forces “from any threat,” and that “[T]he demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated.”

According to a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, the U.S. had first warned the Syrian plane away from the area, but to no avail. An F/A-18 “Super Hornet” thereupon shot down the Syrian plane.

Syria claimed its plane was targeting ISIS militants at the time, a dubious claim in light of the Assad regime’s long record of bombing civilians and all rebel groups indiscriminately in the name of combating “terrorism.”

Syria’s principal ally Russia regarded the U.S. attack on the Syrian warplane as a hostile act. It said that it would treat U.S.-led coalition planes and drones operating west of the Euphrates River where Russia’s air forces operate as “targets.” Russia also said it would suspend indefinitely the use of the communications channel that had been set up between the two countries for the purpose of reducing the potential for direct military confrontation between U.S. and Russian warplanes. Russia had made a similar threat after the U.S. missile strike on a Syrian airfield in retaliation for the Syrian regime’s alleged chemical attack on civilians last April, which turned out to be a hollow threat.

“All kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-country are a flagrant violation of international law and an actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.”

The Pentagon responded with a stern warning to the Russians that the U.S. would not be deterred in its support of coalition operations against ISIS. Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said coalition aircraft would continue conducting “operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for Coalition partner forces on the ground.”

General Jack Keane (Ret.), a Fox News military analyst, believes Russia is bluffing. “That’s rubbish,” Keane said on “Fox & Friends.”They’re not gonna shoot at U.S. airplanes. They’re not gonna take on the United States. They have very limited capability in Syria by comparison to U.S. capability.”

General Keane may be underestimating Russia’s defense capabilities in Syria, which include surface-to-air missiles. In particular, Russia’s S-400 air defense system is highly sophisticated, with a range of more than 200 miles. Nevertheless, the correct response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bullying is to push back in no uncertain terms. The United States cannot allow Russia to declare what amounts to a no-fly zone in Syria that would undermine the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against ISIS. The U.S. has not interfered with Russian aircraft operating in Syria. Nor should Russia interfere with ours. Not only would a surrender to Russian threats simply invite more Russian aggression. It would send a signal of weakness to ISIS and al Qaeda. And it would embolden Iran, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime along with Russia, to continue its quest for hegemony in the Middle East region.

In fact, Iran added to the seething Syrian cauldron on Sunday with its own launching of missiles into Syria. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps claimed the missiles were aimed at “the headquarters and meeting place and suicide car assembly line” of “ISIS terrorists.” However, nothing the Iranian regime says can be taken completely at face value. Iran is no doubt also sending a message to the U.S.- led coalition members and Israel that the gains the Syrians and Hezbollah forces have been making with Iran’s support in southern Syria, near the Israeli and Jordanian borders, would be defended with Iranian missiles if necessary. “The Saudis and Americans are especially receivers of this message,” Gen. Ramazan Sharif of the Revolutionary Guard told Iranian state TV in an interview, as quoted by the Associated Press. Moreover, whatever territory Iran helps Syrian forces and Hezbollah militia take away from rebel control, including from ISIS, increases Iranian control over strategic positions bridging Iraq and Syria. This in turn would enhance Iran’s so-called “Shia crescent.”

Whether the U.S. downing of the Syrian plane turns out to be just another bump in the road of the long conflict in Syria or represents a true inflection point, accelerating a potential direct collision between the United States and Russia, remains to be seen. However, the Trump administration needs to be clear-eyed in the strategic objectives it seeks to achieve in Syria to avoid getting drawn into a prolonged ground war. Regime change in Syria must not become the objective for its own sake. The disastrous outcomes in Iraq and Libya prove what can lie over the cliff of regime change.

Defeating ISIS should remain the number one objective. Containing Iran is also a key strategic objective, given its hegemonic ambitions and its state sponsorship of terrorism. We should not be fooled into thinking that Iran’s assistance in fighting ISIS will come without a heavy price that may turn out to be even more dangerous in the long run than ISIS to the U.S. national security interest.

