Thursday, September 5, 2013

A tentative survey of possible US attack options, Resistance responses and US counter-responses

At this point in time when an overt US military attack on Syria appear certain, it could be interesting to look at the choice of options President Obama has, how the Resistance could respond, and how then the US Empire would react to that.  But before looking into this, I would like to begin with a few basic but important reminders:

Reminder one: The Supreme crime of international law

In international law the worst crime of all is not genocide or crimes against humanity, it is the crime of war of aggression.  This crime can be defined as the execution of any one of the following acts:
  • Declaration of war upon another State.
  • Invasion by its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State.
  • Attack by its land, naval or air forces, with or without a declaration of war, on the territory, vessels or aircraft of another State.
  • Naval blockade of the coasts or ports of another State.
  • Provision of support to armed bands formed in its territory which have invaded the territory of another State, or refusal, notwithstanding the request of the invaded State, to take, in its own territory, all the measures in its power to deprive those bands of all assistance or protection.
From this list we can immediately see that the US, NATO and the EU are already guilty of the crime of war of aggression because they are arming and financing the insurgency in Syria.

Still, an overt US attack on Syria would not only be a 2nd crime of war of aggression, it would also be a far more serious and blatant - "in your face" - crime of war of aggression.

It is also important to remind here why the crime of "war of aggression" has been singled out as even worse than genocide or crimes against humanity. The worst possible crime is the crime of *aggression* because, according to the experts who set up the Nuremberg Tribunal, the crime of aggression "contains" all the other crimes (by the way, the International Criminal Court takes the same position). In the words of the chief American prosecutor at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson,
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
 In other words, international law does not recognize such niceties such as "shots across the bow", or "limited targeted strikes" or all the other doublespeak euphemisms used by the US Empire.  In fact, the US President, most of his Staff and the entire Congress already deserve to be arrested and taken to a Nuremberg-type of tribunal to be judged for the crime of war of aggression.  If the Congress approves Obama's plan for an attack on Syria, they will deserve this twice!

I know, the ICC will not suddenly grow a spine and charge the "Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the Free World" with war crimes.  They are too busy harassing petty African thugs.  But the fact that the ICC has no spine is no excuse for the rest of us to give up our brains: we should all remain acutely aware of the fact that what all these "millionaire lawyers on the Hill" (aka Congressmen) are calmly discussing is a crime which should land them in front of a 21st century version of the Nuremberg trial.

What about Assad?  What if he did use chemical weapons and what if he used them deliberately, would he deserve to be taken to a Nuremberg-like tribunal?  Yes, most definitely.  But on a lesser charge of warcrimes, crimes against humanity and violation of the laws of war.

Reminder two: chemical weapons

The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare forbids the use of chemical weapons, but allows their manufacturing and storage.  The  Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (aka CWC) actually bans the manufacture and storage of such weapons. Russia and the USA entered the CWC with a stockpile of chemical weapons while the DPRK and Syria never signed this convention.  In other words, the use of chemical weapons by Syria would constitute a war crime even if Syria is not a signatory state to the CWC.  This is an important thing to remember when we consider possible Syrian responses to a US attack.

Now let's look at the basic US options.

Faces of the Empire
Option one: "shot across the bow" aka "sissy option"

In this case, we are talking about an extremely limited strike.  Something in the range of 50 or so cruise missile to destroy a few buildings and a couple of radars.  This is a short attack (3 days or so) and this is a symbolic attack (no meaningful result sought).  This seemed to have been the initial idea of Obama, Hagel and Kerry and the sole purpose here is the "send a message" to Assad: "stop using these weapons or else...".

Option two: a meaningful attack, but limited in scope and time

In this case, we are talking about the destruction of a number of military targets: bases, depots, bridges, supply dumps, bunker, command posts, armor concentrations, airfields, etc.  The main difference with the previous one is that the mission is only considered completed when the list of targets is confirmed to be destroyed.  Again, this is also a "message" of sorts, but one which is contained not in the fact of the attack itself, but on the destruction of a number of Syrian government assets.

Option three: regime change

In this case, there is no "message" sent at all.  The goal of this operation is to sufficiently tilt the balance in the Syrian war to grant the victory to the insurgency.  This probably will require the establishment of US air supremacy area over Syria which, in turn, would require an almost total destruction of the Syrian Air Force (easy) and Air Defense Forces (hard) and that, in turn, would require an almost total destruction of the Syrian government's capabilities to operation.  In other words, regime change.

Of course, the real choice of options is anything in between doing nothing and occupying Syria, but we can immediately see one striking feature of the examples given above: while it would probably be rather easy to distinguish option one from option two and three, it would be very hard to tell option two from option three, in particular at the beginning of the US attack.

