According to Marcy Wheeler, we are definitely headed for Syrian regime change, or at least the attempt. In anice piece of analysis, Wheeler puts together two pieces from Congressional testimony:
We’re already militarily supporting the rebels.
The punishment-bombing (she calls it a “spanking”) of al-Assad’s forces won’t interfere with that ongoing support, and by implication, the two are intended to work together.
In other words, the two actions are designed as a one-two punch. She writes:
There’s a fundamental dishonesty in the debate about Syria derived from treating the authorization to punish Bashar al-Assad for chemical weapons use in isolation from the Administration’s acknowledged covert operations to support the rebels. …
[T]he Administration is pursuing publicly acknowledged (!) covert operations with the intent of either overthrowing Assad and replacing him with moderate, secular Syrians (based on assurances from the “Custodian of the Two Mosques” about who is and who is not secular), or at least weakening Assad sufficiently to force concessions in a negotiated deal that includes the Russians.
The details are in the post. According to Wheeler, the two actions play together — bombing al-Assad for his (presumed) use of gas, and “lethal assistance to the opposition,” a phrase taken from testimony before Congress that Wheeler quotes. Be sure to read the quotes from Gen. Dempsey.
There’s a huge diversity of groups under the rubric “rebels.” Start here for a look. The strongest are not the most moderate. (And note that the writer of the linked article is too kind to the rebels and has undisclosed ties to a group that lobbies for them. If she’s too kind, they’re a rough bunch.)
In the same post, Wheeler also notes that the resolution allowing military force (AUMF) that’s before Congress contains an open-ended authorization to do almost anything the administration / Pentagon wants to do, should they want to do it.
Not only that, the same AUMF enshrines the President’s expanded understanding of his Article II war power into a Congressional acknowledgement in a way not seen under Bush II, who had his own understanding of his sweeping war power. Wheeler quotes Jack Goldsmith (Wheeler’s emphasis):
I think these provisions together constitute congressional acknowledgement that the President has constitutional authority, independent of the AUMF, to use military force to defend against the acknowledged threat to U.S. national security interests posed by the Syrian acquisition and use of WMD. … Note that this very broad congressional acknowledgment of presidential power does not suggest any geographical limitation.
The last “Whereas” clause [in the AUMF] is the broadest such clause I have ever seen. I believe that the notion of a congressional “whereas” acknowledgment of independent presidential power in an AUMF is a Bush-era innovation. (I have not seen such clauses in pre-Bush-era AUMFs.) But the Senate’s draft “Whereas” clause is much broader than the analogous ones during the Bush era.
Scary stuff, this executive branch power grab. Remember, the executive branch means the Pentagon. Who’s the tail here, and who’s the dog?
The take-ways are simple and stark:
1. The Pentagon and administration want this war, and since they already acknowledge that they’re arming selected rebels (“lethal support”), the stated cause behind the soften-him-up bombing — al-Assad used “gas on his own people” — is just a side-show.
The real show is regime change, with an attempt to install rebel “moderates” in power, and block out the extremists.
2. This may end very badly. The problem? No Shi’ite in or out of Syria sees any of the rebels as a friend. From the NY Times:
The war in Iraq has already inflamed sectarian tensions, emboldening [Syrian] Sunni extremists to raise the tempo of attacks against the Shiite-dominated [Syrian] government, while also motivating [Iraqi] Shiite men, with support from Iran, to travel to Syria to fight alongside the government forces and their ally, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
“America wants to help the extremists to control Syria, but they are wrong because we will defend our sect,” said Abu Mohaned, who is in his mid-40s and said any American military action would inspire Iraqi Shiites to send fighters and weapons into Syria. “They will commit a big mistake if they think it will be easy to strike Syria and change everything. We all have faith that God is on our side, and we will show them that the Shiites in all the world are able to fight their proxies from Al Qaeda and Nusra and the hated Free Syrian Army.”
Al-Nusra is the strongest extremist group, pledged to al-Qaeda, and they’ve already carved out their own territory in the north of Syria. The Free Syrian Army is the mixed-”moderate” group of ex-Syrian army men, one of the groups the U.S. hopes to court and strengthen.
Note that in the minds of the Iraqi Shi’ites, according to the Times, they are both hated, both enemies. This is a game with many players. Picture a chinese checker board, with temporary alliances among the players, but each ultimately playing for themselves and their separate goals.
Lord knows how this will end, but it could end very badly indeed.