I’ve asked Barry York, publisher of this blog, to provide a halfbaked tag to assign to this article and future articles from me.
Otherwise I would need to keep explaining in each article that I’m just bloviating like other bloggers and not presenting a careful analysis or even a view that I undertake to defend and explain in comments.
I assume that comments in a discussion forum are understood to be informal, similar to conversation, so I have felt less inhibited about just quickly typing them into a comments box. But I resent the fact that people write so much more than they have reason to, given what they have read and actually thought about, so I don’t like just bloviating.
At the start of “Notes on Trump” I warned:
“Even if I had a deep understanding of US and world politics and economics I could not hope to figure out what’s happening at the moment. We are at an important turning point in multiple processes, many of them dependent on unknowable contingencies.”
Basically that is my view on pretty well everything at the moment. I will just repeat it here instead of in each article.
That article was based on several hours a day following news on Trump from the election day right through to the day before inauguration. I thought that was necessary to come to grips with a different political situation from what I had got used to and had expected to continue. I am still reasonably happy that I did explain something important. I followed up with more than 100 quick numbered notes so far but I still haven’t been able to produce a series of carefully considered articles based on the much larger number of links I have collected
What I want to do is contribute some serious theoretical analysis towards a future revolutionary left, especially on economics and political programs dealing with capitalist crisis and the transition from capitalism. As noted at the end of that article:
“If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left,we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners.”
Unfortunately I have not been getting much done at all. Although bloviating is a distraction from getting on with far more important things I am hopeful that it may still be of some interest to others and even if not, that it will at least help me get into writing and improve my morale as it does for other bloviators.
The time stamp at the end of each item indicates the start and stop times for actual writing and number of minutes spent.
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.
“If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left, we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners”.
* * * *
Arthur Dent – Thursday 2017-01-19
Even if I had a deep understanding of US and world politics and economics I could not hope to figure out what’s happening at the moment. We are at an important turning point in multiple processes, many of them dependent on unknowable contingencies.
But here’s an outline of some aspects that mass media analysts don’t seem to get.
The big event was Trump beating the entire Republican establishment as a complete outsider in a hostile takeover. Most attention has been directed at the subsequent defeat of the Democrats and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from their celebrities and media. But the situation on the Republican side is far more interesting.
Instead of splitting they have jointly celebrated defeating the Democrats and appear to have successfully formed a united administration. Both sides are indeed glad to be rid of the Democrat administration and can work together for reduced taxes, less regulation and some other points of agreement. It is also quite traditional for Republicans to accept budget deficits as long as they are not funding a Democrat administration. But the fact remains, President Trump has no party in Congress. They despise him and are cooperating only because they fear him.
Trump’s focus is on building his own party. If he had lost the primaries he looked like running as a third party (which he tried to do decades ago). If he had won the primaries but lost the election he would still have been at war with the Republican establishment, who could reasonably be accused of having treacherously helped the Democrats to win by attacking their own candidate. Having won, without any help from most of the Republican establishment he is now in a much stronger position to actually take over their party. If he doesn’t, they will find a way to get rid of him.
All members of the House of Representatives and one third of Senators come up for election in two years, together with State legislatures and governors. The mid-term primaries start in a year. Trump’s campaign organization has databases with more than 10 million email addresses and 2 million donors. Trump’s campaign more than doubled the numbers voting in Republican primaries (many of them former Democrats). Usually only small numbers participate in mid-term primaries and they are mainly mobilized by actual party activists – especially cronies of the local incumbents.
If Trump can keep his base mobilized over the next two years he will end up with a large party in Congress (and in the States) whether or not the Democrats regain majorities.
The media and celebrities are still helping by denouncing him as a deplorable outsider. That’s exactly what he wants to keep his base mobilized. He won because so many people are utterly sick of politically correct plastic insiders.
As far as I can make out the media actually do not get this. It is plausible that when they gave him enormous amounts of free publicity in the primaries they were consciously intending to help him beat the other candidates so that the Republicans would nominate a grotesquely deplorable candidate who would lose the election. But they actually seem to think it really matters that he has become more unpopular since the election under their onslaught. His popularity among Republican voters is what matters for the primaries and he is not harmed at all by attacks from media and celebrities.
