According to a September 5, 2013, New York Times article entitled, “Pentagon Is Ordered to Expand Potential Targets in Syria with a Focus on Forces,” US President Barack Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria. The decision was reportedly in response to intelligence suggesting that the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons while Congress debates whether to authorize military action. The article states that to succeed in garnering support on Capitol Hill of military action in Syria, it will be necessary to accept restrictions on the military response, and in order to make the strike meaningful they must expand its scope. As explained in the article the worst outcome would be to come out of this bruising battle with Congress and conduct a military action that made little difference. Doubt within the Congress over US military action in Syria reflected doubt projected by the Obama administration in its handling of the issue.
While the US has the resources and capabilities to carry out calibrated strikes against the Assad regime, Obama displayed great difficulty in publicly articulating what he wanted to achieve, why he wanted to do it, and how he would get things done. With his decision to defer military action until Congress voted on the matter, he opened himself up to an onslaught of criticism. If Obama had been better served by the White House staff, none of this would have occurred. The president should have been provided with options for an appropriate response to the chemical attacks. His effort to present his case for military action should have been far better organized. An examination is provided here of Obama’s drive for military action against the Assad regime for it chemical attacks on August 21st. An analysis of his public statements is made and those very statements are used as guidance to develop a plan for military action in Syria which meets Obama’s needs and would achieve his desired outcome. A transformational opportunity that may help the US find an advantage in reaching a secure and sustainable peace agreement in Syria is also part of the plan presented.
Obama’s “Distressed” Approach to Military Action in Syria
Through Obama’s initial statements, it was clear that military action would be taken in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. Indeed, an attack seemed imminent. Obama wanted to take action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Yet, as time moved on, there was a palpable sense through his statements that Obama was not very confident about taking military action in Syria. Obama seemed uncertain and indecisive about the outcome and the potential to embroil the US and the region in a larger conflict. He also appeared greatly concerned with the legal ramifications and international implications of military action against Assad regime. Through their blustering and posturing by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and Iranian military leaders regarding how aggressively they would respond to US military action, the validity of US intelligence on the chemical attacks, or Obama’s courage, they sought to exploit what they perceived as Obama’s insecurity and uncertainty over military action and its aftermath. Obama’s staff did not assist him in articulating a clear concept and intent for action based on his thinking. For several days, there was a rather sloppy, piecemeal presentation of ends, ways, and means to use military force in Syria without a clear indication of the Obama administration’s goals, except hitting Assad for using chemical weapons and deterring his regime from using them again. White House staff provided Obama a plan that provided something less than determined deterrence against further chemical use by Assad. The plan for action appeared more as some panicky pre-emption of additional attacks that have the US stumble into the Syrian civil war. It was a mere accommodation of the president’s needs on Syria and not a genuine effort to meet them. Explanations of the likelihood the US would achieve its goals, other likely outcomes, and how military action would fit into overall US strategy in the region were inaudible or lacking. Language Obama was presented to use in his public statements, plans he was provided, indicated that his staff was not truly in touch with Obama on Syria. They were only in touch with Obama to the extent that they tried to meet his desire to be transparent with the US public on the use of military force. However, in this case, allowing so much to be exposed before an appropriate response to the crisis was formulated did him a disservice.
Obama does not want the US military to intervene on the ground in the Syria. It would be unreasonable for him to make such a move. Yet, Obama’s use of the term “military action” was understood to mean “war” among many Members of Congress, US public, commentators, rivals, and his detractors. As an option, the use of military force by the US conjures an endless list of possibilities. The US Congress and public, in particular, fully recall the Bush administration’s ventures into Iraq and Afghanistan. In both cases, military intervention, while proffered by the Bush administration to be well considered, with specific causation, and specific goals, led to tragic losses of personnel and relatively meager results. There is concern that the US will find itself once again committed militarily overseas to greater extent than anticipated.
Interestingly, during the Cold War, when a balance of power was maintained and a modus vivendi was established to assure global peace and security, while the threat of nuclear conflict loomed, measured steps were more often used to respond to trespasses upon the interests of the US and its allies by the Soviet Union and its client states. Some have yet to be unclassified. While the chemical weapons attacks in Syria were very much apparent in the media, the plan for a US response of any type did not need to be publicized. It would have been best for Obama to have made it absolutely clear that the US would respond, but keep his response the how, when, and where of the response vague. The Congress could have been informed of the Obama’s plan for action in camera. Military action was not the only means the US had available to deliver a punitive response against Assad. If solitary engagement had been Obama’s choice, the matter might have been best handled by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency is already steeped in the Syria situation as the lead US agency coping with the training and arming of the Syrian rebels. The military would be brought in to the extent it could provide air assets and provide highly-trained special operations forces to conduct missions in support of the Agency’s plans.
