by Arthur Dent
The missile strike against an Assad regime air base was a “limited” and “proportional” response to chemical weapons. That is the opposite of what U.S. allies should be saying. One might as well stress that it was militarily pointless since the warnings given enabled those planes not grounded for repairs to escape.
The real point was explained by the International Red Cross – there is now an “international armed conflict” between the United States and the Syrian regime. Pretending that will not end in invasion and occupation does not prevent the far right and the pseudo-left jointly mobilizing against it, helped by “opinion leaders”. Pretence only delays understanding why we must fight.
For domestic reasons the U.S. government needs to maintain ambiguity. It was elected on an isolationist “America First” platform in a country where most “opinion leaders” are actively hostile to getting involved in another war and where much of the “mainstream” mass media has recently been devoted to deranged conspiracy theories appealing to the intelligence agencies to do their patriotic duty by undermining the elected government who are supposed to be in collusion with the Kremlin. But U.S. allies should help by clarifying that we are ready to fight.
Typically Australia just echoes whatever the latest U.S. pronouncement happens to be, obediently switching positions whenever the U.S. does. Usually such switches are executed more smoothly than the latest one, in which U.S. policies were reversed over a few hours and Australian policies followed immediately but pathetically maintaining the same ambiguity when the opposite is needed.
The U.S. policies for Syria followed for the last few years have been completely absurd. Inaction has resulted in half the population displaced, nearly half a million killed, millions of refugees throughout the region and a serious threat to European unity. Even distant Australia has been affected by the increased terrorist threat resulting from the callous Western indifference to the slaughter. Cowards have attacked muslims here instead of actually fighting our common enemy.
Things can only get worse the longer intervention is postponed. Safe Zones to protect the displaced civilian population were required long ago and must be implemented soon.
The Srebrenica massacre in the Bosnian war occurred in a “safe area” protected by U.N. armed forces under Security Council resolution 819. About 100,000 were killed in the Bosnian war until a NATO occupation force of 80,000 ended it. Two decades later there are still some troops supporting an international “High Representative” supervising the two competing governments.
The Syrian war has been left to fester for so long that it is much more savage and will require a much larger occupation force for much longer. There is no question of “peace enforcing”. There is no peace to enforce. Making peace requires international forces able to kill people and blow things up until other armed forces surrender and are interned.
Only the U.S. has the logistics capacity to maintain such a force. Other countries will be expected to pay for it as well as contribute to it.
The longer it is delayed the more it will cost, to the world as well as it already has to the Syrian people. Australia should help speed things up, not add to the confusion.
1. Why Occupy?
Because most discussion is focussed on the Syrian war ending with either a negotiated agreement for a joint transitional government or victory for one side or another which makes no sense without an occupation, None of these are remotely plausible as none of the belligerants are capable of preventing sections on their own side resuming combat to prevent their enemies entrenching themselves with whatever power they get.
2. Why Now? Inevitably there will be a delay and maneuvering to keep people confused. But for outsiders and especially the genuine left, the more clarity and urgency the better.
3. Why Syria? Democratic revolution elsewhere will also need military backing from developed countries. Yes it’s the thin edge of the wedge. The Anglosphere was never a party to the treaty of westphalia where it was agreed that the religion of each realm would be the religion of its sovereign. The opposite principle was being established in which a Dutch Protestant Army assisted the English to enforce that the religion of the people would be the religion of the realm.
Revolutionary democrats oppose imperialist suppression of national democratic revoution. We support military solidarity in suppression of tyranny.
4. What about Russia?
The bizarre media focus on fears and hopes of what Russia might or might not do reflects complete ignorance about who is at war with whom over what in Syria. Even Obama remarked that anyone viewing it as some sort of chess game between two superpowers simply isn’t paying attention to the actual chessboard.
Russia has a GDP similar to Australia, Spain or Italy. It is a military great power in Eastern Europe and Central Asia but has no capability to wage war in the mediterranean. It has been allowed/invited to intervene by actual mediterranean powers including USA, Turkey, Britain and France because it can help with an orderly transition from the Assad regime avoiding the massacres that would have resulted from the catastrophic collapse that was imminent at the time. This has been accompanied by much shouting because that role necessarily involves it being allied to the regime and attacking its enemies.
Both the Assad regime and Daesh have no chance of winning. That leaves Al Qaeda (Jabhat Fateh al Sham) as the most dangerous enemy in the next phase, since it was genuinely allied with the revolution against both Daesh and the regime so other rebels are unable to draw a clear line of demarcation from it.
Any agreement on transition will require removal of all foreign forces (Russian and Shia Iranians, Lebanese and Iraqis and Sunni jihadis). The Russians cannot possibly remain in Syria to protect the Alawi minority and others from massacre. The rebels don’t have forces that could prevent Al Qaeda and some of the other salafis carrying out massacres even after Daesh is eliminated.
There has to be a credible external force for the regime to surrender to without their population being massacred. That requires an occupation army from countries that were not belligerants and have no long term interests in Syria. The Russians can facilitate an orderly transfer to such a force but they cannot substitute for it any more than Hezbollah could. Until there is one the regime can only keep fighting desperately as it has nobody to surrender to that can prevent massacres. That desperation would naturally include chemical weapons. What did they have to lose?
