Syria: a crack in the Western facade?

[Response to a question from Sputnik on what I think of the reports out of the Élysée. Published https://sputniknews.com/politics/201707181055633335-macron-russia-china-syria/]

If these reports are accurate, I think that we are possibly (possibly) in the early days of important changes regarding the West and Syria. But inertia is a powerful force.

Hitherto Paris was one of the main centres of the “Assad must go” cry. But Macron seems to have dropped the condition. The Western consensus used to be that the Syria question must be settled from outside. Settled by the Western powers, that is: not with Russian involvement, let alone Chinese and certainly never with the involvement of the Syrian government. Macron’s remarks about involving the P5 as well as Damascus changes this position too. Moscow and Beijing will have their say (even if the latter is a silent partner).

Moscow has insisted, over and over again, that important issues can be only settled with the involvement of all parties and, in particular, the UN. And, however short the UN may have fallen from its lofty intentions, it cannot be denied that there isn’t anything any better. Two decades of the hyperpower and its minions making up the rules have, to put it mildly, had little success. The stupidity and incompetence of the West’s elites, their indifference to their own true interests, has been astonishing.

Therefore, there is a shred of hope that at last some movement away from further disaster may be possible. Clearly, the only possible settlement for Syria has to involve all the players, not just Washington and its flunkies’ notions of who they should be.

But there is a huge amount of opposition to this suggestion – see, for example, the apoplectic reaction of “Making Peace With Assad’s State of Barbarism” or from these War Party spokesmen to suggestion of cooperation with Moscow or Damascus.

But Trump was elected partly on a promise to stop the wars and Macron appears to have a similar thought. The West’s wars of the Twenty-First century have been failures. Maybe something else will be tried.

(Who, in 2000, that year of triumphalism, would have expected that Syria, a country, one would have thought, quite peripheral to the interests of Europe and North America, would become a world-historical pivot? But so it is becoming: the Thermopylae of the new world?)

The US Missile Strike on Syria: a Theatrical Production for the Simple-Minded?

(I advanced this theory on Andrew Korybko’s show on Sputnik this morning.)

When I first heard that the US had attacked the airfield in Syria, my heart sank. I had hoped that US President Trump would avoid the endless wars that are bringing us all to Armageddon. This action made me fear that either he had been lying to us all along or that the war party had seized control.

But, as I read further and thought more, another possibility occurred to me. The first thing I wondered was why 59 cruise missiles? There simply aren’t 59 thousand-pound warhead targets at that or any other Syrian airfield. Examination of videos and photos showed little damage (and clearly no fear of sarin or other nerve agents either, as people wandered around without any protection). Had I wanted to stage a loud and exciting (“beautiful” missile launches at night) show with minimum results I would have done something like this. Was it a show, theatre. Art of the deal?

Then I asked myself: if this were a show, for whom was it a show and to what purpose? That led me to consider Trump’s biggest problem. It is that a significant portion of US “elite opinion” regards him – or pretends to regard him – as an illegitimate president. To bring him down, they tried recounts, appeals to “faithless electors“, the 25th Amendment; all failed.

All they were left with was the Russia story and that was being pumped out at full blast. Pumped out for months, since July in fact. Never mind the absence of evidence; it was pumped out ever louder and ever louder; pumped out to such an extent that it was hampering Trump’s program; his foreign program in particular but also his domestic program. It was amorphous and self-replicating at the same time. Did Putin secure Trump’s victory by hacking voting machinesby revealing DNC skulduggery… by some mysterious but never explained influence… by thousands of Putinbots spreading “fake news”… by broadcasts by RT and Sputnik which produce emanations that “undermine democracy“… were the Russians blackmailing him?

What exactly? Nothing that could be pinned down. Like trying to nail Jello to the wall. The allegations were vague, elusive, yet all-embracing. Nothing you could actually test. Shining the light of reason and fact on a particular detail was useless: the accusation skittered away into the shadows like a cockroach: voting machines, propaganda, influence, putinbots, association, something, nothing. But the sum effect, day after day, week after week, month after month, was that no one should take Trump seriously, no one needed to take him seriously, for he was Putin’s stooge and, sooner or later, would be forced from office. Soon gone. Not my president. It’s now April 2017 and this stuff has been festering away since the DNC cheating was revealed in July 2016. Nine months. It is not going to go away by itself. Neither is it going to go away for lack of evidence. It’s deeply embedded in the fantasy world (in this site’s universe, Clinton won) and too much has been invested in it.