Obama’s Concept and Intent for a Response
Guidance on Obama’s thinking could be gleaned in significant amounts from open-source reporting on the White House’s decision making on Syria. Much more was very likely made available in White House, meetings, memos, and other communications. It was quite discernible in a CNN interview aired on August 23, 2013, during which he discussed potential US response to what was then called an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. Obama’s thinking on military action was guided by the idea that the US military was over-extended in the previous Bush administration and he wanted avoid making that same mistake. Additionally, his thinking was clearly influenced by his background as a legal scholar, expressed concern about international law. Further, Obama was concerned with what US interests truly were in Syria. With regard to over-extending the military, Obama stated: “Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.” Obama did not indicate, even then, an intent to have US forces engaged in any long term action in Syria. With regard to being placed in a position to respond to the crossing of the “red line” he had described in 2012, on August 23rd Obama explained that there were “rules of international law” guiding his response. He went on to state, “You know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.” While Obama admitted that there was some criticism and push for strong action by some Members of Congress at that time, he explained, “What I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of, what is in our long-term national interests?” To that extent, Obama signaled that he was taking a cautious approach to the Syrian crisis. On a personal level, he thought through the potential dilemma intervening could create for the US during his administration and beyond.
These ideas do not contrast at all with his speech in the White House Rose Garden on August 31, 2013, the most recent expression of his concept and intent. In the more detailed and refined presentation of why and how he intended to proceed, Obama stated on the chemical attack in Syria: “This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm. In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.” In his Rose Garden statement, Obama left no doubt that he intended to take military action against Syrian regime targets. His concept for the operation conducted by the US military was clearly outlined: This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out. In order to execute the operation, Obama explained that “Our military has positioned assets in the region. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now. And I’m prepared to give that order.” Clearly, Obama’s intent is to limit the scope of the operation. It would be punitive in nature. In his Rose Garden statement, Obama in no way indicated that this military response to the chemical weapons attack would be part of any ongoing efforts to remove Assad or change the military balance in the field. US response to the chemical weapons attack is viewed by Obama as being separate from, and to the degree possible, unrelated to US efforts in support of Syrian opposition and hope through that effort alone to shift the balance to pressure Assad to negotiate an agreement for peaceful transition to a democratic form of government. However, an emphasis recently has been placed on the idea of degrading Assad’s forces in response to concerns of Republican Members of Congress that Obama’s military plans were not muscular enough to destabilize the Assad regime. There have been indications that a quid pro quo of increasing training and arms for the opposition forces in return for Members support of military action.
Military Plan of Attack So Far
Open source data provided by US officials to the New York Times revealed the goal of a US military strike against Syria, to “deter and degrade” Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, has expanded. A new target list goes beyond the fifty or so major sites that were part of the original one developed with French forces before Obama delayed action to seek Congressional approval of his plan. The strikes would not be aimed at the chemical stockpiles themselves risking a potential catastrophe, but rather the military units that have stored and prepared the chemical weapons and carried the attacks against Syrian rebels, as well as the headquarters overseeing the effort, and the rockets and artillery that have launched those attacks. According to the September 5, 2013, New York Times article, military officials said Thursday. General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the New York Times, stated that other targets would include equipment that Syria uses to protect the chemicals — air defenses, long-range missiles and rockets, which can also deliver the weapons. Officials cautioned that the options for an increased American strike would still be limited — “think incremental increase, not exponential,” said one official — but would be intended to inflict significant damage on the Syrian military. The bulk of the American attack is still expected to be carried out by cruise missiles from Arleigh Burke-class destroyers within striking range of Syria in the eastern Mediterranean. Each ship carries about three dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles, a low-flying, highly accurate weapon that can be launched from safe distances of up to about 1,000 miles. But military planners are now preparing options to include attacks from Air Force bombers, a development reported on September 5, 2013, by the Wall Street Journal. The Pentagon was initially planning to rely solely on cruise missiles. Bombers could carry scores more munitions, potentially permitting the United States to carry out more strikes if the first wave does not destroy the targets. Among the options available are B-52 bombers, which can carry air-launched cruise missiles; B-1s that are based in Qatar and carry long-range, air-to-surface missiles; and B-2 stealth bombers, which are based in Missouri and carry satellite-guided bombs. The Navy in recent days has moved the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz into the Red Sea, within striking distance of Syria. But Defense Department officials said Thursday that the USS Nimitz, and its squadrons of F-18 Super Hornet fighters, as well as three missile-toting destroyers in its battle group, are not likely to join any attack unless Syria launches major retaliatory strikes.