This picture is of course radically different from the impression that the regime is winning thanks to Russia. The fog is just as great as when the public debate over Iraq was all about WMDs that had little to do with the actual nature of the war.
5. What about Trump?
Still too early to analyse what Trump’s foreign policy will be. Here’s an amusing example of the pitfalls:
The Atlantic had to preface a major article opposing what appeared to be Trump’s policy towards the EU with a note that it seemed to have just been obsoleted by events the day before publication.
6. Meanwhile he’s certainly doing very well domestically. Approval rating among Republicans back up to near 90% so he is still on track to emerge from the 2018 primaries with a large Trumpist party in Congress. Also the Democrats and their media have still shown no sign of recovery from complete meltdown, swinging wildly all over the place talking to themselves.
7. Also it still looks like the shift will be from two globalist parties to two anti-globalist parties. Trump is still only preparing the way for future moves on trade and the Democrats are already promising that they will be more protectionist than he is:
They cannot even resist insisting that China is manipulating its currency after Trump had to admit he got that wrong. So it isn’t even a matter of considered strategy. They just haven’t got a clue.
8. What about Assad? I didn’t mention Bashir because I don’t believe he is central unlike say Sadaam Hussein in Iraq. The Assad regime refers to a clan and its allies mainly in the Alawite community. Bashir is not in charge but important as a symbol that the regme has not collapsed. As far as I can make out the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah are more important and none of them are likely to believe the Assad regime can survive. BTW Iraqi Shia militias are also significant and Sadr has mentioned that Bashir should go.
9. National Guard units need more notice for deployment. This is a straw in the wind that they may be needed in October: The recent first open long term combat troops other than special forces and covert operations to Syria with reserves in Kuwait were deployed by sea last October during Obama administraiton.
So far only rumours of ideas for 10,000 to 150,00 for liberation of Rakkah from Daesh. But once that happens they would be needed for safe zones which also establishes bases for a larger force and then transitioning from Assad regime.
10 David Kilcullen in The Australaian last Saturday (subscription required):
Still talks in terms of negotiated outcome rather than the regime needing somebody to surrender to but seems to support my analysis in 102 and 102 that nerve gas used due to desperate situation in Hama and that Al Qaeda now biggest danger since both regime and Daesh cannot last long. Also takes for granted that Russians are expected to facilitate transition from the Assad regime (consistent with the complaints that they have done so yet and appeals to get on with it).
102 and 103 are here.
See also 1-101 on previous page.
Part of 102 also repeated at:
11, Note also Hezbollah treating Bashir Assad as just a name since the people in charge are now Hezbollah, Iran and Russians. Bizarrely still in terms of regime being victorious despite obviously implying the opposite. There are no sane Lebanese, Iranians or Russian who could really believe that they could govern Syria long term so admitting that the Syrian regime is now just a front is really admitting that it cannot last long.
12. Shadi Hadad in Atrlantic replies to the usual arguments against intervention:
Mentions the same Bosnian precedent that I do. But describes it only as air power forcing serbs to negotiate. Does not mention that what was negotiated was the occupation by 80,000 NATO troops! This is the about the highest level the debate is likely to be conducted at!
National Memo replying with the usual anti-interventionist line accepts Bosnia as “one of the more successful examples” before resorting to the usual on Iraq and Libya as disasters that make such successful interventions unlikely. Curiously ALSO does not mention the 80,000 troops despite that being just what the anti-interventionists don’t want to do.
Basically both sides don’t want to even contemplate that what is required is OCCUPATION not just military “signals” as part of “diplomacy”. Their avoidance of the issue adds to importance of highlighting it.
I don’t think that do nothing Donald will do anything meaningful about Syria period. When the Moguls took Baghdad they got the Caliph to show them around and when he showed them the treasure room, they told him that he was an idiot for sitting on treasure rather than spending it on defense. Of course they then rolled him in a fine carpet and beat him to death (oh for the days when if you fucked up you got fucked up)
When the US liberated Kuwait Bush senior got it right. He achieved his objective by applying overwhelming force. His son tried to do something harder with a lot less force and as a result ISIL still hold on in Mosul.
To affect Syria in a meaningful way Trump will have to project overwhelming force this is the lesson of the two Bushes and he will have to spend big to avoid death in a carpet roll, this is the lesson of the Caliph.
What Trump has done so far is little more than symbolic. He had little choice when Assad used chemical weapons. Trump could not allow Assad to drive a truck across Obama’s red line. He would have looked weaker than Obama. As for dropping a $16 million bomb in the Afghan countryside well the most optimistic estimate is that it killed 90 IS fighters. I hope it killed more but it would have to kill a lot more before it became value for money.