As for Russia, we have little choice at this point but to live with its presence in Syria in support of the Assad regime, lest we risk an all-out military confrontation that could spin out of control. Efforts are already underway behind the scenes to lower tensions from the latest incident. A Russian official has clarified that Russia would only threaten coalition jets that “take action that pose a threat to Russian aircraft.” We can take reasonable steps to demonstrate that striking Russian aircraft is not our intention. However, the U.S. should not permit Russia to interfere in any way with the U.S.-led coalition fight against ISIS, which means not allowing Russia to put into effect its own version of a no-fly zone against coalition aircraft operating in support of coalition forces fighting ISIS anywhere in Syria. Russia should also not be permitted to shield the Syrian regime from a further military response if it once again uses lethal chemical weapons against its own people.

Most importantly, we need to stop being reactive and start thinking strategically. As Daniel Nidess, a guest columnist, wrote recently in Foreign Policy:

“We need to get back to playing chess — to deliberately planning several moves ahead and accepting that achieving some interests may mean temporarily sacrificing others. The alternative is to continue the trend of the last decade and a half of U.S. foreign policy, which has alternated between half-heartedly committing to our stated goals and sleepwalking through shortsighted escalations that lack clear objectives, both of which have left the U.S. worse off strategically.”

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Also see:

Democrats Finally Care About The Constitution, But Only If It Can Undermine Trump [VIDEO]

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) listens as Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin delivers remarks in the US Treasury Department building on April 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump is making his first visit to the Treasury Department for a memorandum signing ceremony with Secretary Mnuchin. Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images.

Daily Caller, by Ginni Thomas, May 6, 2017: (go to Daily Caller for the video)

President Donald Trump’s ideological opponents have opened up a serious challenge to governance since election day, according to one prolific scholar and national security expert.

Dr. J. Michael Waller, who has taught on subversion, propaganda and information warfare, says no other president has had his 100-day honeymoon stolen from him. Additionally, no other president has had their predecessor organizing private funds to undermine him as former President Barack Obama has done in concert with the left’s resistance to Trump.

Waller discusses the weaponization of government by Obama where he used the IRS, Department of Justice (DOJ), FBI and the national intelligence community against his political opponents, in this exclusive video interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation interview.

Did Obama’s FBI, CIA, NSA and DOJ meddle more in our national election than Russia? Did the Obama team use pretexts to allege Russian collaboration in order to spy on their political opponents?

Waller describes the various forces against Trump that make the president appear illegitimate. He names the militant extreme left, the permanent bureaucracy and mainstream elected Democrats who, with varying interlocking narratives, create a climate of fear, suspicion and hatred.

Commenting on the flimsy accusations by Democrats of Russian interference as part of this delegitimization project of the left, Waller reminds us that Democrats were calling conservatives “Russophobes” for holding on to Cold War antagonisms toward Russia recently.

Waller says, “This is the first time you have ever had left-wingers protesting Kremlin subversion of American politics and actually caring about the Constitution.”

The Congress should expand the one-sided Russian subversion probe about 2016, he says, since Russia has worked to subvert American political efforts with propaganda and disinformation since the 1920s. Waller has 13 memory-jarring reasons why the Democrats would find such an expanded probe uncomfortable, if only Republicans would consider such a tact.

Part of Waller’s list includes the “Anna Chapman case” in New York in 2010, where Russians penetrated the Democratic political machine in the Empire State. He also discusses the Clinton “pay for play” uranium deal that seemed to result in zero political outrage from congressional Republicans.

According to Waller, “George Soros is the number one private sponsor of subversion against the United States,” with the Chinese, Saudis and the Russians as the predominant state sponsors of subversion. Soros funds a full range of groups that seek to bring down America, including Black Lives Matter, which promotes murderous violence against police officers, drug legalization, and open border policies that threaten self-government and national security.

