Is there a better option than “limited strikes” in Syria?


Updated graphic and Minnesota delegation stance on a “limited strike” on Capitol View as positions become clear.

As members of Congress decide whether to support President Obama’s request for authorization to attack the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons on civilians and rebels, other potential responses have received less attention.

Limited U.S. strikes

The option we’ve heard the most about. MPR News reporter Brett Neely writes:

Sen. Al Franken (D) –  “This is not boots on the ground, this is sending cruise missiles in, and this is a contained and limited engagement,” said Franken in a Sept. 3 interview with MPR News. UPDATE: Franken’s office said on Sept. 5 that Franken continues to review the intelligence and the language of the resolution adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday in order to make sure any potential military action is limited in scope.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D) – “This atrocity violates the most basic international standards of acceptable behavior, even in war, and it is too egregious to ignore. President Obama is correct – a forceful, coordinated international response to the Assad regime’s crimes is needed. Yet, an open-ended, poorly defined authorization for the use of military force is not acceptable to me, but neither is the prospect of doing nothing in the face of this evil act against innocent civilians,” said McCollum in a Sept. 5 statement, noting that she backs a narrower resolution authorizing the use of force than proposed by Obama.

More humanitarian aid

“Two million Syrians have now fled their homeland and more than 4 million are displaced internally, according to the United Nations. Combined, that’s more than a quarter of the country’s 23 million people,” writes NPR’s Greg Myre. “This is placing tremendous strain on neighboring states like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.”

“The United Nations says it needs another three-and-a-half billion dollars to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis up to the end of this year,” reports the BBC.

In less than a year, the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan “has grown into an instant city, with 120,000 residents who have fled the war in Syria, sheltered in trailers and tents,” writes NPR’s Deborah Amos and Peter Breslow.

Arm the rebels

NPR’s Myre outlines the latest thinking on this option:

President Obama said in June that the U.S., which has been providing nonlethal aid to the rebels, would begin supplying arms to moderate rebel groups. However, the details have never been released and the arms have yet to start flowing.

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and a leading proponent of more robust action, said it was “shameful” that the weapons have not reached the rebels.

“We should have done it two years ago,” McCain said Monday after he discussed Syria policy with Obama at the White House.

If and when the weapons do reach the rebels, they are expected to consist of rifles and bullets and other small-bore arms, and not heavier stuff like anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

Some U.S. officials are wary of providing large quantities of heavy weapons to the rebels, arguing that the opposition is a mixed bag, ranging from secular fighters who favor a democratic Syria to Islamist extremists aligned with al-Qaida.

NPR’s Tom Bowman reported that the CIA is already training small numbers of rebels in Jordan, and now there’s talk of calling on the U.S. Army to expand those efforts. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told Congress that building up the rebels could be a more promising option than U.S. military strikes.

A sustained U.S. attack
More from NPR’s Myre:

Support for this option appears quite limited, but there are some, like McCain, who are calling for robust military action with the goal of driving Assad from power.

“We have to pay attention to this region and we have to bring Bashar Assad down,” McCain said.

U.S. firepower has been decisive in removing, or helping remove, several groups and leaders in the past decade, including the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003 and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya in 2011. Yet all of those countries remain unstable to this day.

The U.S. could neutralize Syria’s air power advantage and put the Syrian military on the defensive, giving the rebels the opportunity to advance.

But given the extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has been adamant that the U.S. will not engage in a lengthy fight in Syria and has emphasized that U.S. ground troops will not set foot there.

Yet long before the current debate, U.S. military leaders said it would take tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Syria to properly secure that country’s extensive chemical weapons stockpile.

Multiple opinion polls show a solid majority of Americans oppose any military intervention. And aside from France and Turkey, the international community largely rejects military action. If you choose this course, you would be largely on your own.

Today’s Question: Is there a better option than “limited strikes” in Syria?