Obama Chooses Door Number Two. The Worst Choice.

As I wrote over the weekend, I am ambivalent about going into Syria, perhaps leaning slightly towards a robust air campaign undertaken with the explicit objective of facilitating the fall of Assad’s regime. What I am not ambivalent about is the middle option.  A symbolic strike, or a punitive one.

But, of course, that’s apparently what Obama is going to do:

Any strike by the United States and its allies on Syria will probably aim to teach President Bashar al-Assad – and Iran – a lesson on the risks of defying the West, but not try to turn the tide of the civil war.

U.S. and European officials say a short, sharp attack – perhaps entirely with cruise missiles – is the preferred response to what they believe is Assad’s responsibility for a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas last week.

If such a strike goes ahead, President Barack Obama’s administration will have to select its targets with extreme care as it tries to deter not only Assad but also Syria’s ally Iran over its nuclear program.

“The administration has to decide what its objective is – punishment to show that there is a price and to re-establish a deterrent, or to change the balance of power in Syria,” said Dennis Ross, a top White House adviser on the Middle East until late 2011. “I suspect it will be geared towards the former.

We should be thinking Linebacker II.  But Obama is evidently going with Rolling Thunder Lite.

I say again: Assad is facing a battle for survival.  He wouldn’t have used CW if he didn’t believe his survival is at stake.  Punitive, “extremely careful” strikes will not do that, and will in fact tell Assad-and the Iranians-that we are not serious.  That we are not a serious threat to his survival.

This is the worst option.  The worst. It will have the same diplomatic blowback that a robust strike would have, but will achieve nothing on the ground.

It also appears that Obama is going to proceed without even a fig leaf of Congressional approval.  This is wrong as a Constitutional matter, but it is also a huge mistake for Obama.  The inevitable failure will be his and his alone.

It ain’t just me. Walter Russell Mead is aghast. The Institute for the Study of War provides a detailed analysis showing the futility of the limited strikes that Obama will apparently launch.

This is nuts.

Speaking of nuts, there is a story making the rounds about that the Saudis tried to entice the Russians to bailing on Assad by promising cooperation to control the oil market, the gas market, and to keep Chechen terrorists in check.  I call bullshit.  First, the Saudis have been trying to get Russia to cooperate with OPEC for years.  It’s always the Russians who have said no.  Second, and more importantly, I doubt that the Saudis control the Chechens, and even if they did, there is no way in hell they would say this to the Russians.  This sounds like some Russian info op.

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About Craig Pirrong 238 Articles

Affiliation: University of Houston

Dr Pirrong is Professor of Finance, and Energy Markets Director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. He was previously Watson Family Professor of Commodity and Financial Risk Management at Oklahoma State University, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University.

Professor Pirrong's research focuses on the organization of financial exchanges, derivatives clearing, competition between exchanges, commodity markets, derivatives market manipulation, the relation between market fundamentals and commodity price dynamics, and the implications of this relation for the pricing of commodity derivatives. He has published 30 articles in professional publications, is the author of three books, and has consulted widely, primarily on commodity and market manipulation-related issues.

He holds a Ph.D. in business economics from the University of Chicago.

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