Waller thinks he seeks to “cripple institutions of national identity, national security and individual liberty insofar as it protects the constitutional rights of Americans.”

For more on Waller see his writings here or on his blog, or follow him on Twitter @JMichaelWaller.

Russia’s 4 Syrian ceasefire zones – Kremlin spin

Russian Gen. Sergei Rudskoy

DEBKAfile, May 6, 2017:

The widely reported Kremlin plan to set up four safe or “de-escalation” zones, that were supposed to have gone into effect in Syria Friday night, May 5, turns out to be nothing but a propaganda ploy. The spin factor leaps to the eye from the small print of the plan that was released by Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, head of Russian General Staffs Operations Division, Friday night.  He outlined four steps that may never take off

1. Observation points will be set up to monitor the ceasefire (in the four designated de-escalation zones).

So when the putative safe zones were to have started operating Friday night, there were no observation points to monitor them.

2. The boundaries of the zones will be determined in accordance with the observation points.

This means that the zones don’t exist.

3. By June 4, a working team made up of officers of the three guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be created to administer the observation points.

Who can tell what will happen in Syrian in a month’s time.

4. Only after the observation groups of the three sponsor-nations’ armies finish mapping the ceasefire zones can it be determined whether the plan is doable or not.

Still no zones.
The Russian propaganda machine worked overtime this weekend to convince the Western media that the ceasefire zones plan had won the support of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The truth is that US President Donald Trump did not commit himself one way or another when he talked on the phone with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, May 2, although most of their conversation was devoted to Syria, rather than the North Korean crisis. There was no agreement between them on any Syrian issue, except for a decision that American and Russian forces in the war-torn country would stay out of each other’s way.
In sum, Moscow’s ceasefire zones plan, though effectively propagandized, has changed nothing in Syria’s bloody predicament.

With so much still up in the air, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked by phone Friday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after which he gave the following statement: “The secretary looks forward to further meetings with the foreign minister to discuss the respective roles of the United States and Russia in de-escalating the conflict and supporting the talks in Geneva to move the political solution forward.”

Tillerson made no mention of any safe zones which Moscow claims to be setting up with Ankara and Tehran, or of the Russian-sponsored Syrian peace conference in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Rebel groups, supposed to be holding a dialogue with Assad regime representatives, walked out of its fourth round last week. And the Trump administration appears unwilling to throw its support behind the Russian-sponsored peace initiative, preferring to stand solidly behind the UN-sponsored Geneva process.

Turkey and Iran, the other two “sponsors” of the Astana framework, and putative “guarantors” of the safe zones, are strangely silent about the roles assigned them by the Kremlin. And no wonder. As rivals in the Syrian arena, their forces are ranged against each other in both Syria and Iraq. It is hard to see them working shoulder to shoulder alongside Russian officers to monitor safety zones which are still pie in the sky.

The situation at the moment is this: In Iraq, Turkish and Iranian troops – essentially pro-Iranian militias under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers – glare at each other across two warfronts, Tel Afar and Sinjar. In Syria, each of their armies is poised to grab Al-Bab in the Aleppo province.

The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command. This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.
This fundamental shift in the military balance in Syria was initiated by Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Suleiman, commander of Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq. He convinced supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that there was no other way to safeguard Iran’s military supremacy in the Syrian war arena, guarantee a land bridge to Lebanon, or mobilize tactically for future confrontations with Israel.
The Syrian ruler also submitted to this step. Therefore, Hizballah and the Shiite militias will henceforth operate under the orders of the Iranian military mission which has its seat at Syrian High Command Headquarters in Damascus.

This “reorganization” opens the door for Hizballah officers to assume Iranian army uniforms and act as “ceasefire monitors” if Russia’s fictitious safe zones ever get off the ground.

US warplanes among those barred from flying over Syria’s ‘safe zones’ in proposal

May 4: Russian lead negotiator on Syria Alexander Lavrentyev, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov and U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attend the fourth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan (Reuters)

Fox News, May 5, 2017:

U.S. and coalition military planes will not be allowed to fly over designated “safe zones” in Syria under a Russian proposal that has the backing of Iran and Turkey, reports said Friday.

