Jon Alterman on Syria Chemical Weapons: ‘The President Will Act in the Time, Place and Manner of His Choosing’

‘We haven’t been clear at all on what we’re trying to do and what our desired end state is’

SMITH: "Thanks, Jennifer. Let’s go to John alterman, director of the Middle East program at the center for strategic studies. A bipartisan nonprofit research organization. Thank you, sir.
ALTERMAN: "Thank you, shep.
SMITH: "Are we right to ask questions about this particular video and this attack? I say that because the government and none of its pieces or parts have or come forward with anything saying this is definitive. The defense secretary says we’re still assessing and the president warns the Russians the missiles are on the way."
ALTERMAN: "I think the president knows some things they’re not saying and the secretary of defense knows things they’re not saying. There’s the video evidence. There may be some overhead evidence that a satellite imagery that we have that would give us a sense that we intercepted communications from the Syrian government or from victims. You can verify that they’re fielding those symptoms at the time. I can imagine there are a lot of possible streams of evidence that would reinforce it. What the U.N. Is trying to do is say let’s get in, let’s get nonpartisan observers in and try to prove this as a way of moving the Syrian government. I think what you’re seeing on the U.S. Government side may be we’re not even going to wait for that. The president will act in the time, place and manner of his choose."
SMITH: "Over than 500,000 pooh are dead. There’s no denying that. The question is, haven’t there been chemical attacks repeatedly according to these same organizations by the dozens over this time period?
ALTERMAN: "There haven’t been for a while. The Syrians agreed to get rid of their chemical stockpiles. The Russians certified they have got rid of them and it hasn’t happened. So there’s a desire on the U.S. Side and the French side and other countries saying we have to demonstrate this is not acceptable. The broader question, which goes to your point about 500,000 having died in the conflict, what is our strategy towards Syria if we’re going to strike Syria. There’s no question in my mind that Bashar al-Assad can withstand a strike. What we trying to do with the strike? Are we sending a message or do we have a sense of where we want Syria to go what our interests are. It seems to me that you can do a military attack very easily, but the real question is what is your desired effect. Having a desired effect requires not just the strike but a strategy and a follow-up and a goal. I’m not sure that all of those pieces have been line up yet."
SMITH: "There’s seven or seven wars going on in Syria at one time if you ferret it out and count them. If we had a cohesive and strategy in Syria from the very beginning of this, crossing over two administrations, nobody has ever given us what it is. We’re said to be supporting the Syrian rebels who have been nameless and faceless and we have not said that we want regime change or that we want to stop the air force or we want to make it impossible to launch chemical strikes. We haven’t said anything.
ALTERMAN: "Point of fact, we’re said we’re there to fight ISIS. When the president says ISIS gone, we’re gone. All the things you’re talking about with the Syrian government have not been the focus of the American strategy. It’s not clear what the legal basis of a big American push towards regime change or affecting the power in Syria. All of those things, Congress hasn’t authorized it. I think the government — neither the Obama Administration or the Trump Administration has really articulated a strategy. I don’t think they have come up with an internal strategy. To my mind, this is one of our weaknesses in Syria. We have been sure what we’re not doing. We haven’t been clear at all on what we’re trying to do and what our desired end state is. A horrible thing is to put your military at risk and to put soldiers at risk when you’re not being clear what are they trying to accomplish. We can kill and destroy stuff like nobody else in the world. But it has to be toward a purpose. That requires having a strategy and a set of goals. I’m not sure we’ve ever been there in our actions in Syria."

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