Even if we assume that the real reason why the US will attack Syria is only the consequence of Obama looking stupid after having spoken about a "red line" and the desire for Obama to now save face and even if we assume that the US has no other objective than to restore credibility, it remains true that on the receiving end of this "credibility restoration operation" it will be extremely hard to guess what the US is really doing unless Obama chooses a really minimalist version of option one and sticks to it. Just look at these options from the point of view of the Syrian military and Hezbollah - how would you tell apart options two and three?

This dilemma is made worse by the evident fact that the US does not really have a policy in the Middle-East in general, and in Syria in particular.  The closest possible thing to a policy objective for Obama in the Middle-East would be something like "appease AIPAC and the KSA at the minimal possible cost and while not looking like a doormat".

Finally, to make things even worse, this absence of a clear policy is made even more problematic by the absolutely fantastic propensity of US politicians to lie combined with their equally fantastic lack of any kind of morals, ethnics or principles (other than, again, "appease AIPAC and the KSA at the minimal possible cost and while not looking like a doormat").

Ask yourself - why are the Russians so easy to predict?  Why is it that any person with a basic knowledge of Russian policy statements can easily predict the Russian policy on Syria?  Or why is it that the Russian policy on Syria has not changed at all during the past years?  The answer is simple: regardless of whether Putin or Medvedev happens to be in the Presidential seat, Russia is committed to the respect for international law.  And not due to some natural Russian inclination for being law abiding (a short trip to Russia will easily convince you of the polar opposite!), but because have an international system based on the rule of law is a fundamental goal of Russian national strategy.  The individual inclinations and (very real) differences between Putin and Medvedev will simply not affect this basic policy goal.

Contrast that with the USA which basically is willing to consider the demands of international law in only two circumstances: when they happen to coincide with US interests or when they can be used to harass a not sufficiently obedient foreign head of state.  Period.

Having now looked into the quasi-impossibility for Hezbollah and Syria to distinguish between anything other than option one and the rest, let's look at possible response strategies of the Resistance:

Faces of the Resistance

Resistance responses to the "sissy option":

The first clear objective of the Resistance if confronted by a US execution of the "sissy option" would have to be to do whatever it takes to encourage Obama not to escalate to further options.  Short of sending the White House a "thank you" note with a bouquet from Interflora this probably means doing very little.  Some declarations of outrage with possibly a missile shot at the waters of the Mediterranean (making sure not to hit anybody) would probably be enough to look defiant and determined.  Yes, this would still be rather humiliating, but I would hope that, unlike Obama, Assad and Nasrallah are less obsessed about looking macho than about doing the smart thing.

Resistance responses a meaningful attack, but limited in scope and time

That is a very very tough one.  Not only would it be most difficult to distinguish between option two and option three, any delays in reacting to an option three executed under the guises of an option two would be most damaging for the Resistance (see below).  Purely theoretically, in an ideal world, the correct response to the execution of option to is to respond in kind: with a meaningful counter-attack also limited in scope and time.  But this is not how this works in the real world.

The USA has probably the choice of 1000 or so possible targets in Syria whereas the Syrians have an extremely limited number of options: they can only attack one US base (Incirlik in Turkey), they can try to hit some USN ship in the Mediterranean, but those will fire their cruise missile way beyond the reach of the Syrian "Yahonts", they can strike at Jordan out of spite and for no good reason or they can strike at Turkey or Israel.  Which of those would you pick for a "meaningful attack, but limited in scope".  At face value, the only one which qualifies would be an attack on Jordan, but even that one would be short on "meaningful".  As for hitting Incirlik, Turkey or Israel, that would be meaningful alright, but that would hardly appear as de-escalatory to the White House and Congress.  Attacking Incirlik would be the morally most defendable choice - its retaliating against an enemy who attacked first: the US military.  Hitting anywhere else in Turkey would mean attacking NATO, but then even an attack on Incirlik could be interpreted this way.

One very real option would be to execute a limited attack on Israel, but knowing the pathologically macho (not to mention racist) mindset of the Israelis, this would also almost guarantee an Israeli response which would lead to further escalation.  True, during the First Gulf War the Israelis absorbed a barrage of Scud missiles from Saddam Hussein, but that was at a time when two really powerful figures were sitting in the White House, George Bush Senior and, especially, James Baker and those two took no orders from the Israelis (this is also why the lost the election after winning that war).  But with a non-entity like Obama in the White House and Macho-Man Netanyahu in Israel it would be crazy to expect the Israelis to show some wisdom.

In theory, in a completely virtual perfect world, the US and the Resistance could chose to communicate through a third party (like Russia) and jointly work to keep things under some kind of rational control: we punch you, you punch as back, we both stop, declare victory, and resume business as usual.  Alas, this is the real Middle-East and not some ideal virtual world.