The reports did not indicate how the airspace would be enforced and the overall proposal appeared to be a work in progress.

Russian official Alexander Lavrentyev suggested in peace talks on Friday that all military aircraft — including Russian and Turkish — would also be barred from the designated zones. Under the Russian plan, President Bashar Assad’s air force would halt flights over the safe zones.

Lavrentyev, whose remarks were carried by Russian news agencies, said “the operation of aviation in the de-escalation zones, especially of the forces of the international coalition, is absolutely not envisaged, either with notification or without. This question is closed.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he had a “very good” conversation over the phone with President Trump, and that his U.S. counterpart agreed to a proposal to establish Syrian safe zones to protect civilians in the war-torn country.

But the White House only confirmed that the two leaders discussed the safe zones, not that there were any agreements.

Reuters reported that countries such as Iran and Turkey have agreed on Moscow’s proposal for the “de-escalation zones.” The United Nations also welcomed the plan.

The proposal presented to the rebels in Astana delineates four zones in Syria where front lines between the government and rebels would be frozen and fighting halted, according to a statement made by the rebels. The four zones include areas in the provinces of Idlib and Homs, the eastern Ghouta suburbs outside Damascus, and an area in the south of the country.

The zones, according to the document received by rebels, would be monitored by international observers and allow for the voluntary return of refugees.

Late Wednesday, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Damascus is “fully backing” the Russian initiative on the four cease-fire areas, according to the state-run SANA news agency.

But Ahmed Ramadan, an opposition representative, told The Associated Press that rebels requested a written answer on a number of questions, including why the cease-fire would only be in effect in the four areas instead of a nationwide truce.

Also  see:

America Under Siege: Soviet Islam

Published on Apr 28, 2017 by Capital Research Center

The war against terror begins at the Kremlin.

With President Trump executing missile strikes in Syria and radical Islamic terrorism being as big a threat as it ever has been, we need to understand how these oppressive regimes and extremist ideologies got started and empowered. Working with Dangerous Documentaries, director Judd Saul and conservative commentator have compiled a team of researchers who have uncovered the history of the Soviet Union’s meddling in Middle Eastern politics, creating a new enemy for the United States, and learned that Russia’s continuing alliance with Islamists is forwarding a radical domestic threat in America today.

“Soviet Islam” is the second episode in the five-part “America Under Siege” documentary web-series releasing over the course of 2017. Each episode profiles the influence of radical Marxists on various segments of American society.

Putin Applies MH17 False-Flag Template To Syria’s Gas Attack To Convince Russian Public

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 12: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley attends a United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East where the ongoing conflict in Syria was discussed on April 12, 2017 in New York City. It is expected that the Security Council will vote later on Wednesday on a draft resolution demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of the suspected chemical attack last week. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Forbes, by Paul Roderick Gregory, April 13, 2017:

It should be a piece of cake for the Kremlin to convince the Russian people that the massacre of civilians by sarin gas in Idlibe, Syria was a false-flag operation undertaken to discredit Putin and his client, Bashar al-Assad. The rest of the world will believe the findings of international investigators that Syrian jets dropped bombs on the Syrian town, killing some 80 men, women and children with chemical poison gas. Putin’s job, however, is not to convince the world– but the Russian people — that client Assad is a victim of a vast conspiracy mounted by a combination of agents from the U.S., ISIS, Turkey and hostile Sunni states.

The Kremlin has already demonstrated its ability to convince the Russian people that an open-and-shut case, backed by an air-tight international investigation, was in fact a sinister U.S., CIA, NATO, Ukrainian false-flag operation to blame the Kremlin for the murder of 298 innocent passengers aboard Malaysian Airlines 17 flight over occupied Donetsk territory on July 17, 2014. This Syrian business should be easy to defuse compared to MH17.