So here’s one possible sequence of events.
Congress approves a fairly large infrastructure stimulus program and deficit as well as funding construction of a secure southern border and improved healthcare. Republican defectors would be outnumbered by Democrat collaborators.
Together with tax cuts and deregulation this has the expected effect of increasing GDP growth and thus jobs and wages at least in the short term. If Trump actually launched trade wars that could produce the opposite effect, even in the short term. But he can start lots of trade disputes that build momentum against globalism without actually initiating a trade war.
So Trump will be seen as having delivered. Many of his opponents will be removed in the primaries.
Hispanic hostility and Democrat mobilization against Trump’s immigration program won’t have much impact on Republican primaries since few Hispanic voters would register as Republicans. But this issue could win seats for Democrats at the midterm elections.
Assuming the Democrats get their act together and stop carrying on the way they are at the moment, they should be able to mount a serious campaign to win back majorities in the House and Senate at the midterm elections. But to do so they would presumably go with Trump’s trade policies, denouncing him for having not gone far enough. After all Bernie Sanders was a serious challenger to Hilary Clinton with protectionist policies (and against open borders) and Clinton actually announced opposition to the TPP in response. Arguably he could have defeated Trump.
So the result in two years could be that the US has shifted from a two party system in which both parties support globalism to a two party system in which both parties oppose globalism. If there was a Democratic majority their obstruction could be blamed for any economic decline that set in after two years.
In three years or so Trump could announce that the border was now secure enough to offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without risk of encouraging more. That could produce a significant hispanic vote for a President that had actually delivered rather than merely attempted comprehensive immigration reform.
A major world economic crisis could break out at any time. I would be surprised if it was postponed for another 8 years. So I would also be surprised if an authoritarian demagogue was not President of the USA when it does break out.
The collapse of the old parties and their plastic politicians extends far beyond the USA. Lots of people are being drawn into thinking about politics for the first time. Their first thoughts are abysmally stupid and make them vulnerable to demagogues spouting nationalism and nativism. But many will end up thinking more deeply now that they have begun thinking.
If there was a left, we would be in a good position to finally rid ourselves of the pseudo-left who can be shown to espouse essentially the same anti-globalist and isolationist ideas as Trump. But in order for there to be a left,we have to be able to present a coherent economic program that explains how to unleash the productive forces of a globalized world for the benefit of the majority who only work here rather than primarily for the owners.
This is Henry Kissinger’s take on the situation in the Middle East and Syria, followed by some critical ‘scattered random notes’ by Arthur Dent who says: “Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states”. (Republished with permission from Strangetimes).
A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse
With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.
By Henry A. Kissinger Oct. 16, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET
The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.
In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.
That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.
ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.
Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.
The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.
These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.
On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.
American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.
Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.
American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.
The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.
Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.
American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.
A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?
Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.
But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.
Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:
So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.
The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.
The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.
As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.
The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.
The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.
Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
October 20, 2015 at 12:09 am
I can only manage scattered random notes at the moment.
1) Kissinger’s ghostwriters appear to be practically unintelligible. This seems to be the pattern more generally so it is hardly noticeable. Presumably the article is supposed to suggest “A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse”. So one ought to be able to figure out that what the proposed start and end points are from carefully reading the article.
2) As far as I can make out the starting point might be:
“For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.”
Plainly Russia isn’t doing that and the article does clearly state that “The U.S. has already acquiesced…” to what Russia IS doing. So how could this be a starting point for a path?
3) Again my best guess for the proposed route is:
“…it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces…The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.”
My guess at the proposed starting point appears naturally enough in the middle of this jumble and has been replaced with an ellipsis.
I am not sure which “imperial forces” the ghostwriters are talking about, but “preferable” surely refers to a goal rather than a route towards achieving it? “The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula” presumably refers to Kissinger’s paymaster, the House of Saud who are elsewhere described as an American ally in the Iraq war which they in fact opposed, as did Kissinger and almost the entire US foreign policy establishment.
