Max Boot, writing in the Washington Post:
It's easy to tell when the Pentagon is opposed to a military intervention. That's when we hear leaks saying how difficult such action would be. We heard them in the 1990s concerning Bosnia and Kosovo, we heard them last year over Libya, and we are hearing them now about Syria.
News reports cite unnamed "senior defense officials" saying that Syria has a sophisticated air-defense system and a 330,000-man army that would be hard to defeat; that we don't know enough to arm a Syrian opposition that lacks effective, unified leadership; that U.S. intervention could plunge Syria into civil war and embroil us in a "proxy war" against Iran and possibly Russia; and that international support is lacking for any move.
Today, in the case of Syria, any military action needs to be carefully thought through, but we should not refuse to act simply because of the worst-case scenarios being raised by the Pentagon.
Start with Syria's supposedly formidable air defense. Given the ease with which Israel penetrated those defenses in 1982, during the Lebanon War, and in 2007, to take out the al-Kibar nuclear reactor, it is unlikely that the systems would pose that much of a challenge to the world's most sophisticated and powerful air force.
The U.S. Air Force had no trouble taking out Saddam Hussein's air defenses on two occasions, and those, like Syria's, were constructed largely on the Russian model.
And what about that 330,000-man army? Most of the soldiers are poorly trained and unmotivated Sunni conscripts unwilling to do much to defend a regime dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Bashar al-Assad's regime can count on only about 30,000 Alawite soldiers, which is why the same units are used to attack one rebel stronghold after another.
Mr. Boot is far too sanguine in his arguments about intervention - especially when it comes to the disunity of the Syrian opposition. As I wrote previously, bombings in Damascus might be the work of al-Qaeda and it is unknown if they are working with some elements of the Syrian opposition or not. Regardless of that, there is also a question of the opposition being fractured and unable to unite around an agenda, a plan of action, even who should lead. Giving arms and training to a Free Syrian Army of which we know next to nothing is also a shot in the dark.
Mr. Boot is correct that the Pentagon is overstating the case against intervention in some respects. But in some other, more important areas, the soldiers have it right.