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U.S. Options For Military Intervention In Syria


We wanted to talk more about options. We wanted to hear more about what options President Trump may have considered as well as what options may yet be on the table for dealing with the Syrian crisis. And for that, we called James Stavridis. He is a retired Navy admiral. He served as the supreme allied commander of NATO in Europe from 2009 to 2013. He's currently serving as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Admiral, Dean, thank you so much for speaking with us.

JAMES STAVRIDIS: Great to be on with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So we now know what course of action the president chose to take in retaliation for the reported chemical attack by Bashar al-Assad. But we were wondering, what were some of the other options that the president might have had in this situation?

STAVRIDIS: I think he probably had three additional presentations made to him. One would have been a very heavy strike, which would have been multi-day, multi-access, many more allies, taking a little bit longer to bring more of those NATO countries on board in the operational side, as you were just discussing with Secretary General Stoltenberg. And that would have been a provocative and starting to lean toward regime change kind of solution. I'm sure that was presented to him. I'm glad he did not pick that option.

And then I suspect there was probably a lighter option even than the one we took, which was perhaps using only U.S. Tomahawk missiles, replicating, if you will, the fairly light strike that we did a year ago. This is like Goldilocks and the three bears, right? Little bed, big bed - I think we picked exactly the right bed for this moment in time. It was a well-structured strike and, I think, a good decision.

MARTIN: So this isn't the first time that the U.S. has used force to try and stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Many remember that there was a missile strike last April. But if the reports of what happened last week are accurate, as the U.S. and allies obviously believe are accurate, it didn't work. And I wonder why you think that is. I mean, why is it that the previous strikes evidently were not enough to discourage further chemical warfare and if you think this one will be?

STAVRIDIS: I think the previous strike simply was not large enough and at scale. It looked like what it was, which was a very simple signal. This time, we've gone after actual combat capability. We've gone after research of chemical weapons, storage of chemical weapons, production of chemical weapons.

So we're upping the ante, but we're doing it carefully, Michel, because we don't want to get into a war with Russia. That's really weighing on everybody's minds, especially Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis, who's very, very thoughtful. So I think we'll continue to up the ante if we have to. Let's hope we don't have to. But the key next time is going to be to go after transportation and delivery re the Syrian Air Force. That'll be much more complicated, much more dangerous. Let's hope we don't have to go there.

MARTIN: You know, Admiral, at this point, millions of Syrians have fled the country. Many cities are in ruins. It seems to a number of observers that Bashar al-Assad and his supporters in Russia and in Iran have essentially won. Is that a fair assessment? Does that change anything?

STAVRIDIS: First, you have to ask yourself, what have they won? And essentially, what Russia has won at this point is a completely destroyed country and an enormous financial responsibility that I don't think the Russian Federation is prepared to undertake. So it's kind of a Pyrrhic victory, if you will.

I do think that, politically speaking, they have succeeded in pushing the United States into the sidelines of this and doing pretty much what they want. So the question is, what do we do now, Michel? And I think the answer to that is what Secretary General Stoltenberg said, which is for us to push in the United Nations. And I think we're - we've been doing that reasonably well the last few days to get this thing to the negotiating table.

MARTIN: We have about a minute and a half left, so let's talk a bit more about that if we can. And we're going to talk more about this later in the program. We have for years now been hearing about hopes of a diplomatic solution. I think many people will remember that this conflict has gone on for some seven years now. So at this point, is a diplomatic solution something that is realistic? And what would that look like?

STAVRIDIS: I think it is. A good analogy is to look back at the Balkans 20 years ago, which kind of looked like Syria does today. And what would drive Russia toward wanting to participate is what I mentioned a moment ago, which is the expense of doing all this. So the Syrians have also consolidated control - the Syrian regime - of Western Syria. I think it's a good time - to use the Balkans as an analogy - look at bringing all the parties to the table. And I think there will be motivation to do that also because of the immense humanitarian crisis that the world is facing. That's our best hope. Let's hope we can go there.

MARTIN: That is retired Admiral James Stavridis. He is - he served as supreme allied commander of NATO in Europe, and he's currently dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Dean, thank you so much for speaking with us.

STAVRIDIS: Thanks a lot, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PDP'S "MISSING YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.