Anthony Cordesman writes: No one has accurate estimates, but the key challenge in Syria is scarcely to end the use of chemical weapons. The real challenge is some 120,000 dead, another 200,000-plus wounded, and as many as 20% of its 22.5 million people have been displaced inside the country or are living outside it as refugees. The nation has lost some three years of economic development, become a country of polarized factions, and seen many – if not most – of its children lose much of their schooling and learn to live in fear and anger in a country where more than a third of the population is 14 years of age or younger.
Chemical weapons alone are not a reason to use force. Even the most successful cruise missile strikes would not destroy Syria’s holdings. There is no credible chance the U.S. can locate or destroy Syria’s entire holding without a massive air campaign and some kind of presence on the ground. Even if the Assad regime has not done the obvious, and used the last few months to covertly disperse a large portion of its weapons, cruise missiles simply don’t have that kind of destructive power.
Even if the U.S. can somehow stop all future use of chemical weapons, the military impact will be marginal at best. Moreover, anyone who has actually seen wounds from conventional artillery — or badly treated body wounds from small arms — realizes that chemical weapons do not cause more horrible wounds. If anything, an agent like Sarin tends to either kill quickly or result in relative recovery. The case for intervening cannot be based on chemical weapons. It has to be based on two factors: Whether it serves American strategic interest and whether it meets the broader humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. [Continue reading…]