More Could Be Done to Give the President What He Wants
What Obama wanted from military action was defined attacks, limited in scope, and not an open-ended response. He did not want to include any ground troops in the operation. The attacks were to hold the Assad regime accountable by punishing regime elements and assets determined by the US to have been involved in the chemical weapons attacks, deter the regime from further chemical weapons use, and degrade its capacity to do so. True, the latest target list includes the military units that have stored and prepared the chemical weapons and carried the attacks against Syrian rebels, as well as the headquarters overseeing the effort, and the rockets and artillery that have launched those attacks. However, that list could be refined using the intelligence collected on the chemical attacks, released in truncated form to the public on August 30, 2013.
Command and Control of the Assad Regime’s Chemical Weapons Attacks
US government states that it intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21st, and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence. Additional information collected indicated that on the afternoon of August 21st, Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations. At the same time, the regime intensified the artillery barrage targeting many of the neighborhoods where chemical attacks occurred. In the twenty-four hour period after the attack, the US claims to have detected indications of artillery and rocket fire at a rate approximately four times higher than the ten preceding days. There were indications of sustained shelling in the neighborhoods up until the morning of August 26th. There were follow-on communications confirming that the chemical attacks had occurred. Through intelligence, the Obama administration has indicated that it has identified those commanders who issued orders for the activation of chemical ordinance.
Those commanders and their most immediate subordinates who were unmistakably identified as being involved in the chemical attacks and those who most likely would have been aware of those activities, should be targeted for precision attacks. In line with Obama’s desire not to shift the military balance in the field with this particular punitive action, strikes should be calibrated to hit those individuals alone, not simply their headquarters. The goal is not to decapitate military command of Syrian forces altogether, but to strike them specifically for the chemical attack. Destroying headquarters might have the effect of degrading their units’ capability in the field affecting military balance. Field grade officers would be very likely be available to rise up to replace those leaders. The hope is that after witnessing precision attacks on their commanders, the new commanders would be unwilling to use chemical weapons in their military operations. Cutting that layer of leadership off the Syrian chain of command may have the positive collateral effect of weakening Russian and Iranian links, relationships with those commanders and allow new leaders to emerge and consider their own place and the future of the Syrian Armed Forces. Syrian officers of all branches do not want to find themselves in a situation similar to their Iraqi counterparts a decade ago when the Coalition National Authority disbanded the Iraqi Army.
Targeting the Syrian Scientific Studies Research Center
Syrian chemical weapons personnel who prepared chemical ordinance for the August 21st chemical weapons attack included members of the Syrian Scientific Studies Research Center. The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which is subordinate to the Syrian Ministry of Defense, manages Syria’s chemical weapons program. Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21st near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21st, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, to include using gas masks. US intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons.
Members of Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center that provided combat service support for those units that launched the chemical attacks should be targeted by US strikes, not only as a consequence to their participation in the operation, but remove them from the equation in Syria and help destroy the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future. The facilities and equipment of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, from bases and offices, to trucks and gas masks should be destroyed to severely curtail the organization’s ability to support any chemical attacks in the future. US should be confident enough after attacks to assess numbers of remaining personnel only of a size enough to maintain stores of the ordinance until the time that perhaps an international body entering Syria at a later date might become engaged in its management. Under no circumstances should the US allow attacks to create a circumstance where rogue elements with the Syrian opposition forces could gain control of the chemical weapons at any site.
Syrian Military Units That Utilized Chemical Weapons
Three days prior to the attack, the US collected continuous streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence, revealing regime military activities allegedly associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack. Information gathered by the US from multiple streams indicates that after those preparations were made, the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs in the early hours of August 21st. Satellite detections, specifically, corroborated that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred – including Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah. This includes the detection of rocket launches from regime controlled territory early in the morning, approximately ninety, minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media. The lack of flight activity or missile launches also leads us to conclude that the regime used rockets in the attack.
US military strikes should hit those specific units and the systems identified as firing chemical weapons attacks in Syria. All those in Syria who are aware that those units were involved will realize the US is truly following all matters in Syria closely through technical means. Future attempts by officers and men of any other Syrian Army units to launch chemical attacks will also be monitored by the US and those involved will surely face the same consequences.
