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In light of recent news, now is perhaps a good time to remind ourselves of perhaps the most succinct and information dense explanation of why Assad is less bad than the “moderate rebels.”

Via Nicholas Nassim Taleb:

nntaleb-assad-vs-moderate-rebels

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Syrian Civil War, Western Hypocrisy 
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  1. There are all those claims that Assad is in a “symbiotic” relationship with the jihadis, maybe even secretly aiding them or at least letting them run rampant as much as possible so that his regime is seen as the only alternative to Islamist barbarism. Personally I don’t find that convincing but a lot of people seem to believe it and use that line as a justification for why regime change is supposedly necessary.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Hunsdon
    What's the old line? "Straining out gnats while swallowing a camel"?
    , @fnn
    Predictably enough, the Egg McMuffin ex-CIA guy was making that argument on Maher's show the other day.
    , @Randal
    It's about equivalent to the argument by the other side of the debate that ISIS "was created by the US to attack Assad". There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible without it actually being wholly honest.
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  2. I’d say the table is similar for Israel, except for Troops, Support, and PR, of course.

    One thing that’s missing from the table is free speech, political prisoners, torture. That’s probably where a difference with Israel would be more apparent. But I guess at absolute worst the estimate would be the same for Assad and the “rebels”, and most likely it’s much worse on the “rebel” side.

    But we don’t support that of course! Just the ouster of that bad, bad man who was our ally just a few short years ago.

    Read More
  3. Dan Hayes says:

    Anatoly,

    This table says it all!

    Now if we could only bypass the MSM and present it to the general public – unfortunately perhaps wishful thinking on my part.

    Read More
  4. Hunsdon says:
    @German_reader
    There are all those claims that Assad is in a "symbiotic" relationship with the jihadis, maybe even secretly aiding them or at least letting them run rampant as much as possible so that his regime is seen as the only alternative to Islamist barbarism. Personally I don't find that convincing but a lot of people seem to believe it and use that line as a justification for why regime change is supposedly necessary.

    What’s the old line? “Straining out gnats while swallowing a camel”?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Astuteobservor II
    damn, that is just about as perfect as it gets for a description of the table.
  5. fnn says:
    @German_reader
    There are all those claims that Assad is in a "symbiotic" relationship with the jihadis, maybe even secretly aiding them or at least letting them run rampant as much as possible so that his regime is seen as the only alternative to Islamist barbarism. Personally I don't find that convincing but a lot of people seem to believe it and use that line as a justification for why regime change is supposedly necessary.

    Predictably enough, the Egg McMuffin ex-CIA guy was making that argument on Maher’s show the other day.

    Read More
  6. The only way forward for the people of the region into the 21st century is through some form of secular nationalism guided by an authoritarian state. Developing a sense of nationhood, education for the masses, downplaying tribal and religious identities are what’s needed for them to progress. The area is a patchwork quilt of different groups and one needs to look at what happened right next door in Lebanon during their civil war where every group fought each other and within their own groups also. The jihadis offer nothing but fanatical religious mumbo-jumbo obscurantism and the desire to go back to the 7th century. While other countries aspire to modernize this group desires to turn the area into a cultural backwater. Keeping the people of the region divided and backward appears to be a goal of the backers of the jihadis. That’s why secular nationalism is the #1 target. Only an organized state has the means to resist. This ‘Assad must go’ routine is a trap. The exit of the war leader in the midst of the war would be hugely demoralizing all the way down to those on the front lines. Victory first, then national rebuilding and then evolvement of the political system for the longer term.

