For many years now, Pentagon doctrinal documents such as the Quadrennial Defense Review, the National Defense Strategy, the National Military Strategy and others, have made reference to national-level efforts and whole-of-government responses. Yet, these concepts live on only in Powerpoint slide decks. In today's crisis-response playbook, the pages in between symbolic sanctions and verbal hand-wringing on one end, and introduction of military forces on the other, are sparse. The talk about 'whole-of-government' within DoD in particular has never been answered by the establishment of credible non-military capability within other departments and agencies that can exert leverage overseas, with or without military force, on a scale remotely comparable to a Pentagon operation. Even General Dempsey, in clarifying his position on a U.S. response to the Syria crisis, said, "I'm not suggesting that the international community do nothing. I am suggesting that you need a strategy to tie military options with other instruments of power."
Here is how it might be done.
A Transformed American Response to the Syria Crisis
The following represents a different kind of U.S. response to the Syria crisis, with three defining features: first, there are no U.S. military "boots on the ground" or pilots over Syrian airspace; second, many if not all of the elements deviate from the way Washington now operates; and third, incumbent practitioners in the concerned agencies would be expected to resist and dismiss as unrealistic most if not all aspects of such a reimagined American campaign. The change depicted here is, therefore, as much cultural as organizational.
STRATEGY—There must be unity of effort. This begins with a single leader, in command of the effort, whose mandate comes from the Principals Committee, to which he/she answers. The concept of command is not strong outside DoD, yet this commander should almost certainly be a civilian, preferably with expertise on Syria, perhaps Arabic language capability, professional knowledge of military and intelligence operations, and high-level diplomatic and negotiating experience. (Lest the reader consider this description a fantasy persona, it is not.) Task-force members and staff are hand-selected and seconded from various organizations, e.g., State, CIA, DIA, OSD, SOCOM, CENTCOM, funded by their parent organizations but answering to the commander.
All lines of effort among U.S. agencies, and preferably those of cooperating allies as well, are tailored in support of clear policy goals:
A) Assad and circle removed from power;
B) Political process aimed at stabilizing conflict and protecting all communities’ interests;
C) Impose maximum political/reputational costs on Iran, Hezbollah, and Sunni extremists, and seek to deny them influence in post-Assad Syria;
D) Maintain constant attention to security equities of Jordan, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq;
E) Seek maximum coordination, unity and mandate between the United States and like-minded countries for their mutual efforts toward these ends.
MANDATE—Given Russian and Chinese resistance, there will be no UN Security Council mandate for action. That should not stop Washington and allies from receiving a mandate to legitimate their intervention in Syria. The United States should lead an effort to draft such a mandate defining the terms and principles of an acceptable end state, and then pursue a "Resolution of the Willing." The task force should dispatch a team of diplomats to work with Jordan to request help from the Arab League, and lobby Arab League member states to support a resolution authorizing action in Syria and requesting help from NATO. Turkey should be encouraged to ask NATO for assistance, and NATO member states should be urged to authorize alliance support to the effort.
MILITARY INITIATIVES—The United States should arm the organized Syrian resistance, taking a calculated risk that foreign jihadists will find no lasting place in post-conflict Syria. Steps such as these should define the effort: