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Jerry Pournelle on Bombing Syria

Written by Gary North on September 3, 2013

Jerry Pournells is a well-known science fiction author. He also has a Ph.D. in political science. Here are his views on the bombing of Syria. This caught my eye: “. . . the US Navy is now serving as the long range bombardment system for al Qaeda.”

President Obama has announced from the Rose Garden that (1) Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against his own citizens in the civil war in Syrian, (2) this must be punished as it is a monstrous crime against humanity, (3) he has the authority to strike Syria in any way he thinks important since he has deemed that leaving the gas attack unpunished would be a threat against US national security interests, and under the War Powers Resolution of 1973 has the authority to order whatever military action against the Syrian government as he deems proper to deal with this threat to American National Security.

He has not always so interpreted the 1973 Democratic resolution designed to get the US out of Viet Nam just when Saigon had won the civil war, and was now faced with a Russian armed invasion by an armored army from North Viet Nam. The Resolution was carefully crafted to allow the US to anticipate or respond to Soviet actions – particularly a nuclear attack on the US – while keeping us out of future Viet Nam wars. When the North invaded South Viet Nam with 150,000 troops and 3 armored divisions, in 1972 the US assisted in the defense of the South with air and sea support, lots of munitions, logistical efforts, but little ground combat forces, and the invasion from the North was defeated; of the 150,000 sent into South Viet Nam, fewer than 50,000 ever got home. The US/South Viet Nam alliance had won major war at minimal US costs. Then came the 1973 Resolution, and when the North invaded the South in 1975, the US gave its ally no air support, and supplied the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam with 20 rounds and 2 hand grenades per man. The Soviet Union equipped a new armored army that would have been respectably large in World War II. It was sent South in a massive invasion and the US left South Viet Nam to its own devices. Saigon fell, and the era of the boat people was at hand. The War Powers Resolution had done its work.

The present interpretation is different: “A limited engagement such as the one tentatively proposed for Syria, involving no troops on the ground and relying on weapons fired from air and sea, does not appear to fulfill the vague criteria for ‘hostilities’ under the War Powers Resolution,” says Christopher McKnight Nichols, a professor at Oregon State University and an expert on the U.S. military history. “Thus the proposed intervention in Syria does not appear to require a deadline for congressional approval or force withdrawal.”

Having asserted that a strike against Syria is necessary and proper, and that he has both the physical means and the constitutional authority to order this punitive bombardment, the President announced that he will wait for Congress to come back from the Labor Day holidays and ask for Congressional approval before he sends in the cruise missiles. This will be a bombardment, not an invasion or a punitive expedition.

It is an act of war and by definition of interference in the internal affairs of Syria.

I am no great fan of the United Nations, but President Obama has said in the past that he is.

But, the President says, over 1400 Syrians were killed in the chemical attack including 426 children; that clearly has to be punished, and although the British have decided that they won’t participate, the French (who would not let our air strike against Khadafi fly over French airspace when Reagan bombarded Libya) are all for us.

We live in interesting times.

Since some bombardment of Syria is now considered necessary and proper, the question becomes one of choosing targets. The purpose of the US bombardment is to teach a lesson: you must not use Soman, Sarin, Tabun, VX, or even mustard gas in your civil war. The bombardment is explicitly intended not to effect a regime change; it is punitive only.

Targeting the stockpiles of chemical weapons, assuming that we know where they are, seems a singularly bad idea. Indeed, if Assad can herd his enemies into areas around a war gas dump and there comes a terrible explosion that distributes VX or Soman around the area, who can say that this was not some missile fired from a US warship, or a drone, or from some rocket base in Israel or Jordan. “Our enemies said they would bombard us. Now they have done so.” Of course that requires an explanation of why there was a store or Tabun, but the US still has some stockpiles of really nasty stuff – it turns out that safely getting rid of it is much harder to do than we thought – and having a secure stockpile isn’t an international crime. “We had it secured. But we couldn’t secure it against whatever the United States fired at us.” Or of course the grand plea: “We didn’t have Sarin. The US did. It was their missile that carried it.”

Or, perhaps in keeping with the notion that the US Navy is now serving as the long range bombardment system for al Qaeda, we could crater Syrian runways, blow up their air control towers, and generally cripple as much of their air force as we can find. It might work. But no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The Syrians are not fools.

Keeping an air force from being a target is tricky but possible. One assumes that the Syrians have learned a lot from the Swedes who successfully kept a modern air force distributed all over the nation. Not just helicopters, either. You do need fuel trucks and possibly pipe lines.

Of course the French will help choose targets. They used to run the place before World War II – and they still have commercial interests in Syria.

If we do find their airplanes and blow them up (expensive aircraft destroyed by even more expensive missiles – modern war is not cheap) the Syrians will have to buy more modern airplanes from the Russians, which ought to benefit the Russian economy. Perhaps someone in the Middle East will then feel threatened and want to update their air force and come to MacDonnell-Douglas or Boeing, which might have some benefit for the US. And perhaps that is unduly cynical.

I am glad I am not involved in target selection for the coming bombardment of Syria.

Of course it is not entirely clear what the Congress will have to say. The wording of a resolution authorizing the President to punish an unruly nation with a naval and air bombardment will prove interesting. With the President I look forward to the debate.

Continue Reading on www.jerrypournelle.com

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7 thoughts on “Jerry Pournelle on Bombing Syria

  1. We have been raining death on the Mideast for over 10 straight years, longer than WWII. Our drones kill an average of 40 innocent bystanders for every alleged terrorist that is taken out. We are responding to the chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians (by the US-and-Israeli-financed-and-armed "rebels") by killing more Syrian civilians??

    And — as always — our presidents do everything to look butch in the world's eyes, but never address the myriad problems in this country that they were elected to serve. Insanity reigns.

  2. @ Danno
    Please tell us, where do you get you statistics?

  3. Dr. Joe Law says:

    Dr. Pournelle is very much on point. His description of the traitorous abandonment of our South Vietnamese allies is one of the best summaries I have ever read. I was an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army during the 1972 Easter Offensive and know firsthand that it was a huge victory for us. The army we trained and equipped beat the socks off the North Vietnamese. We won! And then…we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in 1975. Lesson learned: Stay true to the constitution. Only fight declared wars after a national debate and a congressional declaration of war.

  4. "Strong man strangle universe
    He drown the stars
    Blinded by the mission of a thousand wars
    He fit and dominant
    Not wonder why
    He heed the battle cry

    Strong man is survivor
    He live to pound
    Little wooden crosses in the bloody ground
    He fit and dominant
    He stand a chance
    He not bound to circumstance

    And the world keep on turning
    And the sun keep on burning
    And the children keep learning
    How to grow up big and strong
    How to grow up big and strong"

    lyrics by Mark Heard

  5. What a quaint notion – "stay true to the constitution." We should also try voting ourselves free. That's always worked in the past, right?

  6. Glad you pointed that out. It's actually 50 innocent bystanders on average killed for every alleged terrorist (but of course no one's doing DNA tests to see if it was a real terrorist). CNN — I was surprised — has reported it; Stanford/NYU did a study on the collateral damage caused by US drones; the rights organization Reprieve has publicized it. I'm not here to do your research for you.

    The United States is hated worldwide not for our nonexistent "freedoms" but because our government cannot stop itself from screwing around with other people's countries.

    Oh, I almost forgot: another creative humanitarian act by the US is to do a drone strike, wait for first responders to show up to cart away the dead and render aid to the wounded, then do a second drone strike to take out even more innocent bystanders.

    Or you could just extrapolate from the keystone kaper those NYC cops went on in midtown Manhattan last year where they were shooting at a fleeing suspect and injured 9 innocent bystanders. Oh yeah, those were innocent Americans that were shot, not Muslims.

  7. Time to come, America, because the business of America is business, not studying war.