Austin Bay
Late last week, as the Obama administration advanced plans to arm anti-Assad regime Syrian rebels, Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to provide them with an "unclassified assessment" of potential American military intervention options, to include estimates of their costs in time, tax dollars and lives.

Dempsey replied with brevity, clarity and sobriety. In a letter to Levin's Senate Armed Services Committee, the general offered his "independent judgment" of military operations that (we learn near the end of his analysis) might further "the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure" on the Assad dictatorship.

Though "narrow" and "helping" appear on the last page, they guide Dempsey's assessments. So does his Senate-issued marching order: unclassified. His letter doesn't hide beneath a Top Secret coversheet.

After noting that the U.S. already provides Syrian refugees with humanitarian assistance, Dempsey analyzes several military operations designed to assist Syrian rebel forces in their fight against Bashar al-Assad's heinous dictatorship. Yes, assist, as in narrow and helping.

Option One -- Train, Advise and Assist the Opposition -- has U.S. advisers training Syrian rebels in tasks such as tactical planning and employing weapons. Advisers might provide intelligence and logistics help. Deploying several thousand advisers might cost $500 million a year, with a secure rear area (think Turkey and Jordan). The risks include terror attacks on advisers. We might "inadvertently" train rebels who commit war crimes.

Option Two -- Conduct Limited Standoff Strikes -- entails attacking "high value" regime targets with bombs, missiles and possibly artillery munitions. It requires several hundred aircraft and employs missile-firing naval vessels. This is war, of course. "Depending on duration," Dempsey writes, costs run "in the billions." Given time, he thinks this option will physically weaken the regime by destroying its military and morally sap it by increasing "regime desertions." U.S. forces could face retaliatory attacks, and our attacks could kill civilians.

Option Three -- Establish a No-Fly Zone Over Syria -- involves preventing the regime from using its aircraft to attack rebels and transport supplies. It requires substantial ground forces to protect air bases and costs over $1 billion a month. We could lose aircraft, and ground forces could face attack. Assad's forces could still level rebel neighborhoods with tube and rocket artillery. They already do.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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