Consider the MH17 evidence: Minutes after MH17 was downed, the rebel commander boasted on social media that his missiles had shot down a Ukrainian military plane. Insurgents on the crash scene reported with shock that it was a civilian plane. Phone intercepts captured communications as the missile crew was directed to the field from which it fired the missile. Social media posted pictures of the missile system fleeing back into Russia. Forensic evidence proved that the plane was downed by a missile (and not a trailing Ukrainian jet).

Within hours of MH17, the Kremlin mounted an incessant campaign to cast doubt on the overwhelming evidence. The Russian military staged a press conference with photoshopped images, false radar readings, reports of a Ukrainian pilot admitting he had shot down the plane, and fables that MH17 was loaded with dead bodies or that the attack was an assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin. As Russian denials mounted, the Dutch-based international investigations team appealed to the UN to create an international MH17 criminal tribunal to charge those Russians and rebels responsible for crimes against humanity. Russia vetoed the proposal in the Security Council, thereby indirectly admitting its guilt.

Russia’s campaign to deny the obvious paid off. Per the latest opinion poll, only 5% of Russians blame Russia and its separatist allies for MH17. Half believe MH17 was downed by Ukrainian forces, and 14% say it was Western special services. On the other hand, 80% of Americans believe that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile and 84% hold Russia directly or indirectly responsible.

Fast forward to the Syrian gas attack: Within hours, Putin’s press secretary floated the false-flag theory (backed by the Russian defense ministry) that the Syrian air force unwittingly exploded a local chemical weapons depot as it dropped conventional bombs. The chemical weapons, per the Russian spokesman, had been brought into Idlibe from Iraq. The Assad government took up this line of argument stating the poison gas was released after its military planes dropped conventional bombs on a local terrorist arms depot, which happened to contain chemical weapons.

An investigation of these competing claims could be conducted rather quickly. A storage facility full of sarin gas could presumably be identified and detected by technical experts, and the facility would have to be in a crater caused by a Syrian bomb. If there is no evidence of a local chemical weapons storage depot, then the Russian-Syrian false flag story falls apart. Although Syria has offered international inspectors access to its Shayrat air force base, presumably they have had time to remove traces of poison gas.

Despite this simple procedure for assigning responsibility, Putin will clearly be able to convince his people that his client is being framed and that Russia is not backing a monster. Putin can cite the support of the “Bush lied about Iraq’s WMD” crowd, who argue that President Trump acted too hastily without adequate evidence. “Manchurian candidate Trump” adherents will argue that the bombing was a diversion arranged between soul mates Trump and Putin to divert attention from their conspiracies. Putin will even find allies among U.S. isolationists upset by Trump’s intervention in a foreign war.

The Kremlin had to fight the entire international community in convincing the Russian people that Russia was blameless in the shooting down of MH17. In the case of the Idlibe chemical weapons attack, Putin has a formidable army of Western skeptics on his side. Few understand that in such cases Putin’s primary objective is to keep the Russian people on his side. If he can convince the international community, so much the better. With anti-Trump supporters the world over potentially on his side, Putin has a chance of winning not only Russian minds but Western minds as well.

In their April 12 meeting, the foreign ministers of Russia and the United States agreed to a UN investigation of the Idlibe bombing. Russia will pressure its allies into a long and inconclusive exercise and will ignore results that point to blame of the Assad regime.

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Also see:

How to Oust Assad (If We Decide To)

Family Security Matters, by N. M. GUARIGLIA, April 12, 2017:

It would require cooperation from Russia.

Sean Davis, a co-founder of The Federalist, has written a very timely piece outlining the top fourteen questions America must ask itself should President Trump eventually expand on last week’s airstrikes and decide to remove Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from power.  As Davis states: “We owe it to the American men and women whose blood was shed in Iraq, and their families, to not repeat the same mistakes we made there in Syria.  We owe it to the men and women who would be deployed overseas to have a clear understanding of our political goals in Syria, what military resources will be required to achieve them, and what risks we face, both militarily and politically, as a result of approving military action to remove Assad.”