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  7. Have you guys seen Tom Friedman’s modest proposal to include ISIS in the anti-Assad coalition? Al-Qaeda is now “moderate”.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Randal

    Tom Friedman’s modest proposal
     
    Impressive, in its characteristically loathsome way. Here's my post on this on the Spiked Disqus comment forum (because I suspect there's very little crossover in readership terms):

    http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/blundering-into-a-new-cold-war/19675#comment-3253083801

    Now that the US is officially acting as Al Qaeda's air force (proud, Americans? How soon 9/11 was forgotten and forgiven, eh?), here's a useful summary from N Nicholas Taleb (per Anatoly Karlin at unz.com) of the relative merits of the Syrian government versus the people the US regime (and our own pathetic government of course, but that goes without saying) are supporting in Syria:

    Assad vs. Moderate Rebels, One Table

    Taleb's original post is here:

    The Syrian War Condensed: A more Rigorous Way to Look at the Conflict

    But while we are going about the business of supporting the previously (rather recently) insupportable, why stop at Al Qaeda? Here (courtesy of a commenter, reiner Tor, on Karlin's page) is the latest suggestion in the NYT from one of the Israeli representatives in those pages, backing the solution desired by Israel - why not go all the way and go back to quietly letting the Islamic State do all the heavy lifting:

    Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?

    (For those who question whether the Israelis really do prefer ISIS to the Syrian government, take it up with Major General Herzi Halevy of Israeli military intelligence:

    Israeli Intel Chief: We Don’t Want ISIS Defeated in Syria)

    The irony is that it actually would be good if the US were to do what Friedman says, because it would leave cleaning up the mess created in Syria by the US, UK, EU countries, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel to the Syrian government and its allies, who have shown every indication, by their restoration of order in Aleppo, Palmyra and numerous smaller terrorist enclaves over the past few months, of being capable of restoring order in the country despite the aforementioned countries' best efforts. Friedman obviously thinks enough US backing can give victory to the jihadists, but he's a man who has been consistently wrong on foreign policy time after time for decades, so his opinion is hardly concerning. He's employed by the NYT of course precisely because his opinions are always wrong, but in the right way.

     

  8. Randal says:
    @reiner Tor
    Have you guys seen Tom Friedman's modest proposal to include ISIS in the anti-Assad coalition? Al-Qaeda is now "moderate".

    Tom Friedman’s modest proposal

    Impressive, in its characteristically loathsome way. Here’s my post on this on the Spiked Disqus comment forum (because I suspect there’s very little crossover in readership terms):

    http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/blundering-into-a-new-cold-war/19675#comment-3253083801

    Now that the US is officially acting as Al Qaeda’s air force (proud, Americans? How soon 9/11 was forgotten and forgiven, eh?), here’s a useful summary from N Nicholas Taleb (per Anatoly Karlin at unz.com) of the relative merits of the Syrian government versus the people the US regime (and our own pathetic government of course, but that goes without saying) are supporting in Syria:

    Assad vs. Moderate Rebels, One Table

    Taleb’s original post is here:

    The Syrian War Condensed: A more Rigorous Way to Look at the Conflict

    But while we are going about the business of supporting the previously (rather recently) insupportable, why stop at Al Qaeda? Here (courtesy of a commenter, reiner Tor, on Karlin’s page) is the latest suggestion in the NYT from one of the Israeli representatives in those pages, backing the solution desired by Israel – why not go all the way and go back to quietly letting the Islamic State do all the heavy lifting:

    Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?

    (For those who question whether the Israelis really do prefer ISIS to the Syrian government, take it up with Major General Herzi Halevy of Israeli military intelligence:

    Israeli Intel Chief: We Don’t Want ISIS Defeated in Syria)

    The irony is that it actually would be good if the US were to do what Friedman says, because it would leave cleaning up the mess created in Syria by the US, UK, EU countries, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel to the Syrian government and its allies, who have shown every indication, by their restoration of order in Aleppo, Palmyra and numerous smaller terrorist enclaves over the past few months, of being capable of restoring order in the country despite the aforementioned countries’ best efforts. Friedman obviously thinks enough US backing can give victory to the jihadists, but he’s a man who has been consistently wrong on foreign policy time after time for decades, so his opinion is hardly concerning. He’s employed by the NYT of course precisely because his opinions are always wrong, but in the right way.

