White House peeved at Pentagon leaks
By GLENN THRUSH | 8/30/13 5:10 PM EDT
Many of the leaks about U.S. strike plans for Syria, a copious flow of surprisingly specific information on ship dispositions and possible targets, have been authorized as a way for President Obama to signal the limited scope of operations to friends and foes.
But a number of leaks have been decidedly unauthorized — and, according to Obama administration sources, likely emanating from a Pentagon bureaucracy less enthusiastic about the prospect of an attack than, say, the State Department, National Security Council or Obama himself.
“Deeply unhelpful,” was how one West Winger described the drip-drip of doubt.
“They need to shut the f–k up,” said a former administration official. “It’s embarrassing. Who ever heard this much talk before an attack? It’s bizarre.”
An obvious example was a report in Thursday’s Washington Post in which current and former officers listed their worries about Syria:
“I can’t believe the president is even considering it,” said [one] officer, who like most officers interviewed for this story agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because military personnel are reluctant to criticize policymakers while military campaigns are being planned. “We have been fighting the last 10 years a counterinsurgency war. Syria has modern weaponry. We would have to retrain for a conventional war.”
Far more damaging have been a series of disclosures that more subtlely undermine Obama’s claim that the Syria action will be quick and clean, punitive and tailored. Earlier this week the New York Times reported on doubts that the main weapon likely employed against Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Tomahawk cruise missile, would have a meaningful impact on the regime’s chemical weapons facilities which are widely scattered and likely to be well hidden. This graf, I’m told, chafed in particular:
The weapons are not often effective against mobile targets, like missile launchers, and cannot be used to attack underground bunkers. Naval officers and attack planners concede that the elevation of the missile cannot entirely be controlled and that there is a risk of civilian casualties when they fly slightly high.
The back-and-forth is hardly unprecedented; For decades, military officials — the people who actually have to implement war plans — have been a source of dissent. Think Pentagon Papers. And Obama officials say the criticism isn’t coming from Secretary Chuck Hagel and his cadre of top aides but lower-ranking brass.
One top leader who has been publicly skeptical of the costs and dangers of getting involved in the Syrian civil war is Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey who offered a cost estimate of $1 billion per month for a no-fly zone and buffer-zone ground force during congressional testimony earlier this summer.
During the same appearance Dempsey predicted such areas could become sanctuaries for Islamic radicals and said even a limited strike, of the type being contemplated now, could cost “billions.”