The Romans would have agreed with you, RS*, as far as “flattening” is concerned. The military system of the later Republic and the early Principate grew originally out of a situation comparable with civil war (warfare between cities with a fairly high degree of cultural compatibility) and had largely been perfected by the time of the Roman civil wars that eventually destroyed the Republic. One aspect of this was their approach to dealing with pesky “rebels” and opponents of Rome in general. If a city or territory failed to surrender on the approach of a Roman army, it had better have won because the alternative was to be subject to “devastation” (Latin, “devastare” - to lay waste). Everything in the Romans’ path would be burned or knocked to the ground, and the surviving population would be massacred and/or led off in slavery. Usually, soldiers of the opposing army would be killed; often, the men would be killed and the women and children led off in slavery. Homicidal psychopaths like Pompey the Great’s dad would kill everybody as a matter of course, in spite of the considerable value of slaves in the Roman markets. This destructive and sanguinary approach proved effective. For some strange reason, many cities preferred surrender to devastation and, within a few years, were enthusiastic about obtaining Roman citizenship. In the end, the Emperor Claudius extended Roman citizenship to just about everybody within the immense Roman domain (except, of course, slaves). “Flattening” works - but it might appear a bit excessive to modern voters in the states that would have to do the devastating.
Unfortunately, there are few plausible options open to the states involved in the Syrian civil war. As I commented previously (in another thread) regarding Afghanistan and Iraq, once the great bear gets its foot caught in a trap, it is very difficult for it to disengage without losing any advantage of its intervention in the first place. Russia’s very unhappy adventure in Afghanistan (in support, remember, of an allegedly “legitimate” Left-wing government) is a clear demonstration of this; the same country may soon repeat the demonstration in relation to US/UK intervention. The Syrian mess is even more complicated, and it may prove very, very difficult for any of the intervening states (including Russia) to get out of this with any advantage, let alone honor.
And yet - a really serious intervention (short of achieving “flattening” with nuclear weapons) must involve forces capable of taking and holding territory - and that is not air forces. US satirist Tom Lehrer stated the matter well, back in the 1960s -
"What with President Johnson practicing escalatio on the Vietnamese, and then the Dominican Crisis on top of that, it has been a nervous year, and people have begun to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis. Fortunately, in times of crisis like this, America always has its number one instrument of diplomacy to fall back on. Here’s a song about it:
When someone makes a move
Of which we don’t approve,
Who is it that always intervenes?
U.N. and O.A.S.,
They have their place, I guess,
But first - send the Marines!
We’ll send them all we’ve got,
John Wayne and Randolph Scott;
Remember those exciting fighting scenes?
To the shores of Tripoli,
But not to Mississippoli,
What do we do? We send the Marines!
For might makes right,
And till they’ve seen the light,
They’ve got to be protected,
All their rights respected,
Till somebody we like can be elected.
Members of the corps
All hate the thought of war;
They’d rather kill them off by peaceful means.
Stop calling it aggression,
Ooh, we hate that expression!
We only want the world to know
That we support the status quo.
They love us everywhere we go,
So when in doubt,
Send the Marines!"
Er, yes - but nobody has any stomach for this. Just as well - the outcome would probably yet another unwinnable war, another trap to seize the bear’s foot. Think of the precedents - Vietnam (supporting a “legitimate” government), Afghanistan, Iraq … not encouraging. One thing is clear - direct intervention by the great bears of the international community should only be considered if said bears are willing to act ruthlessly, and accept the long-term nature of such a commitment. In this context, it will be interesting to see how Russia plays its hand, having committed itself to sit at the table and take a hand. Ruthlessness is quite a Russian thing; whether long-term direct commitment would be welcome to them is more questionable.
Of course, there is another possible solution -
Yours from the Mineshaft Gap, JR.