But what on earth is it proposed they should do, along this “route”? Somehow “evolve” an administration in “reconquered territory”. So are they expected to do the reconquering? At the moment the Russians are not attacking Daesh but are in fact attacking the Salafi forces the Saudis are arming and financing.
The route of this “path out” starts nowhere and returns there.
4) My best guess at the end point is:
“As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.”
So Alawite “regions” still run by the regime that has displaced nearly half the population of Syria are supposed to somehow form a federal structure with the Sunnis they have been mass murdering?
5) How is this miracle to be achieved?
“The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.”
Presumably implementing military assurances without actual troops means something like periodically redrawing “red lines”!
A “Westphalian state” presumably refers to the agreements among continental European rulers between May and October 1688 based on the principle that the religion of the ruler was to dictate the religion of those ruled.
The British were not a party to it and instead invited a Dutch Protestant army to enforce the opposite principle that the religion of the people would dictate the religion of the realm.
Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states.
The continent lagged behind the British by more than a century and it took two more world wars to thoroughly settle the issue, but the age of rulers is now over in Europe. Democratic revolution is the only path out of the Middle East Collapse.
In Britain that took more than four decades, just to get past the “Divine Right of Kings”, long before anything resembling actual democracy. That tumultuous period included periods of revolutionary military dictatorship, counter-revolutionary partial restoration and foreign invasion.
One thing about Syria is as absolutely clear as the Kissinger article isn’t. Foreign combat troops on the ground are necessary. They are needed to end, not “degrade” both Daesh and the Assad regime and to prevent mass murder of the Alawi and other minorities when the Assad regime is ended. The war will not be ended from the air, whether by America’s “coalition” or the Russians, with or without “conversations” with Iran.
If America won’t do it, Europe must.
It could take more than a year to build an expeditionary force with Syrian refugee volunteers led by British and French officers. But it could be done if necessary.
The fact that there is no sign or hint of that happening suggests that something quite different from what appears may in fact be going on.
One sentence in the article actually makes sense. It seems to come out of nowhere and lead nowhere, but here it is:
“In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule.”
One could add that neither Russia nor Iran nor anyone in the Assad regime have much reason to believe there is any remote possibility of continuation for even a few years, let alone indefinately. This much is as blindingly obvious as the fact that when Nixon and Kissinger resorted to the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi they were faced with accepting defeat within weeks, not years. (So blindingly obvious that most people were blind to it until the Paris peace agreement a few weeks later and remained only dimly aware the US had been defeated until Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city and STILL thought the US might be trying to establish imperial rule over Iraq in 2003 despite that being three decades after its defeat in Vietnam).
What may well be required, not only for Russian purposes but also by others who could easily frustrate Russian purposes, is the retention of Bashir Assad as a figurehead presiding over a regime in Damascus from which the die-hards of the Assad regime who actually run the regime and its war on the Syrian people had been removed.
Even Turkey and Britain acting alone could easily have frustrated whatever Russian purposes might be by now by simply closing the Dardanelles and the Straits of Gibralter. This “curious case of the dog that did not bark” indicates it is not just the dithering Obama that is acquiescing in what they believe Russia is up to.
For my part I would rather they hurried things up by immediately closing the Mediterranean and announcing a No Fly Zone enforced by British, French and other forces based at and near Cyprus.
But one way or another it certainly is not going to be “the sovereign states of the Arabian peninsular” who end up ruling Syria. It will be the Syrian people.
As for Egypt and Jordan assisting the House of Saud in such an endeavour, Jordan is in fact supporting the southern front, while the Egyptian fascist military dictatorship has sealed its more rapid doom by coming out openly for its fellow fascists in the Assad regime, against the interests of its main sponsors, the House of Saud as well as further outraging its own people.
There are already enough Hezbollah, Russian and Iranian forces in Syria to “stabilize” the “legitimate government” led by “President Assad” against anyone who wants to keep fighting a lost war. There is also enough Russian jamming equipment deployed to make it difficult to bring any “destabilizing forces” back to Damascus in time to prevent any governmental changes there.
