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A Costly Mistake in Syria

The U.S. bombed [1] a Syrian army position and reportedly killed dozens of their soldiers over the weekend:

The U.S.-Russia deal to bring peace to Syria seemed near collapse late Saturday, as the two countries publicly accused each other of double-dealing and atrocities in the wake of an apparently mistaken U.S. airstrike that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers.

The U.S. Central Command acknowledged the strike, in eastern Syria’s Deir al-Zour province, saying it was “halted immediately” when U.S. forces were informed by Russia “that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military.” Central Command said the intended target had been Islamic State forces in the area.

A U.S. Defense official said the strike “appears to be an intelligence failure.”

Assuming that this was done by mistake, it is a damaging and embarrassing error, and it shows the dangers inherent in running a bombing campaign in Syria in the midst of a multi-sided civil war. It is even more embarrassing because the strike hit Syrian forces that were fighting ISIS. Because the error effectively benefited ISIS, the strike has provided Syria and Russia with a ready-made story to use as part of their propaganda that ISIS is either backed or created by the U.S. Coming on the heels of the ceasefire agreement with Moscow, the timing of this incident couldn’t have been worse.

Max Boot is annoyed [2] that the U.S. is sorry about this debacle:

This was the first time that the U.S. had ever bombed Bashar Assad’s forces, which have been responsible for crimes against humanity, causing the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Syria’s civil war. But instead of justifying the bombing on the grounds that it is necessary not just to protect civilians but also to end the civil war which has fueled the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS, the U.S. has de facto apologized for the bombing! And to Russia no less, which has been providing the air cover for Assad’s forces to take back ground from the rebels.

In a nutshell, Boot wants the U.S. to justify bombing soldiers that were fighting against ISIS. In other words, he wants the government to defend publicly a mistaken action that worked to the benefit of jihadists. That is the deranged position some Syria hawks end up taking because of their obsession with starting a war with the Syrian government. Fortunately, this was a mistake and the administration responded to the error as it should have. Had the administration acted as Boot wanted, Syria and Russia would have had to conclude that the strike was intentional, and that would have sharply raised tensions and absolutely doomed any chance of reaching a diplomatic settlement.

17 Comments (Open | Close)

17 Comments To "A Costly Mistake in Syria"

#1 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On September 19, 2016 @ 1:30 am

In Andrew Bacevich’s new book about the war(s) in the Middle East, at every turn he quotes Max Boot. Max Boot is always flamboyantly wrong.

#2 Comment By Begemot On September 19, 2016 @ 2:01 am

This attack was a mistake? The position held by the Syrians was an established known base held by the Syrians for quite some time, not a just occupied position in a fluid battle. The air assault lasted for twenty minutes. How was this a mistake? A mistake by the greatest, most competent military in the history of the world? Not bloody likely.

#3 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On September 19, 2016 @ 3:45 am

There are powerful forces in the US committed to getting the US to attack Syria just as they got the US to attack Iraq and Libya. Max Boot and Commentary magazine are just the mouthpieces of these forces.

#4 Comment By Kirt Higdon On September 19, 2016 @ 7:26 am

I don’t believe for a second that this attack was anything other than intentional. The only question is – intended by whom? Some local US commander, someone in the Pentagon trying to derail the Obama/Kerry agreement with Russia, or was the agreement itself duplicitous all along?

#5 Comment By Andrew On September 19, 2016 @ 9:18 am

So the US is first in breaking its own cease fire agreement? How again is everyone else in the world untrustworthy and only we are above reproach?

#6 Comment By Dread On September 19, 2016 @ 9:29 am

Well, don’t you know? We’re supposed to bomb all sides in the Syrian Civil War and go to war with Russia. Why? Because Assad is obviously the Hitler of the Week.

Nevermind that he can’t even hold his own country together let alone pose a threat to the world, he’s Hitler, it’s 1938, and that means we must bomb him too.

Meanwhile, we ship more weapons over to the Middle Eastern country that is actually trying to invade another state.

#7 Comment By Viriato On September 19, 2016 @ 9:53 am

I share Begemon and Kirt’s suspicions. Paul Craig Roberts believes this attack was no mistake. Now, PCR is extremely cynical about the U.S., but I think that in this case he’s on to something: [3]

#8 Comment By WillW On September 19, 2016 @ 10:26 am

Ummm guys? The old saw about never ascribe to conspiracy what can be easily explained by incompetence? Some of y’all may be reading a bit much into this, I do believe.

#9 Comment By john On September 19, 2016 @ 11:35 am

Intelligence failure? Well they should fire the idiot that ordered this, I mean if they are sincere about the “mistake” part. Also wasn’t there a cease fire?

#10 Comment By Ducks Unlimited On September 19, 2016 @ 11:57 am

Whenever DL commences to introduce a Boot quote, I think: “here comes another duck in a barrel”. Mirabile dictu, it always is!

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 19, 2016 @ 11:58 am

In a country we have no business in —

There’s no defense. The democratic Republic is engaged in supporting a rebellion in a state with who we are not at war and is not a threat to the US.

There simply is no defense. Not even to take on ISIS/ISIL. Which is not the primary reason we are there. And had it not been for our support ISIL/ISIS would most likely never have a foothold in Syria in the first place.

We still have people making arguments that characterize others leaders as some manner of moral fail that justifies our intervention. I think this is largely the hype of those wishing to replace them and we never cease to fall for it.

If we wanted to take out ISIS/ISIL, we would have done so long ago.

#12 Comment By AJ On September 19, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

Not a mistake, a strategic decision.

#13 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 19, 2016 @ 2:23 pm

Given the “Assad Must Go” mantra, and the constant deceptions to justify that, it hardly seems that it was a mistake, except in the sense the entire endeavor is a farrago. Isn’t it likely we are in for another eventual regime change, using proxies like ISIS, so that someone can brag, “We came, we saw, he died?”

#14 Comment By John Gruskos On September 19, 2016 @ 5:52 pm

The best thing about Donald Trump is his immigration platform, which would protect America from radical Sunni terrorism without spilling a single drop of blood.

The second best thing about Donald Trump is his tendency to disregard the deranged foreign policy advice of ultra-neocons such as Max Boot.

#15 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 20, 2016 @ 4:43 am

“Not a mistake, a strategic decision.”

I guess those eyes in the sky need an upgraded camera.

#16 Comment By Mark Thomason On September 20, 2016 @ 11:57 am

“because of their obsession with starting a war with the Syrian government”

I wish it were only that. They want war with Iran. They want regime change in Russia, and don’t care the risks to get it.

They’re crazy.

#17 Comment By Peter On September 25, 2016 @ 5:19 pm

It was not a mistake. The Syrian base had been surrounded by ISIS for two years, with both sides at a relative impasse. Immediately after the US bombing, ISIS forces took a strategic hilltop and effectively shut down the airport that provides a lifeline for Syrians living under the siege. Washington claims it was a mistake and that they meant to be bombing ISIS, but there are a few problems with the story. First, Washington has never intervened in a battle in Syria to the advantage of Syrian government forces. Second, ISIS does not build bases that would in any way resemble what was attacked by US jets. Third, it was just reported that Russia had to call Washington twice to try and get someone to listen to the fact that it was bombing Syrian government forces. Was Washington trying to cleanse eastern Syria of Syrian government troops so as to pursue what John Kerry has called “Plan B” – the partition of Syria?