Expert: U.S. Syria strike plans unlikely to work

As likelihood of military intervention looms, architect of strike plan is doubtful of putative missile strikes' use

Published August 27, 2013 2:20PM (EDT)

As it seems that U.S. military intervention is on the horizon, experts are reviewing the putative plans to fire cruise missiles at Syrian military installations (plans that were leaked to a number of news organizations).

However, as Foreign Policy noted, the efficacy of such surgical strikes is very much in question. It's unclear, too, what such strikes have as an end goal -- a strategic objective of ousting Assad's regime has remained conspicuously absent from U.S. condemnations of Syrian army actions. The aim, more likely, is simply to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons and dissuade future use; it's unclear whether surgical missile strikes would have this effect. The very architect of a strike plan for Syria told FP:

A former U.S. Navy planner responsible for outlining an influential and highly-detailed proposal for surgical strikes tells The Cable he has serious misgivings about the plan. He says too much faith is being put into the effectiveness of surgical strikes on Assad's forces with little discussion of what wider goals such attacks are supposed to achieve.

"Tactical actions in the absence of strategic objectives is usually pointless and often counterproductive," Chris Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said. "I never intended my analysis of a cruise missile strike option to be advocacy even though some people took it as that."

"I made it clear that this is a low cost option, but the broader issue is that low cost options don't do any good unless they are tied to strategic priorities and objectives," he added. "Any ship officer can launch 30 or 40 Tomahawks. It's not difficult. The difficulty is explaining to strategic planners how this advances U.S. interests."

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Bashar Al-assad Chemical Weapons Civil War Middle East Surgical Strikes Syria