Indeed.  Therefore, allow me to humbly address these concerns one by one.

Question 1: “What national security interest, rather than pure humanitarian interest, is served by the use of American military power to depose Assad’s regime?”

Answer: This presumes military power is necessary to depose Assad; a presumption America should not automatically make.  American foreign policy history is littered with examples of nonviolent regime change (the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes among the most prominent).  Regime change can be done through political means, not just military means.  In fact, nonviolent regime change can avoid a war.

As for our national security interest, the answer is straightforward: with the death of Saddam Hussein over a decade ago, Bashar al-Assad is among a handful of living men – perhaps the only living man – to have crossed the calamitous threshold of having used a weapon of mass destruction.  And he has done so multiple times.  Removing Assad from power would deny his ability to do so again.  It is not out of the realm of imagination for Syrian intelligence operatives – or terrorists employed by Syria – to release sarin gas in crowded American cities.  In short, those Syrian children we have seen grasping for air on television could very easily be American children.

The Assad dynasty has been an enemy of America for decades.  Assad remains one of the world’s leading state sponsors of jihadist terrorism.  Should Assad fall, the world’s primary state sponsor of jihadist terrorism, Iran, would lose its chief ally.  Terrorist groups like Hezbollah would lose their principle supporter.  A regime responsible for murdering hundreds of American soldiers and Marines would be brought to justice (if you consider this hyperbole, research the role that the “Syrian ratlines” played in Anbar Province during Gulf War II).

Assad is a genocidal monster and his longtime hostility toward the West should not be taken lightly simply because he is currently engaged in a turf war with ISIS. 

Question 2: “How will deposing Assad make America safer?”

Answer: This is similar to the first question and therefore contains the same answers.  If Assad were to vanish tomorrow and be replaced by a non-hostile strongman – someone like General Sisi in Egypt or King Abdullah in Jordan – the anti-ISIS coalition in Syria would be unified.  No longer would a large percentage of Syrian people feel obligated to fight both ISIS and the Syrian government, thereby dividing their efforts.  Instead, the new Syrian leader, if he were adequately benevolent and did not use chemical weapons on the Syrian people, could unite the Syrian military with the anti-ISIS rebels.  Rather than have a three-way regional war with Russia, Iran, and Syria’s leadership in one corner, America and ragtag Syrian rebels in another corner, and ISIS in the third corner, we could instead craft a three-on-one alliance with America, Russia, and Syria’s new leadership uniting together against ISIS, cutting the Iranians out entirely from their traditional sphere of influence along the Mediterranean.  That would expedite the defeat of ISIS and make America safer.  It would kill three strategic birds (Assad, Iran, ISIS) with one tactical stone. 

Question 3: “What does final political victory in Syria look like (be specific), and how long will it take for that political victory to be achieved?  Do you consider victory to be destabilization of Assad, the removal of Assad, the creation of a stable government that can protect itself and its people without additional assistance from the United States, etc.?”

Answer: We do not need to turn Syria into a liberal democracy to achieve our political and strategic objectives.  Final political victory in Syria would probably look much like Jordan today; a relatively benign government at peace with its neighbors and within its own borders.  That means no Assad.  That means no ISIS.  Both of those objectives are entirely within our grasp, especially if we work in concert with Russia (or I should say, if Russia works in concert with us).

As for how long it will take: who knows?  As long as America is not taking casualties – and not throwing billions down a bottomless pit with no end in sight – does the length of our “involvement” really matter?  We have provided logistical support to the Jordanians and Egyptians for decades.  Nobody cares.  We have been conducting an air campaign over Yemen and Somalia for years.  Nobody cares.  We may require a similar posture toward Syria in a post-Assad environment.

