Option Four -- Establish Buffer Zones -- essentially commits U.S. forces to helping protect rebel areas within Syria. This likely means ground troops in Syria. The Turkish government touted this option early on, and Dempsey identifies the Syria-Turkey border area as a likely place to carve out a buffer enclave. U.S.-defended buffer zones could become bases for extremists (terrorists -- remember, this is an Obama administration document). Dempsey provides no cost estimate here, but it would run several billion a month.
Option Five is Control Chemical Weapons, in which we invade to deny the regime and terrorists weapons of mass destruction. We bomb Assad's chemical stockpiles, and then ground troops secure "critical sites." It costs "well over" a billion a month.
Then we encounter narrow and helping, which is to say if Assad topples, Syrian rebels will do the toppling, not us.
Dempsey, however, knows Murphy's Law -- if it can go wrong, it will -- rules warfare. Hence this prudent warning: "Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid."
Dempsey, however, avoided the word "Iran." Syrians are fighting a civil war, but their civil war is NATO's shadow war with Iran. That is the geopolitical context. Iranian arms and money keep the Assad regime alive; Iran's Hezbollah proxy provides it with fanatic combat soldiers.
If Dempsey's limited options merely keep Syria's mixed bag of rebels in the war, the most likely outcome is this: Syria's agonizing stalemate continues. More civilians die, by the tens of thousands, and millions more suffer. Do "Right to Protect" criticisms merely apply to Republican presidents?
If Option Two through Four include the interdiction and elimination of Iranian-supplied war material -- and perhaps Russian, as well -- they could end the stalemate, in the rebels favor. However, they also risk escalation to a regional war. Perhaps this extended assessment hides in a classified letter. If it does, it shouldn't.
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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