A letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the high cost of military intervention in Syria has probably put an end to any ideas of the United States taking such action.
The letter Friday from Gen. Martin E. Dempsey to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., cited the experience of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and detailed the effort needed to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Mr. Dempsey said hundreds of U.S. aircraft, ships and submarines would be used by thousands of American troops to make airstrikes, launch missiles, maintain no-fly zones and train Syria's opposition forces. He said training alone would cost $500 million a year. Air action would cost $1 billion a month.
Mr. Dempsey said that such action would be "an act of war," which would entail risks to Jordan, a neighboring U.S. ally, and could backfire in terms of overall U.S. policy.
His message came as the Syrian opposition continued to lose ground to Assad regime forces. One of the opposition's major problems is its divisions. Analysts say there may be up to 1,500 groups that make up the opposition. In principle they exist to some extent under the umbrella Free Syrian Army, but any unity among them is very tentative. A July 11 incident in which a jihadist group assassinated a senior Free Syrian Army officer underlined the depth of the divisions and the problems confronting the United States or other countries in trying to support them. The CIA continues to give covert training and small arms to the opposition.
President Barack Obama, who declared that Mr. Assad was finished in Syria, is now at the point of having to walk away both from that assessment and from any suggestion that the United States is going to achieve that result. The letter from Mr. Dempsey, the nation's most senior military officer, illustrates that, in spite of the wishes of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others that the United States intervene in Syria, the costs would be too high and the outcome too uncertain.