U.S. "committed" to Syria action, will look weak to Assad if it doesn't act, retired general says

(CBS News) How could a potential U.S. attack on Syria unfold? One possible model for such a strike happened in 1998, when the U.S. launched cruise missiles at targets in Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the bombings of two American embassies in Africa.

Ret. Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was commander of the United States Central Command at that time, recalled parallels in the current situation with Syria to various U.S. military actions over the years, and like them, he said, the U.S. is now "committed" to action because of the "problem ... of red lines."

With Syria, President Obama has drawn a red line on the use of chemical weapons -- a line that Syria has allegedly crossed several times.



Obama: "I have not made a decision" on Syria military strike

"Bashar Assad, much like Saddam Hussein, will continue to violate red lines and do unacceptable acts," Zinni said on "CBS This Morning." "We'll find ourselves like we did in the '90s with Iraq that we will repeatedly conduct these kinds of actions against these kinds of acts and find ourselves in sort of a slow-rolling campaign and unsure where it might lead unless we have a strategy in place to understand how this is going to play. It just can't be a one-and-done. You can't assume that there isn't anything that's going to provoke another response."

The president, according to Zinni, must do something because the U.S. will be deemed weak if he doesn't, and Syrian forces will "continue to test us." Zinni added, "We need to think in terms of a longer campaign, not that this might be just one act and then finished.

He continued, "In Iraq, what we did because we assumed we would be doing this repeatedly, we decided what kinds of targets we wanted to take down to make the regime more vulnerable. For example, we rolled back and basically removed his air defense systems. So I think looking at command control, air defense, not assuming this is just a one-act play, but look at the long-term as to how to deplete and draw down any kind of capabilities he may have to making him more vulnerable in the future. Now, the trick here, though -- same as we had with Saddam -- if the objective is not regime removal, you don't know when you might hit that point where you make the regime so weak it might topple anyway, and you have to be prepared for that eventuality."

Turning to the potential for retaliation, which has been threatened by Iran and Syria, Zinni said the U.S. has to be prepared for that kind of action and it should be part of military planning. He explained, "We should always assume that any capability they have -- sleeper cell terrorist attacks, use of Hezbollah to attack Israel, attacking our targets in the region, U.S. military -- we should have a plan in place to respond to each of those potentials."

However, Russia's movement of two ships into the Mediterranean Sea doesn't feel like a threat, but rather a signal of displeasure over the Syria situation, according to Zinni.

"It's not a threat in any way," he said. "We certainly have overwhelming force compared to them in the region and I don't think they're interested in any way interfering with us. I think it's their way of message-sending."

For more with Zinni on Syria, as well as the culture of leaking information in Washington, D.C., watch the video above.

  • Amanda Cochran

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