The Best Defense

What to do about Syria: Time for Plan B

By Scott Modell and David Asher
Best Defense guest columnists

With presidential support for military action in doubt, America's power and prestige on the line, and Assad gassing his people, Obama needs to have a plan B on Syria. Outsourcing WMD policy to Vladimir Putin won't do a thing to stop the Syrian government killing machine.

Fortunately, a strategic option exists that could be even more powerful and effective against Assad, his Iranian backers, and their Hezbollah lackeys. Going beyond sanctions, the Obama administration should assemble a coalition of the willing and begin actively targeting the indispensable elements of Syria's financial, economic, and logistical support structure, including support from Iran and Hezbollah.

Despite a wide range of sanctions, Syria and its allies are able to rely on critical infrastructure that is compromised, complicit, and corrupted -- from ports, border crossings, and airlines to banks, freight forwarders, and shipping companies.

Neutralizing these nodes requires a non-kinetic containment and disruption effort to encircle the Syria conflict zone and stem the critical flow of men, money, and supplies to the Assad regime. Such a strategy, in concert with a sustained precision bombing campaign against key sources of regime support, was effective in Kosovo and could be in Syria as well.

Such a comprehensive effort should include the following measures:

  • Pressure on key points of Assad-enabling infrastructure, such as airports, border crossings, and sea ports. The mere threat of curtailing or denying landing rights for airlines flying into Beirut International Airport from the United States would lead to greater cooperation. Responsible Lebanese authorities need to reestablish control over Hezbollah-controlled sea ports, airports, and other critical infrastructure that permits the flow of everything from criminally-derived bulk cash shipments to arms, fighters, and other lethal materiel. The uninterrupted flow of Shia militants into Syria, especially from Iraq and Lebanon, has become a primary driver of this conflict and should be properly addressed.
  • A global campaign against the Iran Threat Facilitation Network. Since the Syrian civil war began, senior Iranian military commanders have repeatedly emphasized that Assad would have fallen without Iranian support. This refers not only to Iran and Hezbollah's military support to pro-Assad forces on the front lines, but also to the vast array of facilitators and lines of communication that enable the Iran Threat Network. With zero tolerance for putting American soldiers in harm's way, the primary focus should be on disrupting and dismantling the illicit pathways that will exist long after U.S. airstrikes end.
  • A greater law enforcement role. Iran and Hezbollah external operational networks need to be approached and attacked via law enforcement, not simply via counterterrorism operations. A "counterthreat facilitation initiative" should target illicit businesses and revenue streams and use strategically planned law enforcement operations to attack Iran and Hezbollah-led crime-terror pipelines through the international trade and banking system. DEA and Treasury have pursued Hezbollah as an international mafia for years -- a successful effort that should be expanded.
  • Pursue the Assad regime's finances. Beirut's banking system is the center of financial gravity for Assad and Hezbollah and a key unguarded conduit for Iran into the global financial system. The fact that Lebanon's economy is over 70 percent dollarized makes it particularly vulnerable. Its banks can't survive without corresponding accounts in New York. The fact its banks are notorious money launderers for drug cartels, including in partnership with the Assad regime and its partners in crime, Hezbollah and the IRGC Quds Force, deepens their vulnerability. The power of U.S. financial action against the Iran Action Network in Lebanon was demonstrated when Treasury designated the $5.5 billion Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) under Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act in February 2011. This cut LCB off from the United States and rapidly led to it foreclosure. As was revealed by the DEA's undercover investigations into LCB's mass money laundering, LCB was Hezbollah's main bank and had deep ties to Assad and Iran as well. The Department of Justice laid out the facts in an unprecedented $483 million asset forfeiture complaint against LCB's shareholders, including those fronting for Hezbollah. Such Treasury and DOJ actions could be dramatically extended against all the criminal banks in Lebanon that are fronting for Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah. The U.S. government also should target Assad's main banker and governor of Lebanon's Central Bank, Riad Salameh. Salameh was put in place by Hafez al-Assad in 1992 and maintains first-line loyalty to his masters in Damascus.