The southern front is not being bombed by the Russians and the Germans have offered peace keeping troops. Hezbollah has been given 75 tanks for its own palace guard. The stage is set for something to happen.
Some “quick off the cuff notes” by Arthur Dent in response to The Australian’s Tom Switzer who wrote an article on 30 September titled ‘Russia back on the front line’. The notes were originally published at Strange Times. I’m running Arthur’s notes first, followed by Tom Switzer’s article.
1. Vivid demonstration that realists live in a parallel universe with a different “reality”. Switzer is actually quite clear that he wants to go back to the old US policy of backing the autocracies and tyrants against their people to maintain the region as a backward swamp (originally for cheap oil and anti-communism then contention with Soviet imperialism and “security” – especally Israeli security in occupying more and more territory and then sheer inertia and blind stupidity of an entire generation of the foreign policy establishment who had devoted their careers to it and persisted with it long after the collapse of the Soviet empire, the end of cheap oil and the failure of the war for Greater Israel having made Israel a strategic albatross hanging around the US neck rather than a US base in the region (the only regional power that could not join the coalition liberating Kuwait from Baathist Iraq and who had to be told their planes would be shot down if they pretended to be part of it by sending any into coalition airspace).
2. In Switzer’s alternate universe, the problem in the Ukraine is “.. the widespread Western failure to recognise an old truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad”.
In our universe there is no such Western failure. No Western government is even allowing the Ukrainian government to buy weapons to defend itself against the Russian bullying because they understand with total clarity that they have no power to confront Russian bullying behaviour in that part of the world. The facts Switzer recites about that from lessons about geopolitics drummed into him more than half a century ago are totally obvious to every policy maker and ignored only by the usual shouters.
3. In Switzer’s alternative universe “Putin fears that if Bashar alAssad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone.” and “Russia’s navy and advanced antiaircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast.”
In fact Russia’s navy in the Meditarranean is about the size of the US army in the Ukraine. If the Russians were imbeciles attempting what Switzer imagines they are going to do in Syria and Obama was indeed as inept and vacillating as he has successfully convinced pretty well everybody he has always been then the British, French and Turks would have both vital national interests in their near abroad and the capability to act that would compel them to stop the nonsense immediately without waiting a day longer for Obama to stop dithering.
By now Turkey would have closed the Dardanelles (not of course as a hostile act towards that deeply respected partner and Mediterranean Great Power, the Tsar of all the Russias, but simply because they were too busy dealing with the problem of two million refugees having been driven out of Syria by the Assad regime to remember to keep it open).
A few hours sailing time later, the British would have announced that their are command mines laid at Gibraltar that are currently turned on but will be turned off at the approach of any ship that is known not to be assisting anyone forcing millions of Syrians to flee Syria to Europe. Naturally this too would not be a hostile act against anybody but merely a precaution against the possible arrival of the Daesh navy, just as the Russian air to air and surface to air missiles at Latakia are to protect them from the Daesh air force. Naturally the ships of a Meditarranean Great Power like Russia would not be subject to compulsory inspection and the mines would be respecfully turned off as they went about their entirely legitmate business and if any ships of any nation were accidentally sunk by a mine that had failed to remain turned off then Her Majesty’s Government would of course pay full compensation as required by international law etc etc.
All available British and French forces would move as rapidly as possible to the British sovereign base in Cyprus not as a hostile act against anybody but merely as friendly observers of the joint naval exercises that had been announced nearby by the navies of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. After those exercises were completed they would be happy to assist their partners the Russians in returning to Vladivostok via the Suez canal without any danger of becoming subject to inspection by any Arab Gulf states wanting to check whether they were helping any notorious Syrian war criminals to escape as Britain and France are rather in favour of any assistance their Russian partners might be willing to give to Syrian war criminals leaving Damascus right now and don’t really care where they end up as long as they don’t stay in Syria.
4. In Switzer’s alternate universe Putin “has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority”. Pretty well everbody agrees with Switzer about that, perhaps because those who know better have no reason not to want everybody to think that at the moment.
For my part I’ll just end by saying that Switzer and others should remember what Kissinger said the word would go out about another Great Power:
“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”
Tom Switzer’s piece from The Australian (30 September 2015):
Since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine 18 months ago, the West has indulged in the rhetoric of moral indignation, punished Moscow with economic sanctions and treated Vladimir Putin as a pariah in world affairs. “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters,” President
Barack Obama declared in January. “That’s how America leads — not with bluster but with persistent, steady resolve.”
Somebody forgot to tell the Russian President. Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly this week, following his lightning military deployment to Syria, marks Russia’s resurgence on the global stage. The Russians, far from being marginalised in international relations, are playing a weak hand rather skilfully and are being allowed to do so because of considerable ineptitude and vacillation on the part of the Obama administration.
The upshot is that Washington will have to take the Kremlin far more seriously in the future. This is not just because Putin’s support for the embattled Assad regime will help degrade and destroy Islamic State jihadists in a four year civil war that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives and displaced more than nine million people. Rather, Russia’s intervention in Syria shows how rational Moscow’s concerns over Western policy in the Middle East are, and that the Obama administration had better start treating it like the great power it still is.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Moscow voluntarily jettisoned the Warsaw Pact and acquiesced in the expansion of NATO and the EU on to the frontiers of the former Soviet Union. But the limits of Russia’s post Cold War retreat have been evident since the Western backed coup against a pro-Russian ally in Kiev in February last year. Putin has played hardball to protect what Russia has deemed as its sphere of influence in the Baltics long before Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin appeared on the scene. And in the Middle East it is determined to protect what it perceives as its vital interests.
Putin fears that if Bashar alAssad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone. That is why he has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority.
And by reaching an understanding with Syria as well as Iraq and Iran to share intelligence about Islamic State, Putin is positioning Russia again as a key player in the Middle East, and one that is
more willing than the West to defeat Sunni jihadists. In the process, he has exposed the shortcomings of the White House’s policy towards Syria.
Until recently, the prevailing wisdom held that the Assad regime — the nemesis of Sunni militants was on the verge of collapse, an outcome that Washington, London and Canberra had enthusiastically encouraged for much of the past four years. And although Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now recognise that Assad must be part of any negotiated political
solution, the Obama administration continues to insist that any resolution of the conflict must lead to the exit of the dictator.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia’s continued support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict” and will undermine “our shared goal of fighting extremism”. British Chancellor George Osborne goes so far as to say the West’s aim should to be to defeat both Assad and Islamic State. But given Washington’s futile attempts to destroy the Sunni jihadist network
during the past year, most seasoned observers of the Syrian crisis are entitled to think that such strategies are manifest madness.
The consequences of removing Assad would be dire. The regime would collapse and its Alawite army would crumble. Sunni jihadists such as Islamic State and alQa’ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat alNusra, also known as alNusra Front, would exploit the security vacuum and dominate all of Syria. The ethnic minorities — the Alawites, Shi’ites and Syrian Christians — would be massacred. And there would be the flight of millions more refugees into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
If we are to avoid these horrific outcomes, Russia will have to play a central and positive role. It has had significant influence in Damascus during the past half century; indeed, many Syrian
military officers have received training in Moscow. Russia’s navy and advanced antiaircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast. And Moscow has recognised that notwithstanding Assad’s brutal conduct, his regime is fighting the jihadists that Western leaders repeatedly say pose a grave and present danger to the world.
Obama says the US would work with any nation to end the fighting in Syria. But to engage Russia, the West needs to change its policy approach substantially. Alas, the prevailing Russophobia in
Washington and Brussels remains a serious obstacle in the path of reaching accommodation with Moscow.
The problem in Ukraine is not related to a revival of the Soviet empire, as some hyperventilating politicians and pundits argue. The problem is the widespread Western failure to recognise an old
truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad. Take Ukraine: it is a conduit for Russian exports to Europe and covers a huge terrain
that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Crimeans are glad to be part of the country they called home from Catherine’s rule to that of Nikita Khrushchev.