According to US intelligence, Assad is the ultimate decision maker for Syria’s chemical weapons program. A body of information has led the US to conclude that regime officials were witting of, and directing, the attack on August 21st. Obama has made it clear that he does not want to use this punitive attack to remove Assad from power. However, it would be meaningful to let Assad feel some consequences, “discomfort” for his regime’s actions. Rather than attack Assad, strikes could be launched to remind Assad of his vulnerability as a leader. A precision attack could be launched on the Syrian infrastructure designed to severely damage electric power in the neighborhood in which Assad lives. That might require the use of non-lethal technologies such as electromagnetic pulse weapons that can seize all electric equipment of any kind in their vicinity. However, if the destruction of power stations by airstrike or cruise missile strike can get that task done faster, and effectively, then attacks using those resources should be made. While the well-being of Assad and his family members should not be placed in danger and the attack should not present or produce any possibility that harm might come to them, it should impact their daily lives. That calibrated attacks would literally bring the consequences of the chemical attack home to Assad. Assad’s neighbors will also know that the strike against their electricity, their confines area space living space came as a result of not as a result of Assad’s effort to defend them but the use of chemical weapons. They may realize that greater consequences could come if Assad insists on further use of chemical weapons.
Maintaining the Military Balance in Syria While Taking Action Against Assad
The front page of the New York Times, on September 5, 2013, included a photo of Syrian Army prisoners being prepared for execution by Islamic militant rebels. This horrific scene brings the home some grave realities about the situation in Syria regarding the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian opposition’s war on Assad. Islamic militant factions have continued to abuse and kill Syrian citizens, and intensified their attacks upon mainstream Free Syrian Army groups and Kurdish groups. The more powerful Islamic militant factions such as the foreign fighter laden Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, the Syria based affiliate of Al-Qaida and the well-armed, mostly Syrian, Jabhat al-Nusra, are not directed toward a transition in Syria to a democratic form of government. As long as Islamic militants continue to pour into Syria, their numbers and capabilities will reach a point where the mainstream forces would no longer be able to contend with them. US airstrikes and missile strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra would if not destroy them, degrade or displace them to a degree as to take them out of the Syria equation. By purging rogue Islamic militants factions from the Syrian opposition, from Syria, the US and its allies could halt the deterioration of the Free Syrian Army, allow for the proper organization of its remaining groups as a military force, permit unit cohesion and coordination to develop between units, improve their fighting capabilities, and permit their combat power to be enhanced with better arms. As it was explained on greatcharlie.com in its July 11, 2013 post “Opposition in Syria continues to Fracture, Yet This May Create a New Option for Its Allies,” the Obama administration would inevitably need to do more than meet its promise to arm the Free Syrian Army with weapons and ammunition. Only by intervening covertly in support of mainstream elements against Islamic militant factions would mainstream Free Syrian Army groups ever have a chance of being positioned to defeat Assad’s forces.
Rogue Islamic militant factions would be relatively defenseless against the type of airstrikes and missile strikes that could be used against them. Unlike airstrikes against the Assad regime, the risk of loss to the US and its allies in attacks against them would be low. The vetting process in which the Central Intelligence Agency and its regional counterparts have been engaged to support the delivery of arms and supplies to appropriate groups of the Free Syrian Army by now should allow the US to determine friend from foe. As discussed in the August 27, 2013 greatcharlie.com post, “White House Says Still Fact-Finding Reported Chemical Weapons Use and Weighing Military Options,” Central Intelligence Agency officers and operatives and special operations forces, with Free Syrian Army commanders at their side, have undoubtedly interviewed locals and quietly gained granular information on the Islamic militant groups including the size of specific units, the locations of its fighters, the backgrounds of individual fighters and commanders, unit capabilities, and its combat and nonlethal resources. Islamic groups that seek to work with mainstream groups have most likely been identified and an effort has been made by the Central Intelligence Agency to establish a rapport with them. An effort has also most likely been made to support those groups and place them under the leadership of the Free Syrian Army. The whereabouts and activities of Islamic militant groups hostile to the concept and intent of the Syrian opposition, and identified as having attacked mainstream Free Syrian Army fighters, are well-known by Central Intelligence Agency. Special reconnaissance and electronic surveillance means very likely has kept track of them. Leaders, arms, supply lines and depots, and financial support have most likely been identified. All entry points of Islamic militants have also most likely been identified and placed under special reconnaissance and electronic surveillance. Any contingency plans or new plans for conducting Free Syrian Army operations without the targeted Islamic militant groups could be put into effect. Sufficient numbers of new mainstream fighters must be trained, equipped and fielded to cover any gaps created by the Islamic militant groups that would be removed from Free Syrian Army controlled territory. The Central Intelligence Agency could request to have its efforts, and those of US Special Operations teams, further supported by allied intelligence and special operations forces. The rapid and robust training and equipping of the Free Syrian Army in which the US would prefer to be engaged, could be conducted.
