Sunday, September 8, 2013

A retired Army major general has some words on Syria

Mike L.

Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general, is a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College and he published the following in the Washington Post:
The tapes tell the tale. Go back and look at images of our nation’s most senior soldier, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and his body language during Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Syria. It’s pretty obvious that Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, doesn’t want this war. As Secretary of State John Kerry’s thundering voice and arm-waving redounded in rage against Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities, Dempseywas largely (and respectfully) silent.

Dempsey’s unspoken words reflect the opinions of most serving military leaders. By no means do I profess to speak on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform. But I can justifiably share the sentiments of those inside the Pentagon and elsewhere who write the plans and develop strategies for fighting our wars. After personal exchanges with dozens of active and retired soldiers in recent days, I feel confident that what follows represents the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war.

They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.

They are repelled by the hypocrisy of a media blitz that warns against the return of Hitlerism but privately acknowledges that the motive for risking American lives is our “responsibility to protect” the world’s innocents. Prospective U.S. action in Syria is not about threats to American security. The U.S. military’s civilian masters privately are proud that they are motivated by guilt over slaughters in Rwanda, Sudan and Kosovo and not by any systemic threat to our country.

They are outraged by the fact that what may happen is an act of war and a willingness to risk American lives to make up for a slip of the tongue about “red lines.” These acts would be for retribution and to restore the reputation of a president. Our serving professionals make the point that killing more Syrians won’t deter Iranian resolve to confront us. The Iranians have already gotten the message.

Our people lament our loneliness. Our senior soldiers take pride in their past commitments to fight alongside allies and within coalitions that shared our strategic goals. This war, however, will be ours alone.

They are tired of wannabe soldiers who remain enamored of the lure of bloodless machine warfare. “Look,” one told me, “if you want to end this decisively, send in the troops and let them defeat the Syrian army. If the nation doesn’t think Syria is worth serious commitment, then leave them alone.” But they also warn that Syria is not Libya or Serbia. Perhaps the United States has become too used to fighting third-rate armies. As the Israelis learned in 1973, the Syrians are tough and mean-spirited killers with nothing to lose.

Our military members understand and take seriously their oath to defend the constitutional authority of their civilian masters. They understand that the United States is the only liberal democracy that has never been ruled by its military. But today’s soldiers know war and resent civilian policymakers who want the military to fight a war that neither they nor their loved ones will experience firsthand.

Civilian control of the armed services doesn’t mean that civilians shouldn’t listen to those who have seen war. Our most respected soldier president, Dwight Eisenhower, possessed the gravitas and courage to say no to war eight times during his presidency. He ended the Korean War and refused to aid the French in Indochina; he said no to his former wartime friends Britain and France when they demanded U.S. participation in the capture of the Suez Canal. And he resisted liberal democrats who wanted to aid the newly formed nation of South Vietnam. We all know what happened after his successor ignored Eisenhower’s advice. My generation got to go to war.

Over the past few days, the opinions of officers confiding in me have changed to some degree. Resignation seems to be creeping into their sense of outrage. One officer told me: “To hell with them. If this guy wants this war, then let him have it. Looks like no one will get hurt anyway.”

Soon the military will salute respectfully and loose the hell of hundreds of cruise missiles in an effort that will, inevitably, kill a few of those we wish to protect. They will do it with all the professionalism and skill we expect from the world’s most proficient military. I wish Kerry would take a moment to look at the images from this week’s hearings before we go to war again. 


  1. The problem is the Administration hasn't articulated a credible military strategy. What does it want to do in Syria? No one knows.

    Congress shouldn't vote to back the Administration when our allies aren't enthusiastic. Obama and Kerry want to get involved in a war in which America has no clear strategic interest and more importantly, a war they don't plan to win.

    No wonder the country is unenthusiastic. The Administration faces an uphill sell here.

    1. Furthermore, what kind of "shot across the bow" can it possibly be when we've already signaled that we will not sink the ship?

      Also, why is it that every time that I turn around this administration is demonstrably siding with Islamists and, yet, his supporters are completely in denial about this fact?

    2. Yup.

      You can argue it makes sense to take out Assad's weapons of mass destruction, which I support. Its a doable and rational military objective. We shouldn't get involved in regime change in Syria. That's not our fight.

      I think the the real issue here is Obama and Kerry are not telling the country the whole truth about their Syrian plans. And until they level with the country, Congress should vote down their bid to get us involved in a Middle Eastern Vietnam.

  2. No good choices here. I am however struck by the irony that so many Americans and others trust the words of a murderous dictator (Assad) and a former KGB guy (Putin) more than the Prez and his lads. That will forever be the Nobel peace prize winner Obama's legacy. Sad state of affairs.

  3. If you go back to the mid-1960's the left has curiously or not so curiously protested the overthrow, generally speaking, any fascist regime out there if they wore the right hats and uniforms and such. And the idea that Obama is now taking the advise of Russia over his own Congress is understandably funny to watch but all that shocking.

    1. I have to tell you, Trudy, the Syria thing is something that I hardly want to touch with a ten foot pole.

      Obama is going to jump in on the side of the Brotherhood and Qaeda for alleged humanitarian reasons.

  4. I wish I had the time and energy to flesh this out but Obama doesn't have a plan. He has a media plan to extricate him from the idiocy of his own missteps. Obama never had the least intention of doing anything to or with Syria. He misspoke - for whatever reason and he's been looking desperately for a work around since. Throwing it over the fence to Congress delayed action for up to a month or more but it's unclear that even the abandonment of his own PAC and was sufficient to quash this. They overplayed their hand and couldn't get their flying monkeys to condemn the Administration's opponent for agreeing with them.

    He just got played by Putin though. Russia has offered to be munificent and do, apparently with ZERO verification, the job of dismantling this material. Of course they won't but that's not the objective. The objective was to give enough credible reasons for Obama to declare there was no need to prosecute another war. The Administration may sincerely believe they've won something useful here apart from the political aspects but that's delusional. Everything leading up to this moment has underlined Obama's intent to vacate the Mideast. To pitch it someone else, anyone. An in a month we'll hear how this 'tough talk' got the desired results. But there were few if any results and everyone will get back to the business of savage cannibal tribal warfare. And if we're lucky it will consume them all in a truly spectacular conflagration.