Rock, hard place, Syria

Force depth: all gone.

Through his latest action, calling for a vote of Congress on a strike against the Assad regime – but not trying to make it happen quickly – Obama has crystallized the Syria dilemma to the fullest extent.

It is no longer necessary to predict that failure to make good on his promise about a “red line” will be fatal to American credibility.  The die is cast.  We have reached the limit of fate’s tolerance for indecision, and the verdict is in: Obama, and the West, couldn’t handle this one.

But hold that thought for a moment – call it the rock in this scenario – and let us consider the hard place, which has its own argument to make.  Those who have continued to press for a military response in Syria seem not to understand that the situation of the U.S. military is severely compromised, due to the very real effects of not spending on readiness.  We literally do not have the forces available to expand on any limited strikes we might undertake. Continue reading “Rock, hard place, Syria”

Just a reminder: Military readiness affects the viability of Syria operations too

Fading.

After U.S. officials agreed last week that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on its people, politicians and pundits resumed making the case for a U.S. intervention in Syria.  And they speak as if the budget cuts affecting the Air Force and Navy won’t affect our ability to launch operations overseas.  Their heads apparently aren’t around that reality yet.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) suggested that enforcing a no-fly zone could be required.  He expressed concern that the administration would maneuver to delay action – and he is no doubt right.  Charles Krauthammer pointed out on Fox News’s Special Report that the president’s credibility is on the line, given his clear identification of chemical weapons use as a “red line” for the U.S. on the Syria crisis.  But no one mentioned the core limitation of military readiness.

You may or may not think it’s advisable for the U.S. to intervene in Syria, even with an operation of minimal scope.  But Continue reading “Just a reminder: Military readiness affects the viability of Syria operations too”

State of unreadiness

Degraded.

My Liberty Unyielding colleague Timothy Whiteman highlighted last Thursday the number of Air Force squadrons that will have to cease training later this year because the Air Force doesn’t have funds for the flying hours.  This is real, and it is astounding.  It will mean that, at a certain point in the near future – as early as this fall, if no additional funds become available – the cost of mounting an operation big enough to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons-related installations is likely to be too high.

This is because there will be no force depth to either sustain follow-on operations or overcome the geographic constraints U.S. forces are increasingly likely to face.  Assuming all of the Air Force’s stand-downs and readiness losses do occur, the available front-line forces would be maxed out with a moderately scoped strike package.  To meet the task, they would require the most favorable basing options that could be available in the Persian Gulf under today’s conditions – but which may not be.  If we don’t have those favorable basing options, and the Air Force squadron groundings remain on track, the Iran strike goes from all-but-under-resourced to impossible.

There will not, after all, be two aircraft carriers on station near Iran, Continue reading “State of unreadiness”

Dead in the water: Obama’s military and the Iran nuclear threat

Promises we can’t keep.

Two to three years ago, the United States Department of Defense had enough military forces on station in, or readily deployable to, the Persian Gulf region (the “CENTCOM AOR” – area of responsibility – or Southwest Asia, as it is called in the military) to execute a limited strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities without asking Congress for special funding.  The military could have performed such an operation “out of hide,” as quickly and seamlessly as the president wanted it to.

Four to five years ago, moreover, the U.S. had the regional political capital to use our bases in the local nations (e.g., Qatar and Bahrain) to launch and direct such a strike campaign.

Both of these conditions have now changed. Continue reading “Dead in the water: Obama’s military and the Iran nuclear threat”

Obama and Israel: Community-organizing the planet?

Organize this.

A correspondent of mine expressed some surprise when it was announced yesterday that the new secretary of state, John Kerry, would not be visiting Israel prior to the visit next month of President Obama.

What this means to foreign-service hands is that there won’t be a ministerial-level sit-down in advance of the president’s trip.  The army of foreign-service specialists who negotiate for the U.S. and Israel won’t come up with serious negotiating points (or at least statements of common objectives) on topics like talks with the Palestinian Arabs, or the Iranian nuclear threat.  The president’s itinerary and official events will no doubt be planned thoroughly, but there is a big hole where the normal process of policy preparation would be.

The prospect of Obama’s visit producing a tangible Middle East-policy outcome is thus nil.  Appearances now suggest that the trip will basically be Continue reading “Obama and Israel: Community-organizing the planet?”