At this time, it appears President Trump has no interest in using military action to overthrow Assad from power.  Very well.  But if events in Syria lead to that outcome, given the emphasis with which Secretary of Defense Mattis has placed on speed and operational tempo, I suspect any overt U.S. military intervention in Syria would be overwhelming, devastating, and swift – taking days and weeks, not months and years.

Question 4: “What military resources (e.g., ground troops), diplomatic resources, and financial resources will be required to achieve this political victory?”

Answer: This is a great question to which I do not have the answer.  And it certainly must be answered.  It would depend upon how we go about it strategically.  In the event that overt military force is used – even if conventional ground forces were used – there is no reason to believe that would necessitate a years-long military occupation and nation-building effort.  President Trump is famously averse to nation-building (and for good reason).  He wants the U.S. military to be the SWAT team that kicks the door down; not the meter-maid handing out parking tickets.  This is to his credit.

In fact, Trump’s view of how the military should be used has always been the traditional American view.  It has only been since the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of World War II that we decided to tie our hands to long-term reconstruction efforts in all postbellum environments.  Before going into Iraq, Colin Powell famously warned George W. Bush of the Pottery Barn rule: “If you break it, you own it.”  Lame.  I suspect Trump’s view of war is to break things without taking on the contemporary obligation of making them nicer after doing so.  Cheers to that.  Breaking things is fast, easy, and cheap.

Question 5: “How long will it take to achieve political victory?”

Answer: This is similar to Question 3.  Military force and political victory are admittedly two separate concepts.  Syria has been in a state of civil war for the better part of six years.  I believe “political victory” would take less than that.  Much less.  Indeed, militarily speaking, ISIS in Syria already seems to be on the ropes.  Removing Assad from office could take days or weeks.  The final destruction of ISIS may take another six months.  In short, the length of any regime change effort is completely unknowable, and would entirely depend upon the nature of our strategy.  If America and Russia were to work together, I do not see why Assad should last more than a few hours.  Perhaps Putin will eventually offer the Assads an asylum package?

Question 6: “What costs, in terms of lives (both military and civilian), dollars, and forgone options elsewhere as a result of resource deployment in Syria, will be required to achieve political victory?”

Answer: This is a question for the U.S. Congress.  America is a constitutional republic that requires the will of the people to go to war.  Therefore, in order for our national wars to be politically sustainable, they should be won as quickly as possible.  Our strategic and political objectives must be clearly defined and limited enough so that they are obtainable through military operations.  If an American war takes longer than 90 days, results in more than 300 dead Americans, and costs more than 5% of the annual defense budget, we’re probably doing it wrong.

Question 7: “What other countries will join the United States in deposing Assad, in terms of military, monetary, or diplomatic resources?”

Answer: England and France would join.  As would Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others Sunni Arab states fearful of both ISIS and the Iranians.  Israel would join too, of course, although we may want them to sit on the sidelines for geopolitical reasons.

But the real key would be to obtain Russian support.  Russia has upwards of 4,000 troops in Syria, all of whom are currently supporting the Assad regime.  So it seems at the moment almost preposterous to seek Russian support in the removal of Assad, does it not?  However, I believe this is where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – who has known Vladimir Putin for many years – could work his diplomacy.  In fact, the presence of Russia within Syria may even accelerate the speed with which Assad could be overthrown.

For starters, America does not want to inadvertently kill Russian soldiers in Syria.  Such an event could potentially lead to World War III.  Therefore, since neither America nor Russia want nuclear apocalypse, I believe both countries are likely to deepen coordination efforts in Syria so as to avoid unintentional friendly-fire.

Secondly, we should not forget that Russia was supposed to disarm Assad of his chemical weapons in 2013 as a precondition for President Obama not enforcing his feckless “red line.”  Whether intentional or not, Russia clearly did not fully disarm Assad.  The international community has every right to hold Russia to account for such negligence; the mere threat of doing so may force Moscow to cut ties with Assad.  Why should Moscow expend enormous geopolitical capital defending a man they could easily replace?