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  9. Sean says:

    A state that is metastable as Assad’s seemed to be, is about to collapse through internal processes. Like a water wheel going backwards, you would think the pattern must have been reversed by external interference, but no– it happens;

    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/africa/calm-storm

    Why Volatility Signals Stability, and Vice Versa
    By Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Gregory F. Treverton
    Purchase Article
    Even as protests spread across the Middle East in early 2011, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria appeared immune from the upheaval. Assad had ruled comfortably for over a decade, having replaced his father, Hafez, who himself had held power for the previous three decades. Many pundits argued that Syria’s sturdy police state, which exercised tight control over the country’s people and economy, would survive the Arab Spring undisturbed. Compared with its neighbor Lebanon, Syria looked positively stable. Civil war had torn through Lebanon throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, and the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 had plunged the country into yet more chaos.

    But appearances were deceiving: today, Syria is in a shambles, with the regime fighting for its very survival, whereas Lebanon has withstood the influx of Syrian refugees and the other considerable pressures of the civil war next door. Surprising as it may seem, the per capita death rate from violence in Lebanon in 2013 was lower than that in Washington, D.C. That same year, the body count of the Syrian conflict surpassed 100,000.

    Why has seemingly stable Syria turned out to be the fragile regime, whereas always-in-turmoil Lebanon has so far proved robust? The answer is that prior to its civil war, Syria was exhibiting only pseudo-stability, its calm façade concealing deep structural vulnerabilities. Lebanon’s chaos, paradoxically, signaled strength. Fifteen years of civil war had served to decentralize the state and bring about a more balanced sectarian power-sharing structure. Along with Lebanon’s small size as an administrative unit, these factors added to its durability. So did the country’s free-market economy. In Syria, the ruling Baath Party sought to control economic variability, replacing the lively chaos of the ancestral souk with the top-down, Soviet-style structure of the office building. This rigidity made Syria (and the other Baathist state, Iraq) much more vulnerable to disruption than Lebanon.

    But Syria’s biggest vulnerability was that it had no recent record of recovering from turmoil. Countries that have survived past bouts of chaos tend to be vaccinated against future ones. Thus, the best indicator of a country’s future stability is not past stability but moderate volatility in the relatively recent past. As one of us, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, wrote in the 2007 book The Black Swan, “Dictatorships that do not appear volatile, like, say, Syria or Saudi Arabia, face a larger risk of chaos than, say, Italy, as the latter has been in a state of continual political turmoil since the second [world] war.”

    The divergent tales of Syria and Lebanon demonstrate that the best early warning signs of instability are found not in historical data but in underlying structural properties. Past experience can be extremely effective when it comes to detecting risks of cancer, crime, and earthquakes. But it is a bad bellwether of complex political and economic events, particularly so-called tail risks—events, such as coups and financial crises, that are highly unlikely but enormously consequential. For those, the evidence of risk comes too late to do anything about it, and a more sophisticated approach is required.

    Thus, instead of trying in vain to predict such “Black Swan” events, it’s much more fruitful to focus on how systems can handle disorder—in other words, to study how fragile they are. Although one cannot predict what events will befall a country, one can predict how events will affect a country. Some political systems can sustain an extraordinary amount of stress, while others fall apart at the onset of the slightest trouble. The good news is that it’s possible to tell which are which by relying on the theory of fragility.

    Simply put, fragility is aversion to disorder. Things that are fragile do not like variability, volatility, stress, chaos, and random events, which cause them to either gain little or suffer. A teacup, for example, will not benefit from any form of shock. It wants peace and predictability, something that is not possible in the long run, which is why time is an enemy to the fragile. What’s more, things that are fragile respond to shock in a nonlinear fashion. With humans, for example, the harm from a ten-foot fall in no way equals ten times as much harm as from a one-foot fall. In political and economic terms, a $30 drop in the price of a barrel of oil is much more than twice as harmful to Saudi Arabia as a $15 drop.

