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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Is Syria plan a matter of pointless proportionality?

In the current build-up to direct American military involvement in Syria, the phrase I keep hearing is “proportional response.” I’ve heard it before; seen it played out; despised it every time.

I’ve never quite been able to come to grips with the idea, which as I understand it means if some country or terrorist group attacks or blows something up, you respond in kind, maybe blowing up something of theirs. It’s the “tit for tat”solution of measured retaliation.

I don’t know how you feel, but if the victim is my son or someone I know, I promise you a “proportional response” is going to be a lot different than what some government bureaucrat might suggest.

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t work. Never has, never will.

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So here we are again, ready to “send a message,” “fire a warning shot across their bow,” “draw a line”... you get the picture.

The idea is to lob a few missiles — planned and executed inside the fortified rooms of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base — at command-and-control centers in Syria to let them know they can’t continue killing people with poison chemicals.

Of course the problem is we aren’t too sure who used chemical weapons. There are reports that it might have been one of the rebel groups involved.

In fact, if you think figuring out Iraq and Afghanistan were tricky politics, Syria is a nightmare. While there is apparently a rebel group we are supporting that “might” be a moderating force, they are also apparently not the majority. In fact, the majority is said to have links to al-Qaida.

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That is only one problem, not including the possibility of collateral damage or even one suggestion that the Assad government would claim U.S. missiles set off chemical munitions and killed innocent Syrians.

“Proportional response” seems to include the possibility of drone-based strikes and smart missiles lobbed from warships 50 miles offshore.

It’s a strategy that has become a way of life for a new generation that has known nothing but Americans engaged in conflict in the Middle East for nearly two decades.

My guess is there are those who believe the CIA is just another branch of the military, and they probably have a fight song and play Notre Dame once a year in football.

They are certainly the best branch to carry out “proportional response” without putting any boots on the ground, at least officially.

There are no easy answers in Syria. We live in a world that does not uniformly condemn the current regime for its use, not just of chemical weapons, but for the slaughter of its own people. And that is outrageous.

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Today is Sept. 1, and most Americans are caught up with the beginning of football season and the climax of baseball pennant races. We’re wrapped up on this Labor Day weekend with a stagnant job market and an uneasiness that won’t go away.

Maybe it seems easier to let the politicians and generals lob missiles into Syria and “send a message” with our “proportional response” that they’d better watch out ... for what I’m not sure.

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