From Moscow’s standpoint, the expansion of NATO and the EU into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, taken together with efforts to promote democracy, is akin to Moscow expanding military alliances into Central America. Some may respond by saying that Ukraine, however ethnically and politically divided it remains, has every right to join the West. But did communist Cuba have a right to seek political and military ties with the Soviet Union in 1962? Not from Washington’s perspective. Does Taiwan have a right to seek nationhood? Not from Beijing’s perspective.
This is a shame, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Not only does Putin know it, he calculates that a weak, inept and cautious Obama administration won’t push the issue despite the dire threats and warnings from congress and the Pentagon.
And so it was inevitable that the Russians would push back in the Baltics, first to secure the Crimean peninsula, the traditional home of the Russian Black Sea fleet (which Russian intelligence feared would become a NATO base), then to destabilise Ukraine with the aim of persuading Kiev’s anti Russian regime to protect the minority rights of ethnic Russians and maintain its status as a buffer state.
As for Syria, the problem here is not the Russians — or even Iran’s Shia crescent of Damascus, Baghdad, Hezbollah and the Yemeni rebels. After all, they’re committed to fighting Sunni jihadists. The problem is that US British aligned Sunni states — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs — have aided and abetted the Sunni rebellion that has morphed into Sunni jihadism.
Yet these reactionary regimes still have the temerity to call for Assad’s ouster. Following regime change, we’re told, a US led coalition of Arabs and Turks can create a peaceful and prosperous Syria.
Leave aside the fact Assad’s support stems not just from Moscow and Tehran but also from Syria’s military, political and business elites, including many urban Sunnis. Assad is a brutal tyrant. He
has used chemical weapons against his own people. And he has launched relentless barrel bombs in rebel areas. But he is more popular than ever in the one third of Syria his regime still controls
(which happens to be the major cities and the coastland). That is largely because many know his demise would lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.
The idea that Assad’s fall would lead to something approaching a peaceful transition of power is as delusional as the neoconservative views about Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011 respectively. The
downfall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, it was onfidently asserted, would lead to viable democratic states. If anything, both postSaddam Iraq and postGaddafi Libya are failed
states that have attracted terrorists like flies to a dying animal.
As in the case of Iraq, Syria is an artificial state and an ethnically divided society created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In both nations the invasion and civil war, respectively, have unleashed centrifugal forces that are eroding political structures and borders that have prevailed since the end of World War I.
In Iraq, the 2003 invasion ended the nation’s sectarian imbalance between the minority Sunni and majority Shia communities. Ever since, the Shia have been more interested in seeking revenge against their former Sunni tormentors than in building a nation. The result: a Sunni insurgency that has morphed into a plethora of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.
In Syria, the Arab Spring in 2011 encouraged the Sunni majority to challenge and destroy the minority Alawite regime. The result: centrifugal forces that threaten the viability of Syria as we have known it for nearly a century.
As unfashionable as it is to acknowledge, partition is the likely outcome of the civil war. According to Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria observer and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, many Syrians, and Alawites in particular, privately acknowledge that the prospect of outright military victory against the Sunni militants is highly unlikely and that it would be impossible to coexist with Sunni fanatics.
For Syria, partition would most likely mean an Alawite Shia state in the regime’s western heartland and a Sunni state to the southeast. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, this is the emerging reality on the ground.
As long as the regime endures, it at least prevents Sunni jihadists from consolidating their hold over the whole nation and creating a strategic sanctuary along Syria’s coasts.
The moral and political problems posed by Syria’s civil war during the past four years have been real and extremely difficult ones. Assad heads a brutal regime that, according to The Washington Post, has killed about seven times as many people as Islamic State in the first six months of this year.
But the cold, hard reality is that if the US and its allies are serious about defeating the Sunni jihadists, and not merely determined to feel virtuous and moralistic, we will need to tone down our
antiRussian bombast, restore a dialogue with Putin and recognise the madness of regime change in Damascus. And if that means accommodating Putin’s power play in the Middle East, so be it.