    For countries, fragility has five principal sources: a centralized governing system, an undiversified economy, excessive debt and leverage, a lack of political variability, and no history of surviving past shocks. Applying these criteria, the world map looks a lot different. Disorderly regimes come out as safer bets than commonly thought—and seemingly placid states turn out to be ticking time bombs.

    THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD

    The first marker of a fragile state is a concentrated decision-making system. On its face, centralization seems to make governments more efficient and thus more stable. But that stability is an illusion. Apart from in the military—the only sector that needs to be unified into a single structure—centralization contributes to fragility. Although centralization reduces deviations from the norm, making things appear to run more smoothly, it magnifies the consequences of those deviations that do occur. It concentrates turmoil in fewer but more severe episodes, which are disproportionately more harmful than cumulative small variations. In other words, centralization decreases local risks, such as provincial barons pocketing public funds, at the price of increasing systemic risks, such as disastrous national-level reforms. Accordingly, highly centralized states, such as the Soviet Union, are more fragile than decentralized ones, such as Switzerland, which is effectively composed of village-states.

    Read More
  10. @Hunsdon
    What's the old line? "Straining out gnats while swallowing a camel"?

    damn, that is just about as perfect as it gets for a description of the table.

    Read More
  11. Randal says:
    @German_reader
    There are all those claims that Assad is in a "symbiotic" relationship with the jihadis, maybe even secretly aiding them or at least letting them run rampant as much as possible so that his regime is seen as the only alternative to Islamist barbarism. Personally I don't find that convincing but a lot of people seem to believe it and use that line as a justification for why regime change is supposedly necessary.

    It’s about equivalent to the argument by the other side of the debate that ISIS “was created by the US to attack Assad”. There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible without it actually being wholly honest.

    Read More
    • Replies: @German_reader
    "There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible "

    I'm not sure however there is really much truth to the "Assad wants Islamists to thrive" line. Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition. But honestly, wasn't it always likely that the conflict in Syria would take on a strongly sectarian dimension? Opposition to the Assad regime has had a religious flavour in the past (the Muslim brotherhood uprising which led to the flattening of Hama in the early 1980s), and Islamist groups were the most likely recipients of foreign support from countries like Turkey and the Gulf states. Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.

  12. Parbes says:

    It’s quite interesting in a repellent sort of way to see how all the neocon scum commenters on this website and others, as well as the neocon scum-controlled U.S. government and MSM, have done a full, 180-degree flip-over and gone from ostentatiously “fighting Islamic terrorism” into being open unabashed backers of Al Qaida, ISIS and all the other jihadis – like a bunch of cheap porno whores. Whereas in the period right after 9/11 (i.e. when Islamic jihadis had actually attacked THEIR dump), they were preening and strutting about as “leaders of Western civilization” and “defenders of our way of life against savages who want to destroy it” blah blah blah.

    I guess Bin Laden and his crew were atypical jihadis, after all.

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  13. @Randal
    It's about equivalent to the argument by the other side of the debate that ISIS "was created by the US to attack Assad". There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible without it actually being wholly honest.

    “There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible ”

    I’m not sure however there is really much truth to the “Assad wants Islamists to thrive” line. Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition. But honestly, wasn’t it always likely that the conflict in Syria would take on a strongly sectarian dimension? Opposition to the Assad regime has had a religious flavour in the past (the Muslim brotherhood uprising which led to the flattening of Hama in the early 1980s), and Islamist groups were the most likely recipients of foreign support from countries like Turkey and the Gulf states. Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anon

    Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition.
     
    Freed prisoners was what the opposition wanted.
    , @Parbes
    "Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition."

