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Tim Blagg

Blagg: Missed chance in Syria

Should we launch air and missile strikes against the government of Syria, in response to its use of chemical weapons against its own people?

No.

Why? Because, for one thing, it’s too late.

To have been an effective “bloody nose” for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the attack should have been immediate — a sharp and clear lesson that the United States will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction.

I’m not sure that such an attack would have been enough to deter Assad from using poison gas again, but that was our best chance, and we missed it.

To really be effective, such an attack would have had the blessings of other western nations — Great Britain and France, for example — but that could have been obtained after the lesson had been administered. Both the United Nations and NATO could have been solicited for post-launch approval, but the actual attack would have been a fait accompli.

But, because President Barack Obama, not a particularly decisive man, dithered, we missed the chance.

Now, even if we do damage some Assad assets, it can’t possibly have any positive effect.

Obama put himself in this position because he decided — unwisely, as it turns out — to gamble that warning Assad not to cross the “red line” of chemical weapons would deter him. Assad, however, rightly judged that the U.S., Britain and others are sick of military intervention in the Middle East and that the Western democracies don’t have the stomach to take an active role in his bloody civil war.

And he was right.

Obama, having painted himself into a corner with his warning, was then faced with several terrible choices. So he decided to put the onus on Congress.

If they vote “yes,” they are responsible for the attack. If they vote no, then he’s off the hook.

He wins either way ... politically.

But in the global theater, he — and the United States with him — has lost all credibility.

And NATO and the U.N. have lost a chance to take a stand and enforce international laws banning chemical, biological and radiological weapons.

The message must be clear to dictators around the world — the west is a paper tiger when it comes to mass murder.

As the question of an attack has worked its way through Congress, a particularly sour note has been added ... by long-time hawk and sometime nutjob Sen. John McCain.

I was a McCain supporter for a long time, back when he and Sen. John Kerry reached out across the aisle to get things done in a bipartisan manner.

But since his run for president, McCain has suffered some sort of a breakdown in his reasoning process.

The latest evidence of that is his insistence that permission for a Syrian strike be tied to a statement that, “These amendments are vital to ensuring that any U.S. military operations in Syria are part of a broader strategy to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria. That strategy must degrade the military capabilities of the Assad regime while upgrading the military capabilities of moderate Syrian opposition forces.”

That’s “mission creep” of the worst kind. The fact is that any military strike cannot possibly upgrade “the military capabilities of moderate Syrian opposition forces” without also improving the chances that radical Islamist forces will be strengthened as well.

And McCain surely knows that ... at least I hope he’s still alert enough to recognize that opposition to Assad includes wild-eyed Muslim extremists who hate the United States.

That’s why we haven’t supplied large amounts of weapons to them ... chances are, they’d wind up using them against us or our allies.

At this point, unless the U.N. and NATO — and the Arab League as well — change their minds and back a strike, we need to sit on our hands and let our missiles stay in their launchers.

Firing them can do no good — and possibly a great deal of harm.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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