Though I cannot dismiss such a possibility completely, I honestly do not see how the execution of option two by the USA could be contained and prevented from very rapidly trigger a response to an option three which then, would in turn trigger a US escalation to the execution of option three (that sounds like a Rumsfeld sentence, let me try again).  In other words, I don't see how the Resistance could decide that what the USA is doing is a "meaningful attack, but limited in scope" and I do not see how a ""meaningful response, but limited in scope" by the Resistance would fail to trigger a further escalation by the USA into a full-scale "regime change" kind of operation.

Not good.

Resistance responses a "regime change" kind of attack: 

Let's fully define what we are talking about here: we are talking about putting the Wahabi liver-eaters into power in Damascus thereby creating an existential threat to all non-Wahabis in Syria.  This also means surrounding Hezbollah in Lebanon, cutting it off from Iran.  This would also result in a major boost for the position of the Wahabis in Iraq who are already busy murdering the Iraqi Shia is large numbers on a daily basis.  Hezbollah has already clearly indicated that it would fight regime change in Syria with everything it has.  As for the Iranians, they have already stated that  they "will be ready to sacrifice their lives beside their Syrian brothers against the (front) line of infidels and oppressors" and that "Iran will support Syria "to the end" in the face of a possible US-led military strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad".

Keep in mind here that there are huge differences between Syria and Iran.  If Syria has a very limited number of possible targets for a retaliation, Iran has many hundred possible targets to pick from (pretty much all of CENTCOM). And, again unlike Syria, Iran does have the means to hit them and hit them hard.  Just imagine what a determined Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia would look like with aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles, ships, commandos, etc. all attacking at the same time.  And yes, CENCOM would use all of its huge resources to stop as many of them as possible, but enough would reach their targets, no doubt in my mind at all.  Iran also could try to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.  I believe that the USN has what it takes to re-open it, but only at the cost of a major battle including (Marine) boots on the ground along the Iranian Gulf coast.  

The big unknown: will Iran intervene and, if yes, how?

So the $10'000 question is: will the Iranians intervene and, if yes, how?  Turns out that they also have two very different options.

If the Iranians decide that what is happening is not a "regime change kind of attack" they can respond by sending as many trained Iranian combatants to protect key cities and locations in Syria.  Remember that in case of option #2 Hezbollah will already have its hands full in Lebanon.  Also, even option two carries with it the very real risk of a determined counter-offensive by the Wahabi cannibals whose morale will be buoyed by the US intervention to save their sorry asses from complete defeat.  
[Note in the margin: Something to think about. Now here is a really bizarre paradox worth thinking about: an Iranian intervention in Syria might be exactly what would guarantee that option #2 (meaningful but limited) does not escalate into option #3 (regime change).  So if Obama was really smart and if his supreme objective was to prevent the entire Middle-East from blowing up he should actually (if privately) welcome an Iranian intervention in Syria.  If the Americans had a tradition of subtle international politics they could "hint" to the Iranians that if they decided to move trained combatants into Syria the US would look the other way (admitting it being politically impossible).  This would reassure both Iran and Hezbollah and thereby prevent a regional explosion but, alas, I don't expect this kind of subtle thinking from the knuckleheads in the White House (nevermind Congress).]
Now let's look at the third option from the point of view of Hezbollah.  Simply put - they cannot accept that.  Period.  That, in turn, means that they should do everything they can to prevent that.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

There are two basic way from deterring an attack:

a) have the means to prevent it
b) have the means to inflict unacceptable retaliatory damage on the attacker

Hezbollah does not have the means to prevent any US attack on Syria.  Neither does Iran, for that matter.  So all that's left for Hezbollah is punishment and that it most definitely can deliver on the "Holiest of Holies" of the US wordview: "the Jewish state of Israel, our eternal ally and only democracy in the Middle-East, amen!" aka the "Zionist entity".

That not only would make sense, it would be fair enough considering that its the Ziolobby which, again, has been pushing for this war.  So let these SOBs pay.  Remember how they organized fun parties and picnics to watch the IDF drown Gaza in bombs and white phosphorus?  Well, what is coming their way now might be called Karma, let's see how they like it.

No doubt at all, the Israeli and US reaction to this will be every bit as vicious as what the Israelis did for 33 days in 2006.  But the important thing to remember is that the Israelis caved in, completely beat and humiliated.  If Syria and Hezbollah embark upon an absolutely determined campaign to make Israel pay for every US strike on Syria the Israelis and Americans will have to accept a ceasefire, especially if Iran also gets involved and strikes the KSA and/or closes the Strait of Hormuz.

Now to sum it all up, here are my basic conclusions about the options available to both sides:

1) The US does not have any halfway sane option here except the first "shot across the bow" or "sissy option" option.  And even this one is frankly very dangerous.  All the other options are extremely dangerous due to their extremely high escalatory potential.

