09/01/2013 04:22 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2013

Reviewing the U.S. National Interest Over a Response to Syria

I have no idea if anyone even bothers to write these anymore. But this is how it was supposed to be done when I was taught to do it. It's not tabloid news by any means. But sometimes some things are better presented this way.

Mission Element Need Assessment (MENA)

National Interest Summary

The imprimatur of the United States world leadership is of paramount interest to the nation. Since the birth of our country, we have strived to lead most of all by inspiring others to live up to the best of human principles. Our claim to world leadership rests on the bedrock of moral authority based on a continuous demonstration to the community of nations a dedication to justice in the execution of the rule of international law and our belief in truth and fairness in the pursuit of the betterment of the human condition whether by goodwill, trade, diplomacy or force.


On August 21, 2013, a release of chemical agent resulting in fatalities occurred in the country of Syria. The particular circumstances of the event remain shrouded but two theories have emerged that may or may not have merit.

Theory 1, emerging shortly after the incident, is that the Syrian government deliberately perpetrated the attack. This is the current operating theory of the United States national assessment infrastructure actively being espoused by the Office of the President and the Secretary of State. Theory 1, if proved correct, creates a basis for international sanction and punitive action against the government of Syria for egregious violations of the conduct of warfare and crimes against human rights. Based on this information, the United States Executive Branch presently proposes to prepare and execute a punitive military response.

Tactical doubt looms heavily over Theory 1 however. The government of Syria seemed to be winning against rebel forces at the time of the incident and it seems both politically and tactically unwise that Syria would have an interest in inciting global ire by escalating matters under such circumstances. Conventional conflict behavior is that it is the losing side that has the incentive to escalate. However in the month of August the rate of loss was not of the kind of catastrophic free fall that would seem to call for desperate measures. These looming doubts have resulted in a rejection of Theory 1 by a number of US allies and other interested parties.

Theory 2, emerging on or about August 30, 2013, is that the chemical release was accidental. Further that it was accidentally caused by rebel elements in Syria. The emerging report surrounding Theory 2 purports the source of the chemical agents to be persons or agents associated with the country of Saudi Arabia. Theory 2, if proved correct, creates a basis for a claim for international criminal pursuit and prosecution of said persons for crimes against humanity.

The degree of involvement by the government of Saudi Arabia in Theory 2 is unknown at this time. That government could be party to a violation of international standards (less likely) or the primary actor to whom the world will turn to pursue said criminal individuals (more likely). Diplomacy dictates beginning with the latter assumption unless future discovery contraindicates.

A final consequence of Theory 2 is that Syria is the party with the strongest case to seek the assistance of the international community to protect itself from future harm. While not politically ideal given past friction with the US, it is nevertheless in the greater global interest to ensure that no nation - friend or foe - is exposed to chemical weapon attack.

Alignment to US National Interest

It is imperative that the United States of America determine which of the competing theories is factual. Based on this determination, our responsibility as a moral world leader compels that we vigorously pursue the true perpetrators regardless of where that direction may lead.

Mission Elements Needs

Element A: If Theory 1 proves true, the United States should be prepared to redouble the effort to lead the world into building a cohesive coalition that agrees on the need to engage in constraining action against Syria up to an including punitive actions. In this vein, it is not in the interest of the United States to act unilaterally as this would undermine other deeper National Interests in furthering harmonious accord among nations.

Element A': If Theory 2 proves true, the United States should be prepared to pursue a world consensus to (a) bring all those who supplied these chemical agents to justice, (b) appropriately sanction any parties complicit with enabling or encouraging the conditions that caused these chemical agents to be in the country of Syria, and (c) lead the world in establishing new norms and expectations against future players doing the same.

Element B: A consequence need to Element A', if the national assessment capability of the United States proves to have been flawed, forthrightly accept that our National Interest is undermined whenever a lapse occurs in our rigorous application of our national interest principles. While we do realize that we are a nation of humans subject to the frailties of man, at these unfortunate junctions, it becomes our national priority to ferret out our errors wherever they lead and make expeditious repairs to our regain our moral standing in the world order.

Element C: Regardless if A or A' is operative, the incident reinforces longstanding mission elements of US policy to pursue the banning of this class of weaponry and contain proliferation. The August 21, 2013 incident raises the urgency to incorporate policy and guidance instruction to US missions engaged in the area to raise surveillance of all proliferation vectors, including non-state vectors.

OK back to the modern soundbite way: "Over to you or ya'll depending on the color of your stripe."