On Thursday, President Obama confirmed what reports had been speculating for a few weeks: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons, notably sarin gas, on his own people, and tripping the president's "red line" that would rouse the United States to greater action. The response includes arming and training the rebels. It turns out that Secretary of State John Kerry also wanted the response to include an air strike on Syrian airfields, according to Jeffrey Goldberg at Bloomberg View.
According to Goldberg, Kerry's "vociferous" thoughts on the matter were not received well by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey during a meeting in the situation room last Wednesday. Apparently, the exchange got heated:
At a principals meeting in the White House situation room, Secretary of State John Kerry began arguing, vociferously, for immediate U.S. airstrikes against airfields under the control of Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime — specifically, those fields it has used to launch chemical weapons raids against rebel forces.
It was at this point that the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the usually mild-mannered Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, spoke up, loudly. According to several sources, Dempsey threw a series of brushback pitches at Kerry, demanding to know just exactly what the post-strike plan would be and pointing out that the State Department didn't fully grasp the complexity of such an operation.
Dempsey informed Kerry that the Air Force could not simply drop a few bombs, or fire a few missiles, at targets inside Syria: To be safe, the U.S. would have to neutralize Syria's integrated air-defense system, an operation that would require 700 or more sorties. At a time when the U.S. military is exhausted, and when sequestration is ripping into the Pentagon budget, Dempsey is said to have argued that a demand by the State Department for precipitous military action in a murky civil war wasn't welcome.
Read the rest on Bloomberg View.
Correction: This post originally misspelled Jeffrey Goldberg's name.