In the real world, there is no rational way to stop the accusations.

59 cruise missiles later, all that has evaporated, Trump’s former critics are fawning and slobbering: “America is back, and you’re not allowed to do whatever you want” and “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” simpered two former critics. Generally popular – if only rather shallowly – too. No more Putin puppet. And so on – here is a compendium of drool. So, if the strike were a piece of theatre designed for domestic consumption, it hit the target. A “precision strike” indeed. (By the way, Scott Adams, who has read the Trumpian tea leaves very accurately, agrees that it was theatre.)

But the strike was of questionable morality and legality, to be sure; it was potentially dangerous and many argue that now that Trump has given in once to the War Party, he will find it harder to resist the next time. While it is true that supping with the Devil requires a long spoon, I think Trump has neutered his enemies. The next time there’s another (faked-up – and this attack was obviously not Damascus’ doing) event, he can call fake and what will they do then? Retract their fawning praise? Say he “became” President in April but “ceased” to be in July or August? Or (and I admit the probability of this is vanishingly small) when the truth does comes out, could Washington even apologise and pay compensation to the victims? If that were to happen – and I agree it would be a first – it would be a stunning blow to the War Party. In short, I don’t think the game is over and I don’t think the curtain has come down on the theatrical production.

What will Moscow’s reaction be? Well, if the theatre theory is correct, very little because Moscow was in on the deception to some extent. So, the test will be whether the incident is passed off with some minor harrumphing all round (the story of the Russian-Iranian “red line” is not true). We’ll have a better idea when the results of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Moscow visit emerge. Does Putin also believe it was theatre? Perhaps he does; this is what he said yesterday:

many European countries adopted an anti-Trump position during the election campaign. Syria and Russia, as a common enemy, provide a wonderful platform for consolidation.

Every decent theory must be falsifiable. I will agree that this theory – the theory that the US strike was really domestic theatre – would be falsified if the story, reactions, statements and so on keep building. We should know either way in a month.

But, so far so good: the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting yesterday passed off with minor harrumphing and none of the sanctions UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wanted. In fact the final 30-page communique managed to set a new record of logical incoherency by both blaming Damascus and calling for an inquiry to find out who was to blame:

We are shocked and horrified by the reports of use of chemical weapons in an airstrike in the Khan Shaykhun area of southern Idlib on 4 April… The subsequent US military action against Shayrat Airfield was a carefully calibrated, limited in scope response to this warcrime and was directed against Syrian military targets directly connected… We express full support to the OPCW Fact Finding Mission investigation and stress that if the Fact Finding Mission concludes that chemical weapons have or have likely been used, the OPCW – UN Joint Investigative Mechanism should immediately carry out its investigation in accordance with its mandate to identify the perpetrators.

As to Washington’s touching concern about “crimes against innocents“, it is appropriate to note that one of the West’s favourite goto sites, the UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights and a much-quoted source for accusations that Damascus routinely uses CW, declared that the USA and its allies “killed 260 civilians, including 70 children and 34 women” in Syria last month. More than ISIS did, it says.

As to whether the attack will have much effect on Pyongyang (some think it was the real audience), I am inclined to doubt it. The national mythos in North Korea is resistance – resistance to the Japanese in the first half of the Twentieth Century and defiance of the USA and its allies in the second half; all firmly based on the memory of the ultimately successful resistance to Hideyoshi’s invasion in the 1500s. It seems unlikely that the leadership will be much impressed by anything Washington does this century. And, as this report suggests, it isn’t.

As to its effect on Beijing, again I suspect not very much: the Chinese leadership is neither as gullible nor as easily impressed as US media personalities. Beijing might decide that that trying to influence Pyongyang would be more cost effective than another Korean War; on the other hand, it might decide that a USA bogged down in an unwinnable war (just what would “victory” look like anyway?) would be to its advantage. We shall see.