Guest post by Arthur Dent via Bill Kerr blogspot .
The need that has not been acted on is investment having become generally paralysed by world economic crisis. Not just traditional infrastructure but all kinds of large scale fixed capital construction projects are needed. The essence of transition from capitalism under such a scenario is that it is partially public and partially private.
* * * *
PPP = Public Private Partnerships
A scenario for transition from capitalism with socialized investment following another Great Depression and its (im)plausibility is discussed elsewhere.
For present purposes those assumptions are as arbitrary as the selection of some hypothetical specific PPP infrastructure project to pitch to some hypothetical target audience.
The need that has not been acted on is investment having become generally paralysed by world economic crisis. Not just traditional infrastructure but all kinds of large scale fixed capital construction projects are needed.
The essence of transition from capitalism under such a scenario is that it is partially public and partially private.
PPPs would be used for all major fixed capital construction projects that are significant for planning resumption of economic growth and ending mass unemployment. Buildings and plant that were previously (not) being privately financed, by single enterprises or project finance, not just the closely related “utilities”. Public institutions would also initially be largely untransformed, so public procurement of a traditional public utility infrastructure facility by a public agency would be subsumed under PPP arrangements as just another private participant that happens to be a public agency.
Public financial and economic planning and management organizations would be involved either as sponsors or minor participants in many types of build, own and operate projects, often taking substantial financial positions in both debt and equity based on the expropriated funds they are now able to invest as well as making ordinary commercial PPP arrangements with private participants.
The relatively small amount of economic and management expertise fully supportive of transition available to an inexperienced government would be heavily focused on the preparation, procurement and contract management/implementation of PPPs. They would have to structure the contracts so the private participants use their know how to maximize the public benefit in their own commercial interests. This would be very difficult and error prone, but not as implausible as simultaneously taking over all existing large economic institutions without enough skills to actually manage them in the public interest.
The much wider role of PPPs requires much better resourced public institutions responsible for PPPs. The relatively small numbers of government decision makers with adequate skills must supervise and structure appropriate incentives to motivate, much larger number of employees and consultants recruited from the private sector for their know how, despite their lack of support for transition.
Currently known “best practices” for PPPs would be generally applicable. There is no point in listing them. But the assumption of quite different circumstances imply many new lessons could only be learned from experience with at least the following differences from the usual circumstances.
1. Much greater transparency and much less corruption would be imposed on both the public and private participants as part of the broader social changes involved in transition.
2. Greater flexibility for detailed renegotiations would be necessitated by the circumstances of economic crisis and the more dynamic situations arising from transition.
3. Political, foreign exchange and national macroeconomic risks (interest rates etc) would be exclusively borne by the public participants and corresponding contingent liabilities and hedging or insurance costs appear openly on the central balance sheets. The public institutions responsible for exchange rates and macroeconomic stability would be closely involved in understanding the financial flows and risks they are assuming and the prices they require for asuming those risks and any hedging arrangements they may be able to make separately. Both international and local private participants would not need to make separate judgments or their own hedging arrangements for particular projects but only apply the sovereign risk ratings assessed uniformly by their own trusted ratings agencies.
4. Land use and resource management public agencies would likewise manage and appropriately price the responsibilities for land acquisition, site and regulatory risks.
5. Design, operations, construction, completion and maintenance performance risks would be exclusively borne by the private parties directly responsible for each aspect with detailed incentives tailored to reward overperformance and penalize underperformance. They would be carefully separated according to the expected and actual costs and risks borne by the participants engaged in each aspect and related global, national and sectoral statistical indexes.
6. Allocation of upside and downside market risks for supply of inputs and sale of outputs would be significantly more complex since the expropriation of private wealth for public investment in PPPs was made necessary by lack of profitable investment outlets in the prevailing market conditions of economic crisis.
The aspect for which each private participant is responsible must be commercially viable to that participant at the low competitive rates of return prevailing under crisis conditions. But the overall project need only be value for money to the public participants based on accepting an even lower (or even negative) return on their investment in order to achieve planned economic growth and rapid recovery from mass unemployment.