I think Trump has 4 options
1: Do nothing
2: Do symbolic stuff
3: Do ineffective stuff
4: Use overwhelming force to set Syria straight
Only 3 is a wrong option unless you think that ISIL in Mosul is an OK outcome
13. Steve. Certainly what Trump has done so far is ineffective and symbolic. I explained in the article why it is necessarily ambiguous. There are three interesting things.
a) It could have been a lot less ambiguous by not issuing confusing hints at further action. The deep cognitive dissonance conviction in the liberal media that everything confusing the Trump campaign and administration does confirms how stupid they are blinds people to the fact that they would be energetically avoiding such confusion to help retain their isolationist base if they did not in fact need to be preparing people for the next steps. They have DELIBERATELY fed signals that this might be the beginning of getting dragged into Syria (together with denials from the Liar in Chier). Although this mobilizes some of the opposition it mobilizes them on the most unfavourable terrain possible (defence of doing nothing about chemical warfare) and only mobilizes people who will inevitably oppose intervention anyway while giving advance to supporters that they need to adjust their positions from campaigning on isolationism to supporting intervention.
BTW this is quite hard to do. I remember Maoists being confused about Nixon visit to China and Trots rubbing it in that Chinese could have at least given us a warning so that we didn’t look quite so confused. In fact they did with lots of “abstract” articles in Peking Review and other actions explaining what was wrong with previous one sided policy, but we didn’t get it. There was no way to specifically tip anyone off to prepare for the Nixon visit without actually announcing it.
I think the non-announcement and confirmation of troop movements means they want as little time as possible between opponents seriously mobilizing against actual intervention rather than fears of intervention and it being too late to stop it.
b) The outcome of 1-3 has been proved disasterous. Continued failure to do 4 will keep on making the situation worse. Even Obama started deploying the first combat troops before leaving office and it was expected that Clinton would do more. Trump’s proclamations during the elections about siding with Assad regime against Daesh reflected the ignorance of most “opinion leaders”. After being updated with the simple fact that removing Assad regime is necessary for ending recruitment to Daesh it becomes necessary to switch positions. The media is still twittering with outrage that Trump has also “flip-flopped” by not continuing to talk complete nonsense about China currency manipulation, two Chinas, Mexico paying for a wall and the Export-Import bank (and they still haven’t figured out that the health care “debacle” paves the way to a bipartisan single payer health system like Canada or Australia). Pretty well everybody knows that Obama’s policy on Syria was a complete disaster and that 1-3 would be just continuing it and 4 is the only alternative. Most still prefer continuing rather than 4, but it is much more feasible to change that now.
BTW one of the oddities that makes it more feasible now is the problem idiots have raving about the dangers of nuclear war with Russia fresh from exposing Trump as a pawn of Putin. There are ways Congress COULD stop it but they are still galloping off in all directions in total confusion about every distraction Trump has offered them. The latest “do nothing Donald” meme is a classic example, only a few weeks after complaints that the press couldn’t keep up with all the things they have had to twitter about and just in time for a missile strike in Syria, carrier strike force to Korea and big bang in Afghanistan. So they are busy celebrating defeat of “nationalists” while trying simultaneously to celebrate victory for globalists and warning against impending WWIII. There has never been a better time to ignore the opinions of American “opinion leaders”. They have never before looked quite this ridiculous.
But I DO agree it is still ambiguous since there was indeed no real option but to make at least a symbolic gesture enforcing the agreement to stop using chemical weapons and the action taken was deliberately as ineffective as it could possibly be (an “inconceivably small” strike as John Kerry pleaded for).
c) Fears of slippery slopes, thin edge of the wedge and mission creep are not just invented. There is now an international armed conflict between the US and the Syrian regime. That has a certain dynamic that proceeds from ambiguity to victory or defeat but it decisively ends the previous ambiguity of not actually having resorted to an open act of war.
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Arthur in another thread says “But it still seems obvious that the ceasefires doom the regime….,”
I just don’t get how the ceasefires doom the regimen. The ceasefires are localized events where generally the anti Assad forces trade off their territory for safe passage to another rebel area. Ceasefires done this way are rightly seen as a victory for the regimen in that the anti Assad forces are making a survival call under duress.
Piecemeal ceasefires also mean that the regimen can pacify one area while bringing force to bare on another.
You seem live in a world where defeats are called victories and where Western intervention to save the day is just around the corner.
This is how ceasefires work in Syria
I wonder what others make of these latest moves. It looks very much like push and shove. I don’t like the look of US resolve under Trump.
It was Sir Humphrey Appleby who stated that you should never believe anything until it is officially denied https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201707251055863005-russia-denies-airstrike-east-ghouta/ Well theres that then.
Plus Trump in denouncing The Washington Post on Twitter seems to have verified their story.
Many years ago I developed what I called my Bozo the clown theory. It was that the leader was just a figure head and it wouldnt matter if you put Bozo the clown in charge. Its exciting to see ones theories get a real life demonstration. I am enjoying the rule of Tangerine Mussolini immensely.
It is now 2 years since Arthur cobbled his thinking together and 6mths past this restating. It is a good time for a rethink. Raqqa is falling without the large US ground deployment and tyranny supporting HIRISE activity has trashed not only more Syrians but this restated theory totally. The Intervening players in this regional war have continued to fight in a manner that is worth thinking about instead of ignoring reality. This is still map making and nothing is yet decided IMV. Push and shove is as complex here as ever.
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