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LYONS: A war to rescue U.S. credibility

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Threats that precede facts are ill-advised

There is no question that the Syrian civil war is a humanitarian disaster with more than 100,000 killed and more atrocities being committed on a daily basis. The most recent one is being attributed to the use of chemical weapons with some reports estimating more than 1,400 killed.

However, this is not the first time chemical weapons have been used in the Syria civil war. A report by Mint Press News based on an interview with the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders stated that at least 355 people died last week, likely from a neurobolic agent. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Arab League have accused the Assad regime of using chemical weapons.

Who is responsible for this latest use of chemical weapons remains an open question. Granted, a nerve gas such as sarin is a nation-state capability and, under normal circumstances, beyond the capability for a subnational terrorist organization, except probably Hezbollah. Forces would have received the training, expertise, special protective gear and chemical weapons from Iran. On the other hand, former Syrian military personnel who have defected to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) militias could also have received training in the use of chemical weapons. We should not forget that Syrian President Bashar Assad was accused before of using chemical weapons against civilians, but Carla del Ponte, a United Nations commissioner on Syria, concluded the "rebels" — not Mr. Assad — were probably responsible.

At this critical time with the Middle East in continued turmoil and the United States being challenged globally by Russia and China, we have the weakest and least credible national security team in recent history. The office of president of the United States used to command worldwide respect, but under President Obama, it has been greatly diminished. The same can be said for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has lost all credibility since his purging of our training manuals (and personnel) that clearly pointed out the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic jihadists. The administration's ineptness in responding to the Benghazi, Libya, tragedy are illustrative of the problem.

The recent statement by White House spokesman Jay Carney that allowing the use of chemical weapons to take place without a response would present a significant challenge and threat to U.S. national security is nonsense. Furthermore, announcing in advance which limited military action we are planning to take as well as identifying the targets illustrates the shallowness of the strategic thinking of our national security team. There must be a comprehensive analysis of the potential consequences of initiating hostilities and potential responses from Syria and its allies Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Follow-on actions must also be prepared.

It is clear that there is no comprehensive national strategic strategy being presented for attacking Syria. Instead, we have a public relations strategy to protect Mr. Obama's image as a result of his ill-considered "red line" rhetoric. Trying to frame the issue of "going to war" with Syria as a matter of U.S. credibility is questionable.

Launching an attack on Syria, no matter how limited in intent, clearly puts the United States on the side of al Qaeda- and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated rebels. Why would the United States want to intervene on the side of Islamic supremacists? The real answer could lie in the significant penetration by the Muslim Brotherhood and its front organizations into virtually every one of our national security agencies, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Clearly, our policies are being manipulated by this penetration, which has yielded daily access to the White House.

Aside from the tragedy in Syria, there are numerous tragedies throughout the world. It is not the responsibility of the United States, nor does the nation have a unilateral mandate to support the controversial doctrine of a "responsibility to protect." With the world focused on Syria, there is a tragedy taking place in Iraq. The Associated Press reported on Sept. 1 that Iraqi forces raided Camp Ashraf, where the remnants of the Iranian opposition still reside. There are reports that up to 52 of the remaining 100 residents have been killed execution-style with their hands handcuffed behind their backs. This massacre of unarmed residents, which we had previously promised to prevent, has brought no White House response.

With at least a two-week delay in any punitive strikes by the United States, there will be attempts by the pro-Syrian intervention lobby to press for NATO involvement based on a self-defense rationale that member state Turkey is threatened. It should be remembered that Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has its own Islamist supremacists agenda. It was Mr. Erdogan who said, "Democracy is the train we ride to achieve our ultimate objective," which is a closer alignment with al Qaeda- and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated rebels than with NATO.

The first thing that has to be understood about the Syrian civil war is that there are "no good sides" from a U.S. national strategic perspective. There is no clearly defined "secular" rebel fighting forces. We must not lose sight of our overriding national security objective in the Middle East, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Every other issue pales in comparison. A punitive strike will most likely be only the initial form of intervention. Instead of wasting 200-plus Tomahawk cruise missiles with no clear strategic objective, we should conserve those valuable assets for use in achieving our principal objective.

Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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