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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 27th, 2013
06:47 PM ET

Analysis: Next steps for the U.S. in Syria

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC that the U.S. military is "ready to go" on Syria, if and when President Barack Obama makes a decision.

There will be a "limited strike" initially, said retired U.S. Army Major General and CNN military analyst James "Spider" Marks, going after an array of targets – such as command and control facilities, intelligence facilities, and even the Navy – that have been identified as belonging to the Assad regime, and enable the regime to conduct its war-making abilities and deliver chemical weapons, said Marks.

"Those strikes could be initiated immediately because those target folders, as they're called, have been in place and updated as a matter of routine," said Marks. "These targets are identified, and it's just a matter of telling the combatant commander ... and the central command in conjunction with the European command to launch the strikes."

The U.S. will likely use Tomahawk cruise missiles. But beyond the missiles, there must be a strategic objective. Jeremy Bash, who was chief of staff to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, identified three.

"First, to punish Assad for using chemical weapons, second, to degrade his ability to make war against his own people, and third, most importantly, to reestablish some of that deterrence that has slipped and to basically hold at risk those things that he values," said Bash.

Though the U.S. is not talking about man strikes at the moment, there is a sense that it needs to be prepared for that possibility.

"Assad could escalate, and our military commanders are going to want to give the president maximum flexibility," said Bash.

"We're going to want to have other strikes sorties available, we may want to have intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, eyes on the ground, either drones or satellites or other U2 airplanes flying high above those integrated air defenses to look down ... and give a bomb damage assessment," and maybe use jamming and cyber technologies, said Bash.

Still, the success of any U.S. involvement remains uncertain.

"A very surgical strike against these very precise targets will punish Assad, but I don't know how we're going to measure the success of that punishment," said Marks. "The administration is trying to decouple these strikes from Syria's ongoing civil war. I don't know how they do that."

"The challenge is, do you want Assad in charge down the road in Syria? Or do you want al Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria? And they've populated the insurgent groups that can get their hands on these chemical munitions. That's a very very tough decision this administration has to make," said Marks.

For more analysis, check out the video above.

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