2) The Resistance best option is to get as many trained soldiers into Syria as possible and as fast as possible.  Since Hezbollah will be busy, this means Iranian soldiers.  This response is the most de-escalatory but it can also be part of a massive retaliation strategy should the USA go crazy and start a regional war.

I want to clarify here that by "trained soldiers" I do not mean full military units, at least not bigger than a company.  The requirement here is pretty much what Hezbollah offered around Qusayr, but in much bigger numbers and next to every important objective already in government hands.  Again, the goal here is to prevent the Wahabi cannibals from using the US attack as a cover for a new offensive on the ground.

This also leaves one important question: in case of a massive US "regime change" kind of attack, should Syria use its chemical weapons.  My personal feeling is that no, it should not.  Not only is the use of these weapons illegal, it is also morally repugnant and, frankly, militarily both rather useless and very dangerous.

Make no mistake, on reason why so many countries were so willing to renounce the use of such weapons is simply because they are not terrible effective.  All chemical weapons can do is kill civilians.  But in terms of killing military forces they are rather ineffective.  Almost all modern armies train to fight under chemical attack conditions and while being in a chem-suit with a gas mask is certainly a most annoying and even aggravating situation, this will not stop a unit from performing its mission.  At most, you can degrade the performance of your adversary, but you will not stop him.  Is it worth the risk considering that you might yourself be the target of a far more effective conventional or even nuclear strike?

Governments all hold on to their nukes because nukes are really very effective warfighting weapons.  You can stop the attack of an entire tank battalion with just one nuke - something which no chemical weapon can do.  With nuclear weapons you can completely destroy an entire airfield or government command center.  You have zero chance to do that with chemical weapons.  A single nuclear warhead can sink an aircraft carrier and a good part of the battle group around it.  No amount of chemical munitions will ever do that.

Syria has always kept a large amount of chemical weapons for the sole purpose of deterring an Israeli nuclear strike on Syria.  These weapons were seen as the retaliatory weapon of last resort (since the Israeli reaction to any use of chemical munitions against its population is rather easy to guess).  But, frankly, in terms of warfighting these weapons are useless.

Conclusion: learning from the mistakes of the Serbs.

The Shia of the Middle-East are now exactly in the same situation as the Serbian nation was in the early 1990s: the Empire has decided to crush it.  And just as was the case with the Serbs in the 1990s, the Empire does not have the means to crush all the Shia in one operation.  This is why the Empire began by attacking the Serbian UNPAs (UN Protected Areas) in Croatia, then it continued and split the Bosnian-Serbs from the Yugoslav-Serbs and it attacked the Bosnian Serbs.  Having crushed the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia (where the Serbs had already won the civil war, just like Hezbollah and the Syrian government have won their civil wars in Lebanon and Syria), the Empire then turned to Kosovo and, again, split the Kosovo-Serbs from the Serbs of Serbia and Montenegro, to then crush them there. Finally, the Empire supported the separatist forces in Montenegro and all that is left of Serbia now is a mini-Serbia with a possible separatist problem in the south (Albanians again) and north (Hungarians of Vojvodina).  So when we want to see what the Empire has in mind for Lebanon think Bosnia, and to guess what the Empire wants for Iran, think modern Serbia.  The irony is that the motto of the Serbian nation has always been "only unity can save Serbia" (Само слога Србина спасава).
Hassan Nasrallah

It is crucial, vital really, for the Shia to avoid the same mistake as the one committed by the Serbs.  The good news is that the Shia are blessed with extremely smart, wise and principled leaders like Nasrallah and Khamenei, whereas the Serbs were lead by a crook: Milosevic - an ex-banker and ex-communist. Assad is more on par with Radovan Karadzic - not as bad as Milosevic but a million miles 
away from a figure like Nasrallah.

If, unlike the Serbs, the Shia really can stick together as one united force not matter what, I predict with a high degree of confidence that the US and Israel will completely fail in their plans and that they will suffer a humiliating defeat.  But if they allow themselves to be separated into different groups they will fall one by one, just as the Serbs did: first Syria, then Hezbollah and thereafter Iran which the Empire will "allow" to remain something as marginal and irrelevant as modern Serbia.  But if the Shia remain united they can first defeat the US Empire in its war against Syria, after which it will have no appetite left for an attack on Iran.  And once the Zio-American attack on Iran finally becomes unthinkable, the Shia will be able to turn their full attention to dealing with  the three malignant tumors of the Middle-East: the Ottomans, the Wahabis and, finally, the Zionists.

Now I would like to open the discussion to everybody else and ask all of you what your take is on the current situation.

Many thanks and kind regards,

The Saker

PS: sorry for all the inevitable and numerous typos in this text which I rapidly wrote this afternoon between several other pressing tasks.  I literally had to put that together in a couple of hours and I have had absolutely no time to proof-read it.  My apologies for that.