Does he plan to add to the task of CIA and military intelligence officers who already are trying to identify the right Syrians to receive intelligence and communications equipment along with humanitarian assistance? Sorting out which among almost 100 groups deserve even this non-military help is one of the reasons the Obama administration is holding back from doing even more.
What other test does Romney have in mind to make sure various militia leaders with forces of varied sectarian, religious, criminal and even jihadist backgrounds “share our values”? Does he plan to link U.S. military and other material assistance to militia leaders to pledges to respect responsibilities that he listed, such as the rights of “all their citizens including women and minorities . . . space for civil society, a free media, political parties and an independent judiciary”?
Let’s examine the harder tasks for the CIA and Pentagon that would emerge if they were tasked with carrying out the rest of Romney’s pledge.
Start with his promise to “defeat Assad’s . . . fighter jets.” Setting up a no-fly zone, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others have been recommending for months, is the only practical way to accomplish Romney’s proposal.
It requires attacks on a variety of targets, including Syrian air bases and aircraft, ammunition and fuel storage facilities, radar and command-and-control centers and surface-to-air missile batteries. The initial March 2011 attack on Libya to establish a no-fly zone required 112 Tomahawk missiles fired at 20 targets, followed by continuous air missions — and Moammar Gaddafi’s air defenses were far less capable than Assad’s.
The Pentagon has already drawn up contingency plans for such a step. On March 7, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that establishing a no-fly zone would have to be led by U.S. forces and take “an extended period of time and a great number of aircraft.”
Dempsey noted: “They [Syria] have approximately five times more sophisticated air defense systems than existed in Libya. . . . All of their air defenses are arrayed on their western border, which is their population center.”
Did Romney or his speechwriters read that testimony? Did they understand, as Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta explained to the senators seven months ago, that suppressing Syria’s air defenses would involve heavy civilian casualties, since Assad’s forces were strategically deployed in and around cities?
Perhaps Romney did some reading since Monday. On Wednesday, at a campaign event in Mount Vernon, Ohio, he repeated that he would identify “reasonable and responsible” Syrian dissidents and “provide funding and weapons to them.” But he said that “the active role” he planned “doesn’t mean sending in troops or dropping bombs.”