The Door Opens to a New Opportunity in Syria
Relations between Russia and Iran with the US have been uncongenial. They have both supported the Syrian Armed Forces. Russian support has mainly taken the form of arms and supplies and rather vociferous support in the international community. Iran has provided Syrian Armed Forces with training, equipment, and Iranian troops as reinforcements. However, their support has never included attacks against specific elements of the Free Syrian Army with airpower, other deep strike assets, or raids. Such action has very likely been avoided as a result of concerns over likely US reprisals overt such action. Yet, perhaps in discussions with the Russians and the Iranians, the US could inform them that the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra are not part of the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army. Both states could be informed that US itself has undertaken an effort to destroy those organizations entirely as part of its Counterterrorism policy, and attacks against those organizations would be made separate from any US activity concerning Syria. The US could also request assistance from Russia and Iran, including intelligence, in conjunction with US airstrikes and missile strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra. The Russians might be particularly pleased for within the Kremlin there are concerns that Islamic militants who arrived in Syria from Dagestan might gain possession of a portion of Assad’s chemical weapons and use it in Russia.
Undoubtedly, hearing about US efforts to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham and Al-Nusra would likely surprise, yet please, the Russians and Iranians. If any cooperation on that effort could be established, there is a chance that step could be a basis on which a joint effort between those countries on Syria could be built. Mutual strength of US, Russia and Iran could shift from military or intelligence cooperation to a diplomatic effort. Advocating for their respective sides among parties to the conflict, they might be able to find an acceptable compromise. From that, a new peace effort on Syria could potentially be ignited. For Iran, such an effort would mean working with US and Russia, as an equal partner, and as a power player in its region. For Russia, it would mean a resolution to the conflict, hopefully allowing it to pursue its interests in Syria. For the US, it would mean establishing peace and stability in Iraq and placing Syria on the path toward transition to a democratic government.
For many members of the Assad regime, US military action against Syria will mean the end of life. The lives lost would be a severe consequence of their participation in the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. If all goes as Obama plans, the attacks, optimally calibrated, will have a sound educational effect on the Assad and other rogue leaders and deter them from future chemical weapons use. Ironically, in the calculus of Obama, the lives lost in the attacks will assure countless more lives would be saved from the scourge of chemical weapons. Given what Obama feels is at stake, failing to attack does not appear to be an option. Yet, there may be other opportunities created by the use of force in Syria. The opportunity exists for the US to support the Syrian opposition in the field and US Counter-terrorism policy by taking punitive action against those who have committed despicable acts against innocent Syrian civilians and Syrian Army conscripts. Rogue Islamic militant factions, affiliated with Al-Qaida, should be purged from the Free Syrian Army, Syrian opposition, and Syria.
For the Obama administration and the US Congress, supporting the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime was viewed as a chance to pressure Assad to the negotiating table and influence a decision by him to accept a settlement by which he would step down. Intervening covertly on the side of mainstream elements of the Syrian opposition against Islamic militant groups would literally emancipate them from the pressures placed on them by the rogue Islamic factions. The possibility of the Syria’s transition to a democratic form of government would be greatly enhanced. A renewed effort could be made to train and equip Syrian opposition members. In the region, providing this “helping hand” to the Free Syrian Army would prove the US to be a reliable ally to such movements as the Syrian opposition, supporting its interest as best as possible. US policy would be on track.
Through cooperation against rogue Islamic militant factions, the US, Russia, and Iran, the three states might create conditions that might facilitate greater cooperation on Syria among them. They may urge parties to the conflict to find a peaceful solution to the civil war. Russia’s late decision to throw its support behind US Secretary of State John Kerry’s off-hand suggestion that Assad move Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile outside of Syria, or a determined point in Syria, and create a form of international custodianship of it until can be destroyed is being considered in the US. However, moving, guarding, and eventually destroying Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile does not respond to Assad’s use of those weapons on August 21st, nor is it a real consequence for it. While the proposal would move Assad’s chemical weapons out of reach of Islamic militants, it does not resolve the issue of Islamic militants in Syria. Many of them are foreign fighters whose units behave as rogue elephants, stomping through Syria. They must be dealt with. By working together to cope with that issue, the US, Russia, and Iran might lay the ground work for real cooperation in finding a diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis, and perhaps beyond that.