Let’s evaluate the attack on Syria logically. Was the the U.S. military attack against Syria motivated by military need?
The attack killed 8 people that the U.S. military says were militants. Often, American military attacks end up killing civilians that the military claims were militants, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept the claim that all the people in killed by the U.S. military in Syria were militants.
The killing of eight militants, even if the militants were high ranking members of anti-American groups, is not militarily significant. Armed Anti-American groups in and around Iraq have proven over and over again that they are easily able to replace their leaders when their leaders are killed. I can’t remember how many times the “number two” leader of Al Quaida in Iraq has been killed – a new “number two” each time.
On the other hand, antagonizing the Syrian government has profoundly negative military implications for the American occupation of Iraq. The Syrian government has declared its intention to militarize the Iraqi border and to fight against any further American attacks. Thus, there is now real potential for all-out war between the United States and Syria. Even if that all-out war does not happen, the Syrian government is now much more likely to provide additional support for covert military action in Iraq operating from within its borders. Needed cooperation from the Syrian government has been made quite unlikely.
The deaths of eight anti-American militants cannot be considered as a military goal worth the trouble that has now been created. In fact, the American attack within the borders of Syria is likely to increase fear and anger against the United States among the people of Syria and other nations who feel vulnerable to additional American attacks. This attack by the American military is likely to create more militants than it killed. The Syrian people can now conclude that they are fighting a war of defense of their homes against American aggression.
In terms of military strategy, the attack against Syria is the equivalent of a move on the chessboard that sacrifices a queen in order to capture a pawn. This attack makes no logical sense, if the purpose of the attack was to strengthen the position of the American military in Iraq.
There are two alternative explanations that make more sense, although they are irrational in their own way. First, there is the possibility that the Bush White House has adopted an emotional stake in the Iraq War, and that George W. Bush and his aides want to engage in as many attacks as they can before they have to leave office, lashing out at people they perceive as their enemies in displaced anger over their general failure.
The other explanation is that Republicans in the White House are attempting to use the American military in order to influence the 2008 presidential election. Motivated by the belief that a President Barack Obama would not continue the reckless Republican military policy, this attack may be a last-ditch effort to swing the election to McCain. The strategy would be to push American voters into accepting the Republican frame, which is that of vigorous military aggression as a sign of strong leadership. Perhaps the White House is hoping that a military crisis would drive voters to support a presidential candidate with a military-themed campaign.
It could be that both these alternative explanations explain the irrational attack against Syria. Whatever the precise motivation for the attack, it’s clearly not rational, and that leads me to worry about what else George W. Bush and his advisors may try to do with the American military before Inauguration Day on January 20, 2009.