Kerry promises "unbelievably small" war; Assad says "expect everything"

The astonishingly idiotic comments of Secretary of State John Kerry, in a joint appearance with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, make for a jarring contrast with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s CBS News interview.  Assad is a despicable thug, and it’s sickening to hear the usual Middle Eastern dictator belligerence from him, but the Obama Administration’s clown show is absolutely terrifying.  If Obama wanted to demonstrate true resolve, sacking John Kerry would be a good first step, because few among our political leaders, allies, or enemies are going to take the Administration seriously as long as the buffoonish Kerry is point man for Operation Stalemate.  Obama might as well be sending Joe Biden out to beat the war drums.

Kerry sabotaged the Administration’s entire war effort with a careless remark that Assad could escape the consequences of his actions by handing over his chemical weapons stockpile – a comment frantic State Department spokesmen tried to walk back by saying Kerry knows perfectly well Assad would never do that, and he was just taunting the dictator, or something.  The UK Guardian tried to make some sense of it:

The US state department stressed that Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the one-week deadline and unlikelihood of Assad turning over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. In a statement, the department added: “His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.”

Until now, the Administration has been saying that it wanted to punish Assad for violating international norms by using chemical weapons.  Now we’re hearing talk of “degrading Assad’s capability to use chemical weapons” in the future, which would be a far more difficult, and dangerous, combat mission for U.S. forces.  That’s the kind of mission that ends with tens of thousands of American ground troops racing into Damascus to secure chemical stockpiles before al-Qaeda gets them.  It’s not as if the delivery systems are some sort of rare, super-high-tech weapon the Syrians would find difficult to replace, so a few pinpoint strikes aren’t likely to “degrade” that capability much.  And how does one go about neutralizing the chem weapons themselves using a handful of precision-guided missiles, without risking horrendous collateral damage?

But no, Kerry assures us the Administration still wants a very limited operation.  In fact, in a sound bite that will linger in history, he said it would be “unbelievably small.”

Kerry said the Americans were planning an “unbelievably small” attack on Syria. “We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing ??? unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”

The secretary of state repeatedly referred to genocides in eastern Europe and Rwanda in putting forward his case for taking military action. “We need to hear an appropriate outcry as we think back on those moments of history when large numbers of people have been killed because the world was silent,” he said. “The Holocaust, Rwanda, other moments, are lessons to all of us today.

“So let me be clear,” he continued. “The United States of America, President Obama, myself, others are in full agreement that the end of the conflict in Syria requires a political solution.”

But he insisted such a solution was currently impossible if “one party believes that he can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity using chemicals that have been banned for 100 years”.

Assad has been “rubbing out countless numbers of his own citizens” with conventional weapons.  Not even 1 percent of the casualties in the Syrian civil war came from chemical weapons – and even if responsibility for the “red line” attack in late August can be decisively pinned on the regime, there are still substantial reasons to believe they’re not the only ones dropping gas bombs.

Why does the Administration keep bringing up the Rwandan atrocity as a justification for its Syrian war ambitions?  Not only did those horrors involve no use of chemical weapons, a lot of them didn’t even require guns.  There’s no way an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort” would have made a lick of difference in Rwanda.  It’s not likely to make much of a difference in Syria, either.

Kerry offered a bit of bonus comedy by getting the timeline of President Reagan’s attack on Libya wrong.  He used it as an example of the kind of “unbelievably small” action Obama wants, saying “President Reagan had several hours’ or whatever effort to send a message to Qaddafi in the wake of Pan Am 103.”  As the Guardian recalls, the attack on Libya occurred in 1986; the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 happened in 1988.

Coming after Barack Obama got the history of the London bombing in World War 2 wrong last week, and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power’s astonishing expectation that Iran would be disgusted by Bashar Assad’s use of WMD, the picture is of an Administration that couldn’t pass a high-school history exam.  They’re so desperate to find some sort of historical justification for the action they want in Syria that they’ll say literally any foolish thing that pops into their minds, without asking their gigantic retinues of highly-paid staffers to do a few minutes of Google research first.  Never have so many known so little about what they were doing.  They just know that if something doesn’t explode in Syria pretty soon, Barack Obama will look bad.

Here’s some more deep Administration strategic thinking about that “unbelievably small” attack, courtesy of USA Today:

The strike, as envisioned, would be limited in the number of targets and done within a day or two. It could be completed in one fell swoop with missiles, said one senior official familiar with the weapons involved. A smaller, follow-on strike could be launched if targets aren’t sufficiently damaged.

A second senior official, who has seen the most recent planning, offered this metaphor to describe such a strike: If Assad is eating Cheerios, we’re going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he’ll still be able to eat Cheerios.

The two officers with current and recent service in the Middle East say the term “degrade” is so vague that it could be used to describe the effect of a single cruise missile strike.

Judging from his interview with Charlie Rose of CBS News, Bashar Assad is eating something with a higher sugar count than Cheerios.  He said to “expect everything” in response to an attack on his country, including retaliation “not necessarily from the government.”  He continued his denials of Syrian government responsibility for the “red line” WMD incident, claiming that Syrian troops have suffered chemical attacks, and seemed to imply that rebel or terrorist forces might step up their use of chemical weapons following an American strike against his regime, perhaps as “false flag” operations designed to provoke an American escalation.

Assad seemed to have a good handle on the political situation in the U.S., mentioning the American peoples’ current strong opposition to Syrian intervention, dredging up the faulty intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (say, you wouldn’t happen to know where any of that Iraqi hardware ended up, would you, Mr. Assad?) and needling the Obama Administration for its obsession with polls and social media.

The Russians quickly jumped on John Kerry’s “hand over your chemical weapons” gaffe, declaring their support for the idea of arranging an international coalition to take charge of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles.  Within a matter of hours, the Associated Press reported the Syrian foreign minister “welcoming” the Russian proposal.  The Obama Administration is fielding a team of petulant amateurs against old pros with bloody hands.

Back when he was a Senator, John Kerry supported Obama’s 2011 attack on Libya: “Is it a vital national security interest? No. Is it existential to us? No. But I got news for you: Will it make a difference in the eyes of people throughout the Arab world about how they view us and a lot of other folks? Yes, profoundly, in my judgment.”  He was right about that.

Update: Let’s be extremely generous to Secretary of State Kerry and give him a mulligan on citing the Lockerbie bombing as the reason for President Reagan’s strike on Libya.  The comparison remains extremely unfavorable to the case Kerry wants to make for hitting Syria.  Libya was bombed as a direct result of hostile actions against Americans and American interests – a point that would be even more obvious with the faulty history Kerry provided.  Kerry only brought it up because he wanted to illustrate the sort of “incredibly small” action he has in mind, but not only did he get history wrong, he didn’t bother to think the comparison all the way through.