But its effect on the talking heads and media never-Trumpers at home was profound.

Trump-Putin phone call

Question from Sputnik asking for thoughts on the phone call and what the two can do in Syria.

The White House “readout” of the call says it was a “significant start to improving the relationship” and both are hopeful that “the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.” The Kremlin account is more detailed and speaks of hopes to improve “cooperation on a constructive, equitable and mutually beneficial basis”. The discussion touched on the Middle East, strategic stability, Iran, Korean Peninsula and Ukraine. But the big topic was “joining efforts in fighting the main threat” of “international terrorism”.

The call – one of several Trump made that day – took about an hour; therefore, allowing for interpreters, each president had about 15 minutes. Thus there was only enough time to communicate intentions and list problems. Therefore, only a beginning.

As to cooperation in Syria we have two stories going the rounds. One, from the Russian Armed Forces, that the US forces passed target data to them and – after checking: there’s still a distance to go before trust is assumed – Russian aircraft struck the targets. I would expect that the US military will be pleased enough to cooperate – there are already reports that US trainers know perfectly well that they are just training “the next generation of jihadis“. The other story, at the level of plausible rumour, is that Representative Gabbard took a message from Trump to Assad that US policy had changed and that “Assad must go!” was no more. Certainly Trump has in the past shown that he knows what’s really going on in Syria. And one should not forget what Flynn would have told him about the origins of ISIS/Daesh. So there is real hope that the US will stop arming and assisting ISIS/DAESH: a necessary step indeed.

Thus, there is much possibility for US-Russia cooperation in Syria.

But it’s only a start and there more to be done. But it is a good start.

Who’s in Charge in Washington?

(Question from Sputnik. Something or other is happening somewhere or other in the interstices of the American political machine regarding Syria. But something else is happening somewhere else. What do I think?)

The problem with the question as posed is that it assumes that there is somewhere one can find, if only one can dig deep enough, can detect the last vital piece of information, can parse a Delphic utterance, A Plan in Washington about Syria.

Well, I no longer believe it: I don’t believe that anyone is in charge in Washington. The Saker introduced me to a new Russian word the other day: недоговороспособны – incapable of making agreements. He suggest that the US Administration is paralysed by the election and the possibility of a President Trump. Perhaps he’s right as to the reason, I don’t know, but I agree with the diagnosis: I can’t see any sign that anyone is in charge in the “exceptional nation”.

Consider that US Secretary of State John Kerry, after lengthy and tedious negotiations, signed on to a cessation of fire agreement in Syria. In a properly-run country that would be a done deal. A week later, a Syrian Army position is attacked by the US military (with a highly improbable involvement of allies. Several of whom do not even operate the A-10s and F-16s used). By accident of course: another “regretful” error from “the greatest military in the history of the world“. These “errors” all go the same way, don’t they? real errors, one would think, would be more evenly distributed, wouldn’t they? Just before that news had stopped reverberating, an aid convoy was attacked. On cue, NATO’s go-to “independent” fact checker produces a photo that, he says, proves Russia did it. In fact, to anyone who can think for a moment, the photo is obviously faked and actually proves that neither Russia (nor Syria) attacked the convoy. The carelessness of the faked-up accusation is another indication of the incapacity to either make or deliver on an agreement by Washington.

The US foreign minister signs an agreement that the US military blows up and a (clumsy) fake atrocity is produced to divert attention from that. Then US Secretary of State John Kerry says he’ll never speak to the Russians again, but soon does so.

So what are we to conclude?

This does not sound like a country with an orderly and effective chain of command.

Недоговороспособны – incapable of making agreements.

Indeed.

Russia in Syria – Anniversary

(Questions from Sputnik in italics)

With the upcoming anniversary, how should we assess the effectiveness of Russian military operations in Syria? What has been effective? And what has not?

