It is nighttime in mid-July in a forest somewhere in North Carolina, but the scene is far from the quiet idyll that we’d all expect. More than 4,000 paratroopers from Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division are in the heat of battle, an exercise designed to simulate a chemical weapons raid. Their imagined setting: Syria.
Maj. Gen. John Nicholson was frank: “As we look at the evolving situation – Syria and other places around the world – we’re preparing to deal with the reality of securing chemical weapons.”
This is the 82nd’s job. The country wouldn’t expect anything less, and North Carolina is fortunate to be home to such an elite and essential force. For strategic purposes, though, the real action would come a week later on Capitol Hill.
On July 19, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs (and a Duke alumnus), offered an unvarnished perspective to the Senate Armed Services’ Committee on intervening in Syria. “Some options may not be feasible in time or cost without compromising our security elsewhere,” he wrote. “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next.”
That’s about as close as you’ll come to hearing the top brass say, “We’ve seen this before, and it’s a bad idea.” Dempsey’s right.
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