Of course, enlisting the support of Russia would come at a price.  Putin would likely demand something significant from America in exchange for turning his back on Assad.  The question is: what would that be?  Therein lies the foundation of negotiations that one could reasonably conclude are about to take place.

Question 8: “Should explicit congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria be required, or should the president take action without congressional approval?”

Answer: Many lawyers believe the War Powers Resolution gives President Trump 60 days to conduct military operations before needing congressional authority.  Many lawyers and constitutional experts disagree.  It’s a moot point if we pursue regime change non-militarily in coordination with Russia.

Question 9: “What is the risk of wider conflict with Russia, given that nation’s presence and stake in Syria, if the United States chooses to invade and depose Assad, a key Russian ally in the Middle East?”

Answer: The entire premise of deposing Assad non-militarily is that it should incorporate Russian assistance so as to avoid precisely this risk.

Question 10: “If U.S. intervention in Syria does spark a larger war with Russia, what does political victory in that scenario look like, and what costs will it entail?”

Answer: A war with Russia would be TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it).  There would be no political victory.  Those of us that survive the fallout would spend the rest of our days eating squirrels in the woods.  That’s why it likely won’t happen.  A half-century of nuclear deterrence and the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” has proven that the Russians prefer their own existence to the annihilation of America.  We feel the same way.  One must believe that rational minds will yet again prevail before tensions begin to even approach this point.

Question 11: “Given that Assad has already demonstrated a willingness to use chemical weapons, how should the United States respond if the Assad regime deploys chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against the United States?”

Answer: Assuming U.S. ground forces are used – a bold assumption that I do not believe will come to fruition – we will be faced with the same question we were forced to address prior to invading Iraq in 2003: what do we do if the regime we are overthrowing uses WMD on our troops?  The answer, as far as I can tell, is the same as it was then, and two-fold: protect U.S. ground forces with CBRN Hazmat suits and retaliate against any WMD usage with the wrath of an angry psychotic god.

It is worth recalling the reason Assad does not today have nuclear weapons (by way of North Korean scientists): because the Israelis took aggressive military action on a secret Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

Question 12: “Assuming the Assad regime is successfully removed from power, what type of government structure will be used to replace Assad, who will select that government, and how will that government establish and maintain stability going forward?”

Answer: If America and Russia both agree to replace Assad together, then the new leader would be someone that has the backing of both America and Russia.  This person could be found within the existing Syrian polity or from the outside.  So long as the new leader sufficiently breaks with the Iranians and continues to fight ISIS, America’s interests are met.  Once the insurgency is squashed and the civil war has ended, then Syria’s political future would belong to the Syrian people.  The goal must be to find someone that: a) won’t use WMD against innocent people; b) won’t support terrorist organizations; and c) won’t be a stooge of the Iranian government.

Question 13: “Given that a change in political power in the United States radically altered the American position in Iraq in 2009, how will you mitigate or address the risk of a similar political dynamic upending your preferred strategy in Syria, either in 2018, 2020, or beyond?” 

Answer: This question presumes Republican losses in 2018 and 2020.  Nevertheless, given his “America First” rhetoric and campaign pledges, I cannot envision a scenario whereby President Trump agrees to a Syria strategy that ties America’s hands for years to come.

Question 14: “What lessons did you learn from America’s failure to achieve and maintain political victory following the removal of governments in Iraq and Libya, and how will you apply those lessons to a potential war in Syria?”

Answer: The primary lesson from Iraq and Libya is to have a political alternative ready to assume control once we have ousted the regime in question.  It only makes logical sense to pursue regime change in Syria if such a political alternative is identified prior to removing Assad.  This would require enlisting Russian support.

Putin turning his back on Assad might seem improbable.  But it certainly isn’t impossible.  When Trump and Putin put their dalliance aside and get down to truly negotiating about the future of the world, it is not unreasonable for the American side of table to bring up the replacement of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.