The Russian operation in Syria, like all intelligent uses of violence, has been a military-diplomatic operation. The military/violence part has been generally successful – Palmyra and soon-to-be-Aleppo liberations sum up the difference on the ground – but the diplomatic part has been much less so. The Saker says that Moscow now regards Washington as недоговороспособны or not capable of making an agreement. This appears to be the case: immediately after the US Secretary of State negotiated a cessation of hostilities, the US military attacked the Syrian Army. (Another “regretful” error from “the greatest military in the history of the world“.) Really? Who is in charge in Washington? Who can deliver? Clearly, at the moment, no one. I think Moscow has given up negotiating with a “partner” that cannot (or will not) deliver and decided for a military solution. Then, when the “facts on the ground” have been changed, diplomacy can resume. If possible.

Why US military command started saying that Russia became a serious military threat? What changes in Russian military caused this? What types of weapons became a matter of US concern?

With my military and Cold War experience, I would note these things in my list of things-not-expected.

  1. The very thought that relatively insignificant boats in the Caspian Sea could affect events a thousand kilometres or more away was a complete stunner.
  2. I don’t think anyone in the Pentagon thought the Russian Aerospace Forces could maintain the sortie rate that they have.
  3. The transformation of “dumb bombs” into “smart bombs” clearly surprised the Americans as shown by the fact that they accused the Russians of indiscriminately bombing (although a thoughtful person would have understood that you don’t “indiscriminately bomb” with three bombs.)
  4. The Americans seem to be stunned with Russian jamming and EW capabilities – we’ve had whines about “A2/AD bubbles” from some of the (formerly) aggressive NATO generals.
  5. We haven’t seen it in action yet, but the S-300/400/500 series seems to be a major off-stage frightener.
  6. Then there were the impressive stunts like the “White Swan” strike from the Kola Peninsula, or the Kalibr cruise missile strikes from the super-silent Varshavyanka submarines in the Med. Obviously intended to keep NATO jumpy: we can hit you anywhere, any time.
  7. And, of course, the speed and decisiveness with which the Russians moved.

So, altogether, it’s not surprising that even former NATO commander Breedlove thinks the Russian Armed Forces are pretty formidable.

How have the Russian operations compared with US anti-IS operations? Both in tactics and weapons?

As to how Russian operation compare with US operations, who better to answer than “a commander of the al-Qaida branch ‘Jabhat al-Nusra‘” who tells us “Yes, the U.S. support the opposition, but not directly.” For years now, Washington has thought it could turn jihadists on and off as it willed. Even one of the creators of the policy, Graham Fuller, doubts the wisdom of this today. Russia is consistent.

How US and Russia could cooperate militarily if politicians reach an agreement?

If. If. If they could agree on who the enemy was.

But is the USA недоговороспособны or договороспособны?

Bellingcat proves the Russians didn’t do it.

http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2016/09/bellingcat-proves-the-russians-didnt-do-it.html

The Bellingcat site has a piece entitled “Confirmed : Russian Bomb Remains Recovered from Syrian Red Crescent Aid Convoy Attack” which includes this picture as well as several others. You may look at the others, but this one picture is apodictic proof 1) that the Russians (or Syrians) didn’t do it and 2) that Bellingcat is a loyal servant of the Borg.

syria-aid-convoy-bomb

He spends a lot of efforts to establish that the metal piece is the tail piece of a Russian-made OFAB 250-270 Fragmentation High Explosive Bomb. No argument there, I’m sure it is. Said bomb has 92kg of explosive. Which is quite a lot.

  • If said bomb had exploded in this not very large room, all those cardboard boxes would be torn to pieces and burned. To say nothing of a lot more damage to the room itself. Therefore it did not explode in that room.
  • If said bomb was a dud and did not explode, where is the rest of it? Therefore the bomb was not a dud.
  • Therefore the bomb piece was put there to make it look as if the Russians had done it. (And not very competently either: note that it is supposed to have come through the ceiling and neatly placed itself underneath some undamaged cardboard boxes.)
  • If it is necessary to produce a fake picture, then the Russians didn’t do it.
  • QED

And, as a bonus, by perpetrating this fraud, Bellingcat has also proved that he is a stooge of the war party.

A lot to deduce from one photo, isn’t it? It used to be that it took more effort to disprove Bellingcat’s fakes. He’s losing his touch.