    Those were not "Islamists" - they were ordinary criminals. Assad let them out because he didn't want to spare the manpower and expense of keeping and guarding them in prison under conditions of the fast-developing civil war inside the country, or just execute them. Probably he might have also had a hope that they would contribute to causing social chaos in the parts of inhabited areas grabbed by the jihadis, making it difficult for the jihadis to consolidate control in those areas.

    "I’m not sure however there is really much truth to the 'Assad wants Islamists to thrive' line."

    There isn't - don't swallow retroactive neocon justificatory propaganda. If that were true, then why do the U.S. government and MSM start blustering and threatening Assad whenever Syrian government forces get close to victory against Al Qaida or ISIS on some front?
    , @Randal
    We can rarely hope to really get to the bottom of particular claim/counterclaim situations in wartime until many years afterwards, at least, so imo the best approach is, in parallel with weighing the claims and evidence , to take the strategic logic into account - that's the strongest reason for questioning the idea that the Syrian government used chemicals last week as opposed to the alternative possibilities of a staged event or an accident of war. In doing so, however, one must fight to control one's inherent partisan sympathies and remember that really there are no good guys and bad guys, just groups struggling for power and various causes.

    The strategic logic argument certainly confirms that Assad's interests especially early in the war were served by the less islamist parts of the rebellion being destroyed or deemphasized, to leave him as the only alternative to the islamists and jihadists. That much of the anti-Assad argument is certainly true. Although the islamists are much stronger demographically and militarily, the less islamist parts of the opposition were stronger in places that actually matter, rather than remote desert and rural locations, had much better coverage in the world power centres, and later on as the military dynamic developed they had the real potential for getting US intervention that was a far greater threat to the Syrian government than any bunch of jihadists would ever be.

    On the other hand it's true that militarily the islamists were always far stronger than the non-islamist rebels, whose presence was never of any real significance and always exaggerated by US sphere interventionists.

    And of course much of the evidence supposedly proving Assad pursued this strategic logic in particular ways will have been black propaganda, just as much of the evidence the other way will have been. The interventionists of course are far better resourced and generally better at such propaganda.

    Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.
     
    That's true, although in those cases the radical elements gained control only after the collapse of the government and the establishment of chaotic post-revolution rule. In Syria's case there seems little doubt based just on the demographics that the islamists would have controlled any post-collapse situation unless external (US sphere) resources were put in to bolster the far weaker less islamist factions (ie a US sphere occupation or "peacekeeping" force), and that would most likely have led to disaster anyway.

    Likewise the islamists' superior numbers and fighting quality was always going to mean they would dominate an ongoing armed rebellion and that could only be reduced or delayed by massive resources flowing from external support to the less islamist factions (and in fact a lot of the external support was going from the Gulf despots to the worst islamist factions anyway).

    This does not mean I agree with the interventionist notion that there was a viable non-islamist alternative to an islamist rebellion or post-revolutionary Syria. I do not believe that would have been viable long term any more than you do, But that does not mean that the non-islamists were no threat to the Syrian government. Essentially the danger was that the less islamist factions, with the superpower military backing they could command, would enable the destruction of the government and its subsequent replacement by islamists.

    Sorry if that's a bit wordy, but these situations are not simplistic and the danger of being brief is that you open yourself up to simplistic misinterpretations and criticisms.
    , @Talha
    Hey GR,

    So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.
     
    Solid observation. Let's break things down:

    - The trend in that part of the world is back toward religion, Syria being no exception. If one traveled in those countries a few decades ago, there were few women wearing hijab, lots of people drinking and socialism was the talk of the town - now it is different. Groups like Daesh represent the pendulum swinging way too far to the polar opposite and will hopefully fizz out. This was brewing years ago for anyone that was paying attention:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29401-2005Jan22.html
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1003/p06s01-wome.html

    In the circles I'm in, (before the war) it was known that Damascus was one of the best places to travel to to gain traditional Islamic knowledge (with a good helping of Sufism). The only danger at that time was that many single male students would get there and be completely captivated by the beautiful religious girls and shift their focus into trying to marrying one of them.

