Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Parsing Dempsey’s Syria Advice

Parsing Dempsey’s Syria Advice

On Tuesday of this week Chris Carroll from Stars and Stripes reported on a letter from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey to Congress outlining five military options for dealing with the situation in Syria. The five options as reported by Carroll are:

  • The least involved – a train, advise and assist mission – would require no U.S. troops to be directly involved with fighting as they operated outside Syria and delivered supplies and training, Dempsey said. At an estimated $500 million annually, it could raise opposition fighters’ capabilities but carries a risk that extremists could gain access to U.S. weapons.
  • A second option, limited stand-off strikes, would target “high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes,” with strikes launched outside Syria. “Depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions,” Dempsey wrote. Although attacks would degrade Syrian regime capabilities over time, they could spark retaliatory attacks and endanger civilians, he wrote.
  • A third option, establishing a no-fly zone, would go further, taking out Syrian air defenses to control the skies throughout the country. Because U.S. aircraft would be required to fly over Syrian airspace, the risk to U.S. troops would be higher, Dempsey said. The no-fly zone would cost $500 million upfront and up to $1 billion a month to maintain, he said.
  • The U.S. military could also establish buffer zones to protect the borders of Turkey or Jordan, or to protect Syrian civilians, Dempsey wrote. Doing so would require partial no-fly zones and would carry many of the same risks and costs.
  • The most complex option Dempsey outlined – controlling chemical weapons – would require a no-fly zone, air and missile strikes and thousands of troops on the ground. Doing so would cost more than $1 billion a month, he said, adding: “Risks are similar to the no-fly zone with the added risk of U.S. boots on the ground.”

I’ve previously discussed options for intervening in Syria on this blog here and here, so in this post I am not so much interested in getting into deep detail about the particulars of what Dempsey outlined. Rather, I thought I would place the General’s comments into the context of perspectives on the use of force by two of his predecessors.

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