Another Lesson from Moscow Washington Won’t Learn

http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2016/03/another-lesson-from-moscow-washington-wont-learn-.html

When the announcement of a partial withdrawal was made I was as surprised as anyone. I thought: Daesh is not been defeated, the threat of Ankara doing something extraordinary has not disappeared, the Syrian Army still needs air support to liberate other parts of the country, I can’t believe that Putin trusts either Washington’s promises or its ability to fulfil them. I then went on the Presidential website and found this: “In this context, Mr Putin said that Russia’s Armed Forces have fulfilled their main mission in Syria and a timetable for the withdrawal of the Aerospace Forces’ main air grouping has been agreed.” A timetable is not the same as withdrawal, I thought. But then it transpired that aircraft were in fact leaving and the formal meeting of Putin, Shoygu and Lavrov was published. So, think again: the schedule was for the present and not the future.

I think we now know three things. 1) Not all the Russian aircraft are leaving, in fact large-scale strikes against Daesh positions near Palmyra occurred yesterday. 2) Strikes are possible from outside Syria. We have seen the use of long-range aviation from Russia and cruise missiles from the Caspian and Mediterranean. 3) Russian aircraft can be moved back in under 24 hours if needed.

At the beginning of the operation, the strategic purposes were laid out. 1) To shore up government power lest a vacuum be formed that Daesh would occupy (vide the US-NATO disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya). 2) To create the possibility for meaningful negotiations on Syria’s future. 3) To reverse Daesh’s record of constant expansion and victory. 4) To kill as many jihadists originating from Russia and the FUSSR as possible so they don’t come home. Other benefits, like exposing the hollowness of the “isolated” and “powerless” Russia memes, showing off and testing weapons systems were present; they were not, however, as important as Western commentators thought they were.

From an operational perspective, there were four tasks. 1) To secure the airbase and freedom of operation (an issue complicated but not derailed when Turkey ambushed a Russian aircraft). 2) To degrade Daesh’s infrastructure by destroying troop concentrations, headquarters, arms dumps and, especially, crippling its cash cow, the oil trade. 3) To provide close air support to Syrian and allied forces. 4) To re-equip and train Syrian forces.

It is quite true that “The objective set before the Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces is generally fulfilled” . Задача, поставленная перед Министерством обороны и Вооружёнными Силами, в целом выполнена. Not all of it, but most of it. Strategically: the Syrian government is much more secure; negotiations are underway together with a ceasefire; Daesh is in reverse; many jihadists will not be coming home. Operationally: the bases are secure; Daesh’s infrastructure and oil business have been severely degraded; close air support continues and will for some time. “Generally fulfilled” indeed. Or, as NATO says, in private, “efficient and accurate”.

And, should the situation on the ground be reversed, Russian airpower can return in hours.

This is the third time Moscow has shown Washington how to use armed force. It is never something to be used alone, it must always be part of a complete package. We saw this in the second Chechen war, in the Ossetian war and now in Syria. Bayonets are useful for many things, but not for sleeping on. However, it is unlikely that Washington will learn anything: the alcoholic binge of more violence to solve the problems the violence created is too well entrenched. In fact, they can’t understand, as Fort Rus points out, that to more thoughtful planners “withdrawal” is not a candy-coating of “defeat”.

It’s because a funny thing happened along the way in the development of US foreign policy lingo. The term ‘defeat’ was replaced with the term ‘withdrawal’. This happened as a result of needing to soft-sell major defeats like Vietnam or Iraq. Defeats were re-branded as ‘withdrawals’, even though in doing so, the term withdrawal was forever changed into a synonym for defeat, and a lack of resolve.

Many Western responses are amusing. Here Chatham House fearlessly demolishes a straw horse: 3. ‘Mission accomplished’ is a bit of a stretch… 4. Nonetheless, the intervention has achieved several key Russian objectives. Of course Putin didn’t say “mission accomplished”; this contortionist invents it so he can pretend that he failed.

Some are just incoherent: “Moscow is thus is committed to ‘monitoring’ the very agreement that it’s been opportunistically breaching…“.

