Threatened strikes against Syria could be designed more to "impress folks in Tehran" than to hurt the Syrian regime, Former CIA Director Michael Hayden tells Newsmax.
But the retired 4-star Air Force General warns that limiting the strikes to standoff weapons like cruise missiles instead of manned aircraft may send a "mixed message" to both Syria and Iran.
Obama administration officials announced Tuesday that missile attacks could begin as early as Thursday in retaliation for chemical attacks on Syrian citizens last week allegedly by Bashar Assad's regime.
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Public acknowledgement of a potential strike "has been very interesting and it's very clear that the administration has been talking a fair bit about it," Hayden said in an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV on Wednesday. "It's messaging."
"It's building up consensus both here in the United States and internationally because it's quite clear we're not going to get a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force. That may actually make the tactics of the attack a bit more difficult but it probably won't harm that much and it's probably a necessary thing in order to build a consensus."
Hayden served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from May 2006 until shortly after Obama’s 2009 inauguration. He also served as Director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, and is now on the Advisory Board of LIGNET.com, a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service affiliated with Newsmax.
"What's very interesting to me is what would be the character of our attack," he said.
"What are our ultimate objectives here? Part of the very public discussion is that this is about deterring Assad's use of these kinds of weapons in the future, and we've even gone out of our way to indicate this is not about anything more, it's not about changing the battlefield equilibrium, it's not about regime change.
"And if it's merely deterrence with regard to chemical weapons, that leaves all these other very powerful, destructive forces in place.
"If you look upon this is in a classical military term what we have here is what's called a demonstration," said Hayden. "It's part of military doctrine that you're demonstrating capability to Assad to deter his use of these kinds of weapons in the future.
"Also it's fair to point out that there's more than one audience for this demonstration. This may be designed more to impress folks in Tehran than it is to impress folks in Damascus with regard to American seriousness when it comes to red lines.
"And frankly it may be de designed to send a message to the Russians as well so that they don't have the fullest belief that they have an ultimate veto over American actions to take care of our own security. So this is playing out on several levels."
Russia has warned of "catastrophic consequences" if the United States does act.
Hayden commented: "I'm frankly more worried about a response from Tehran and from Hezbollah in terms of actual threats than from Russia. I mean Russia's influence, if that's the right word, in this situation as it is in most situations around the world is the power to obstruct, the power to say no.
"I don't know a whole lot more that the Russians can do. Now they may opt to try to supply the Syrian regime with other weaponry, but that carries with it its own cost for the Russians.
"A message we're trying to send here is American resolve, and therefore what it is we are prepared to do to demonstrate our resolve frankly will greatly affect the final impacts of our actions."
Asked what would be an appropriate attack on Syria, Hayden responded: "Let me outline the kind of factors bearing on the problem. Number one, you want to be militarily effective so you actually destroy the targets you intend to destroy.
"Number two, if the idea is to show resolve, if you do this by using only standoff weapons — and believe me, as a 39-year Air Force officer I would be the last one to recommend that what we have to do here is to put American airmen into harm's way — but if your purpose here is to show resolve and yet you self-constrain and use only standoff weapons, you use those Tomahawk or other attack missiles from those destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean right now, what's the impact of that message?
"If it is not important for you to put Americans at risk, as difficult as that is, and believe me, I'm sensitive to the difficulty of that question, it may send a mixed message to both Damascus and to Tehran.
"But then again, I have to ask what's the ultimate objective here other than they've done this, so we have to do something?"
He adds: "The highest estimates of casualties [from U.S. strikes] I'm seeing are about 1,000, maybe 1,300. This is a war that's killed well over 100,000 people so far.
"If it plays out that this really is just about the chemical weapons and deterring their future use, fundamentally we're taking a pass on the ultimate resolution. We're taking a pass on any description of our final strategic objective, and then this turns this thing into a very specific tactical action wrapped around one event in a very long war, and ultimately, we're going to find that unsatisfying at the strategic level."
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