Taking Away Assad’s Spoon and Giving Him a Fork

f Assad is eating Cheerios, we're going to take away his spoon and give him a fork.

cheerios-spoon

USA Today‘s Tom Vanden Brook (“Strike To ‘Degrade’ Syrian Forces Would Be Limited“) continues to suss out the details of the military action President Obama is working to convince the nation is necessary.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s choice of the term “degrade” to describe an attack on Syria has been interpreted by Pentagon planners as guidance for a limited strike, according to senior military officials.

The weapon of choice is the Tomahawk cruise missile aboard four Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. Though powerful, the missiles alone would likely not be capable of crippling Bashar Assad’s regime, which is accused of using chemical weapons. The targets selected for attack are meant to punish Assad, not swing the tide in favor of rebels seeking his ouster, said a senior officer familiar with the planning.

By far the most colorful explanation:

A second senior official, who has seen the most recent planning, offered this metaphor to describe such a strike: If Assad is eating Cheerios, we’re going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he’ll still be able to eat Cheerios.

Well, that’ll teach him to kill 100,000 of his own people.

Amusingly, the analogy for our counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, popularized by John Nagl, was trying to eat soup with a knife. So, modern American warfare is mostly about the cutlery. Presumably, if it ever comes to it, our action against Iran will involve a spork.

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FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    Sure, it’ll degrade his ability to eat Cheerios, but, it will improve his ability to eat steak.

  2. Rob in CT says:

    No. The spork is an abomination before the Lord. If we get into a war with Iran, we’ll obviously use chopsticks (to eat rice, which I fitting for a Land War in Asia, because I’m terrible at it).

  3. Matt Bernius says:

    The targets selected for attack are meant to punish Assad, not swing the tide in favor of rebels seeking his ouster, said a senior officer familiar with the planning.

    Again, how are we “punishing” in any substantive way if we are (a) not specifically trying to hurt him personally and (b) not doing enough damage to swing the tide in favor of the rebels?

    Accepting that Assad will do anything to remain in control Syria (including violating International Norms), how is anything short of removing his control of Syria a true punishment? If we are tempering our response to ensure it doesn’t shift the balance of power in the war, how is it not, at best an empty threat, and at worse, going to end up only effecting people who had little or nothing to do with the Chemical Weapons attack in the first place?

  4. JKB says:

    @Matt Bernius: Again, how are we “punishing” in any substantive way …

    You see if we blow stuff up, then Assad will have to spend money he would have spent more productively on new armaments and military capability on replacing the glass windows our Tomahawks blow out. Domestically, this is called “stimulus” but when someone else spends $billions to blow up what will cost you $millions to rebuild, it’s called “punishing”

  5. Grewgills says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Accepting that Assad will do anything to remain in control Syria (including violating International Norms), how is anything short of removing his control of Syria a true punishment?

    I don’t understand this sentiment. If you don’t take everything from him, really you have taken nothing. Is this because you assume he is in no way rational and nothing short of taking away all of his power will have any effect on his actions?

  6. Matt Bernius says:

    @Grewgills:

    I don’t understand this sentiment. If you don’t take everything from him, really you have taken nothing. Is this because you assume he is in no way rational and nothing short of taking away all of his power will have any effect on his actions?

    I’m not sure how much more clear I can make it. But here goes, assuming the case against the Assad regime is true:

    The use of Chemical Weapons is considered to be either (a) an irrational act or (b) a desperate act (done in hopes of remaining in power). If it’s irrational, then arguably there is no reasoning with the act so nothing will make a difference.

    If on the other hand it was done as part of an effort to cling to power, then the individual involved has demonstrated a willingness to “do anything” to stay in power. That means that they are operating on a different value scale at the moment (and arguably for the rest of the conflict).

    Under that scale of desperation, why should he honestly care about any outside attack that is specifically designed *not to do significant damage* – i.e. not to actually shift the balance of power.

    What is so hard to understand about this? This is not unlike the sanctions placed against Saddam Hussien, they did lots of damage to the Iraqi people, but the leadership was completely insulated from most of their effects.

    So long as the attacks are designed not to actually hurt the military or Assad in any way that would shift the civil war, I have a hard time seeing how they would be seen as anything more than an inconvenience.

  7. Matt Bernius says:

    @Grewgills:
    Putting this a different way — often Liberals (correctly) argue that when Corporations commit crimes the financial damages are rarely punitive enough to effect the business’s bottom line. I’m having a hard time understanding why some of those same people are so quick to argue that a superficial military strike, explicitly being described as being “very small”, will “teach someone a real lesson.”

  8. dazedandconfused says:

    Our “Asia” pivot strategery will require the use of chopsticks.

  9. Grewgills says:

    @Matt Bernius:
    1) I think the evidence is on the side of Assad acting rationally, at least in military decision making.
    2) Even if it is stated that our goal is not to shift the balance of power to the rebels, the targets being considered are military, so they will degrade his military. Given the marginal utility of chemical weapons, even a relatively modest hit to military resources could cost him considerably more militarily than their use gained him or would gain him in all but very rare circumstances.
    3) So if Assad is rational he will be looking for an out. Like maybe offering to join the convention on chemical weapons, admit to having them, and agree to start moving them into international hands.

  10. Grewgills says:

    @Matt Bernius:
    If it costs a rational businessman more to break a rule than to follow it, he will more likely follow that rule.
    If it costs a rational dictator more to break a rule than to follow it, he will more likely follow that rule.

  11. Gromitt Gunn says:

    We can give him 10,000 forks, but what he really needs is a knife.

    It’s a little bit ironic, don’t you think?