These are just a few ways in which the United States and its allies can work together more effectively to non-kinetically attack Assad's Syria and its supporters. As the Obama administration considers next steps on Syria, it should take a close look at resetting its entire approach to the Middle East and ask, what is really going to weaken the strategic foundations, resolve, and external capabilities of Syria and the greater Iran Action Network?

Scott Modell, a former CIA officer, and David Asher, a former State Department official, are authors of Pushback: Countering the Iran Action Network, published recently by the Center for a New American Security.


The Best Defense

Life after active duty: A former junior officer writes a letter to his old self

By "Usta B. Me"
Best Defense guest columnist

As a JMO who made the transition to Corporate America, I feel uniquely qualified to speak to the current debate of why officers are leaving and prove/disprove if the change has paid off. I got out for many of the same reasons consistently mentioned: employment opportunities for my spouse, lack of merit promotions, sclerotic human resources, inexorable career progression via block-checking, etc.

By all accounts, I've made a successful transition from U.S. army officer to Corporate America manager. I was able to attend a prestigious graduate school post-Army where we learned to use terms like "platitude" and "dissonance" while holding a straight face and pretending normal people speak like us. Upon graduation, I accepted a highly competitive leadership development program for a Fortune 100 company.

Now that I am out, I'd like to send my "former me" a letter to assist me in my choice before he gets out. This is what it would say:

Dear Me,

You are fed up with the Army. I understand why. I want to take a moment to explain what it is really like "outside" to assist you in your decision.

The Good:

It has been two full years since you have worn a reflective belt. Your CSM is wrong: You can successfully run on a sidewalk without the protective cocoon that is the PT belt and not be injured. You proved that just this morning. Staff duty is also obsolete. Turns out, people can just call you on your cell phone if there is an emergency. Who knew?

Your fiancée (now my smokin' hot wife) is able to use her degree in her current job without fear of being moved when you PCS. In economic costs alone, having a two-income house where she is able to fulfill her career potential completely exculpated you both from the fear of taking a loss in pay and benefits when you left the Army.

Finally, your wife and I (you) don't have to worry about our next move as we have the opportunity and latitude to take positions within the company to locations which fit our desires. We also do not have the stress of future deployment cycles or career progression courses moving us involuntarily. No offense to Ft. Polk or Iraq, but you still prefer more hospitable climates.

The Bad:

Corporate America has many of the same problems as the Army. Yes, you can move up the corporate ladder quicker based on merit, but to do so you may have to uproot and move to less than glamorous places (Hello, Ft. Polk!).

Also, HR is lazy in this organization as well. Yes. You are still a beautiful snowflake, unique in every way. However, even in your current job, increased production does not always translate to higher pay and better opportunities above your peers. Plus, the pay is about the same. Based on your benefits package in the Army (BAH, Medical, Dental), you make a little less now. Granted, the aforementioned addition of your wife's job mitigates that difference, but for your buddies with stay-at-home wives, they will likely take a pay cut.

Finally, it is harder to get stuff done when your title starts with "manager" instead of "captain." Telling people they "need to get off their ass and get something done" has turned into "we have a real opportunity to make a positive change on this."

The Ugly:

I'd be remiss to say there are things about the Army that you do not miss. For instance, the camaraderie and friendships which can only be made after a 12-month deployment do not seem to exist at this stage in my career. Maybe I am not looking hard enough, but putting a fat dip in your mouth and talking about bodily functions is frowned upon by HR. Talking about phone metrics and customer satisfaction surveys just doesn't foster the same esprit de corps.

The Verdict:

You should still get out of the Army. Your stress levels have plummeted. Your fiancée is happier and you now live by the mantra: "I can never be happier than my wife." You'll learn this the hard way.

Assess your goals. It is a balance. You'll find some of the same stresses in graduate school and Corporate America that were present in the Army. From where you stand now, it looks like utopia but it is not all puppy dogs and ice cream here in suburbia.

Your friend,


"Usta B. Me" was enlisted in the Air Force and later commissioned as an Army intelligence officer, deploying to Iraq in both branches. He left the Army in 2011 in search of greener pastures and found a cubicle in a big company. To avoid becoming nostalgic about his military days, he hangs a CSM rank insignia next to a reflective belt in his workspace.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Cupp, 82nd Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs/Released