The New York Times has a nice article laying out the likely outline of the American attack. The U.S. will use cruise missiles to attack the command and control systems governing the chemical weapons. It will avoid attacking the sites themselves, for fear of either releasing chemical agents or allowing the opposition to grab the stores.
Cruise missile attacks are hard to launch against mobile targets, simply because it is hard to get the missiles to arrive simultaneously. This provides warning that an attack is underway. In addition, they cause more collateral damage than equivalent aircraft-launched weapons or JDAMs: “Naval officers and attack planners concede that the missiles are not entirely controllable for elevation near the target, and when they fly slightly high carry the risk of blast effect to structures and people behind or near the targets.”
In case you are wondering, the U.K. will participate. It will launch cruise missiles, plus Storm Shadow missiles fired from Tornado GR4 jets far outside Syrian airspace. (The Storm Shadow has a range of 155 miles.)
Apparently the U.S.-U.K. coalition (probably with some French help and possibly a NATO fig leaf if no UNSC resolution is forthcoming) will not try to degrade the Syrian government’s military capacity other than with regard to chemical weapons. I guess I sort of called it yesterday? No, David Allen did.
Back to the 1990s indeed. I am going to re-read David Halberstam’s War in a Time of Peace. Despite the fact that this is most assuredly not a time of peace for the United States, we seem to be reliving that period, doing the same things, likely with the same results. Which were not terrible.* But they were not that good, either.
What are the lessons that we should be learning from that earlier period of long-distance low-casualty non-war wars?