09/04/2013 02:57 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2013

Congressional Study on Possible Syrian Responses Offers Gloomy Prediction

In my first post of September 2, 2013, on the proposed Syrian military strike, I outlined the reasons why the Obama administration has apparently not fully considered its proposed military strike against Syria. At least so it appears in the way the administration has presented the issue to the public, clothed in much rhetoric, leaving much to be desired.

I ended the post by outlining four broad issues articulated by Dr. Liam Fox, a UK Parliamentarian: what a good outcome should be; whether such an outcome can be engineered; whether we will be part of engineering such an outcome, and how much of the eventual outcome we want to have ownership. Within the four corners of this framework, what specific options should be considered?

Less than three months ago, on June 13, 2013, the Congressional Research Service prepared for Congress a study titled "Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response." The paper analyzes the Syrian conflict and recommends to Congress possible options for a response.

The study suggests that U.S. involvement is required given the "widespread humanitarian suffering... the spillover of the conflict into neighboring states... and the Asad regime's limited use of chemical weapons."

The U.S. needs to be involved in one way or another. Of that there is no question. The nature of the response is far from obvious.

There are too many parameters at play. Combined, they make for a complex political, military, social and economic conflict. The situation is unpredictable and bundled with complications. The conflict is based in Syria but it has regional stakeholders.

The Congressional Research Service aptly states what the end goal should be:

The central question for policy makers remains how best to bring the conflict in Syria to a close before the crisis consigns the region to one of several destructive and destabilizing scenarios.

Yet, it concludes that the U.S. has a "limited potential to shape the overall outcome."
This is code that the U.S. will likely be unable to control how the Syrian conflict will end.

Congress is faced with the following gloomy prediction offered by the study:

The human toll of the fighting, and the resulting political, ethnic, and sectarian polarization, all but guarantee that political, security, humanitarian, and economic challenges will outlast Asad and keep Syria on the U.S. agenda for years to come.

A prolonged involvement and no end in sight is an outcome that is all too familiar to the American public. One which the Obama administration has refused to discuss or even acknowledge.

The following are some of the options that the Congressional study identifies for consideration by Congress (these are either direct quotes or paraphrases of some of the recommendations):
  • "What should be the overarching goals of U.S. policy towards Syria," including the following: to protect civilians; help the opposition in removing Assad from power, or secure chemical weapons and prevent extremist groups from gaining control of them;
  • Whether the U.S. should deploy air defence systems or establish no-fly zones over Syrian population centres or engage in military strikes;
  • Over what period could the current and proposed military deployment continue, and at what cost;
  • "[M]ight the Assad regime and its allies respond politically and militarily to increased U.S. support" or military intervention;
  • "If the Syrian military were to attack regional U.S. allies, how should the U.S. respond";
  • What increased support can be provided to select opposing groups;
  • What increased support can be provided for humanitarian relief efforts;
  • What support can be provided for the repatriation or resettlement of Syrian refugees;
  • "What might follow Assad's departure";
  • How should the U.S. view Syria's status as a state sponsor of terrorism should Assad depart;
  • How should the U.S. respond to intervention from regional players.

Answering these questions calls for an overall analysis of the situation, with the end goal -- not merely a tactical move -- in mind.

Leadership requires strategic objectives. They need to be generally understood by, and acceptable to, those whom the U.S., as a world leader, purports to lead. These are citizens of the U.S. and many countries who either look up to, or fear, the U.S.

As good leaders do, for the U.S. to maintain and solidify such a position in the world, it needs to impress its stakeholders. So far, rather than impress, the White House has caused distress.

This is not the time for cavalier action. It warrants a fulsome debate and somber action.