Witnesses warned Congress Tuesday of the political and military pitfalls posed by limited military action on Syria proposed by President Barack Obama.
Speaking before the House Committee on Homeland Security, a panel of experts said limited strikes would send an ambiguous message to both the Assad regime and its Iranian patrons, demonstrating the United States’ lack of commitment to its stated goal of removing the Syrian dictator.
“Limited strikes now thus do not settle the credibility question: we will always be sending the Iranians ambiguous signals unless we commit more force that the stakes here are worth to us,” said Dr. Stephen Biddle, a Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The panel said limited military strikes would only embolden Assad and other anti-American entities.
“We have no legitimate strategic end state in mind. A strike delivered for the purpose of ‘sending a message’ will only inflame a region that does not think well of American motives after ten years of war in the Middle East,” said retired Army Gen. Robert Scales.
Witnesses cautioned that limited strikes pose no valid threat to Bashar al-Assad, would not eliminate his ability to use chemical weapons, and would also expose the United States to retaliation.
“Smuggling a nuclear weapon into this country would be a very complex thing to do. Sarin is extremely easy to transport and what’s most scary is that it’s very easy to use. If you could get into an airway, the effects would catastrophic,” Scales said.
Cyber attacks similar to the ones that crashed the New York Times and the Onion was another threat mentioned by witnesses.
Former Rep. Chris Shays (R., Conn.), one of the first members of Congress to visit Iraq at the war’s outset in 2003, said a shell full of sarin gas not much larger than a 16-oz bottle of water could decimate a sports stadium.
Shays asked President Barack Obama to exchange the proposed military strike for one with concrete goals, citing former President George H.W. Bush’s effort to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, testified on the resurgence of al Qaeda since late 2011.
“There are two groups fighting in Syria today and they joined forces with other extremist groups. Some the largest coalitions fighting in Syria today, parts of the Syrian Liberation Front fight on a day-to-day basis with Al-Qaeda,” Joscelyn said. “Al Qaeda’s goals inside Syria are not just about defeating Assad or attacking Assad’s regime. In Syria and as in elsewhere, it’s about power. They are trying to build their own mini-state on Syrian territory. “
Joscelyn said al Qaeda’s recovery poses a direct threat to the safety of the United States.
“There are troubling reports of Al-Qaeda cells in Iraq [were] busted with sarin nerve gas. The battle in Iraq and Syria are joined together to build their forces to wage insurgency and they are going to amount some of those forces to come after us,” he said.
Joscelyn also said that Secretary John Kerry’s figures of 15 percent to 25 percent of rebel fighters being affiliated with Al-Qaeda are “too low.”