"Historically, trying to punish someone with a limited strike has not been an effective deterrent," said Gen. James Cartwright. "So the question becomes what is the strategy? Are we trying to punish and then are we trying to deter from use of the chemicals in the future and retaliation in the future?"
"If that's the case, then what is the appropriate target set, what is the appropriate military action that would at least lead us in that direction?," he asked.
Cartwright, a retired four-star general who served as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents Bush and Obama, was on a panel discussing military options in Syria and what a U.S. strike may look like.
"It starts at the tactical level. Can the forces of posture stay on station for a month or two months until we go to congress until a decision is reached and the answer to that is yes, they can do that," Cartwright said, referring to the military presence continuing to build in the region, but he asked, "will the [Syrian military] targets stay that they have used or planned to carry out this [chemical weapons] strategy ... or will they be moved?"
But, the general reasoned, most of the targets are fixed in place, so they likely would not be moved. When asked whether the U.S. would hit chemical weapons sites, the general said that chemical weapons stockpiles would not be struck, due to the danger of deadly gases causing more casualties.
Cartwright did express skepticism over attacking Syrian targets as a preventative measure for further chemical weapons usage.
"This idea of prevent, which I don't think is possible," Cartwright said, although he didn't discount a military option entirely.
"But the idea of deterring the use of these chemicals in the future, you want to go with the facilities, you want to go where production is done," he said, adding that hitting infrastructure and other targets that would prevent Syria from moving chemicals could have an effect.
As the push for U.S.-led intervention in Syria has intensified in recent days and with a Sep. 9 vote looming, the debate is sure to intensify. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed reservations over aiding anti-Assad forces, while Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have argued that a limited military strike in Syria doesn't go far enough.
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