But so far I find this the most amusing example of someone not getting it. “A Well-Timed Retreat: Russia Pulls Back From Syria” by Alexander Baunov. Two samples will show how absurd his thoughts are:

President Putin’s announcement that he is pulling back from Syria should not have come as a big surprise. He believes he has met most of his goals there—many of which have nothing to do with Syria itself. Russia has found a way back to the table where the world’s board of directors sits and resolves regional conflicts together.

This time, Vladimir Putin did not need to pretend too hard when he announced that a mission was accomplished.

And

On the Russian domestic scene, which some experts had considered the main reason for Russia to get involved, interest in Syria had begun to wane among the home television audience. The pictures of silver rockets in a blue sky had been shown so often that there was no mood for a second season of them. The public would rather see successes on the home front.

Too many Americans (“some experts”) comment from Gulliver’s Island of Laputa and tie their imaginations into contortions. Read what Putin says, watch what he does and think about it. Don’t assume.

Or you can join Samantha Power in Laputa: she “doesn’t make it a point of listening to President Putin’s claims” (Here at 2:39) but is always ready to tell us what’s really going on: “Russia’s military deployment in Syria to back Bashar al-Assad ‘is not a winning strategy,’ America’s ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

Russia Answers Turkey

Today, unannounced combat readiness inspection started in troops and forces of the Southwestern strategic direction under the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces. This was stated by the Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu during the session.

General of the Army Sergei Shoigu stated that in accordance to the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, forces of the Southern military district, separate formations of Airborne troops and military transport aviation have been put on “Full” combat alert since 5 a.m. The inspection is held at the Southwestern strategic direction.

The Defence Minister noted that it was necessary to assess combat readiness condition of the Southern MD for responding different crisis situations…

The Head of the military department ordered the Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces Colonel General Viktor Bondarev to organize the inspection of the 4th Air Force and Air Defence Army including redeployment of aviation, repelling and making of massive air strikes…

The Head of the military department ordered that particular attention should be paid to the troops’ control system with deployment of mobile field control centres at full scale. Those tasks are to be carried out jointly with the Central MD…

Looking through the site shows there are a lot of other activities in the Southern Military District since this order was given on Monday. This is clearly a warning to Turkey and a preparation for acting if Turkey doesn’t take the hint.

 

Telling the Truth© By Lying

First the US “private, nonprofit” channel PBS (or, as they would say, were it Russian: mostly state-funded broadcaster) passed off Russian footage of strikes on Daesh oil facilities as US coalition strikes. This was easily caught because they left the Cyrillic letters on the footage.

Now their French allies have followed through. On a France 2 broadcast (or as they would say if this were something out of Russia – the fully state-owned France 2 TV station broadcast) while castigating the Russians for indiscriminate bombing, moaning about the very difficult choices that the US coalition have to make to seek out the targets, swaggering that every effort is made to avoid civilian casualties, illustrates the castigation, moaning and swaggering with….

….Russian videos.

This time they had the wit to crop the Cyrillic lettering out.

Watch the video for yourself.

The Moment When It Became Impossible to Say Anything Good About Assad

Her first article, published as Syria’s government started to attack citizens, was met with a wave of criticism. Both Buck and Vogue’s editor, Anna Wintour, were accused of taking part in a public relations campaign on behalf of the Syrian regime.

Within a month or so, the article was removed from the magazine’s website. Almost a year later Wintour broke her silence on the matter to explain that “we were hopeful that the Assad regime would be open to a more progressive society” but “as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.”

Buck’s contract with Vogue was not renewed and that’s when she decided to offer an a 5,000-word explanation for her original sin.

It suggests that she was the victim of of manipulation from beginning to end…

Reference: http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2012/aug/01/asma-al-assad-anna-wintour

I don’t know when it became impossible to say anything good about Putin, but, as I’m trying to show by my quotations about Putin series, it was pretty early in the game.

But the Assad thing is interesting, isn’t it? The moment when the Word comes down from on high and otherwise trendy and with-it people are instructed that they must eat crow. We don’t often see it in action do we?

The author fired, the article withdrawn and a Big Wheel forced to apologise.