    - Syria's biggest supporters in the region are Iran, Iraq and parts of Lebanon (Hezbollah) - none of these entities have a problem mixing religion and politics. In fact, we were instrumental in the result of Iraq having a Constitution that has Islam enshrined in the legal framework (Article 2). If Iran gets a say in things after the dust clears, they will not get in the way of Islam making more headway into Syrian politics. Russia probably doesn't care as long as the ancient Orthodox populations have legal protections.

    - The Alawis will eventually be absorbed into either Shia or Sunni. They were basically a medieval heretical cult which survives well under circumstances where it is marginalized or physically isolated, but does not under the light of the sun. Their doctrines are very secretive to the point that not many of their own flock even know about it - thus it is more like a psuedo-ethnic affiliation. Recently they were officially declared Twelver Shias, but few people take that very seriously. And if it is to be taken seriously, well, then they are Shias and Alawi is a mere historical point of reference. Bashar already married a Sunni and how do we think his kids will be raised? Syria has gone out of its way to show photos of Bashar standing in congregational prayer at various times - and, get this - he is praying like a Sunni (Hanafi to be exact):
    https://www.google.com/search?q=bashar+assad+praying&espv=2&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjMlqL-4KHTAhXBiVQKHZUqCPIQ_AUIBigB&biw=1344&bih=774

    If this is just for show - then it marks clearly who the appeal is targeted to.* Axiom: the best thing that could have happened to the Alawis is gaining power - the worst thing that could have happened to the Alawis is gaining power.

    - One must remember that Bashar's administration opened up government positions to Sunnis and others either from demographic pressure or a genuine play at enfranchising them more. He did also allow Syrian volunteers into Iraq when jihad was declared (even by official Syrian government Muslim scholars) against US forces - so it shows he knows how to work with even militant portions of his country in order to ensure staying in power.

    Likely, even if the Assad government stays in power, I don't see the country becoming more secular after the war - rather, I think one of the concessions he will have to make is to allow more religion into it - the degree of changes is what I'm uncertain about.

    Peace.

    *Note: His father was rarely ever shown praying, but sometimes you come across crazy photos like this one - my, how times have changed, eh?
    http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/king-faisal-of-saudi-arabia-and-syrian-president-hafez-el-news-photo/543887918?esource=SEO_GIS_CDN_Redirect#king-faisal-of-saudi-arabia-and-syrian-president-hafez-el-assad-join-picture-id543887918
  14. Anon says: • Disclaimer
    @German_reader
    "There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible "

    I'm not sure however there is really much truth to the "Assad wants Islamists to thrive" line. Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition. But honestly, wasn't it always likely that the conflict in Syria would take on a strongly sectarian dimension? Opposition to the Assad regime has had a religious flavour in the past (the Muslim brotherhood uprising which led to the flattening of Hama in the early 1980s), and Islamist groups were the most likely recipients of foreign support from countries like Turkey and the Gulf states. Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.

    Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition.

    Freed prisoners was what the opposition wanted.

    Read More
  15. Parbes says:
    @German_reader
    "There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible "

    I'm not sure however there is really much truth to the "Assad wants Islamists to thrive" line. Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition. But honestly, wasn't it always likely that the conflict in Syria would take on a strongly sectarian dimension? Opposition to the Assad regime has had a religious flavour in the past (the Muslim brotherhood uprising which led to the flattening of Hama in the early 1980s), and Islamist groups were the most likely recipients of foreign support from countries like Turkey and the Gulf states. Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.

    “Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition.”

    Those were not “Islamists” – they were ordinary criminals. Assad let them out because he didn’t want to spare the manpower and expense of keeping and guarding them in prison under conditions of the fast-developing civil war inside the country, or just execute them. Probably he might have also had a hope that they would contribute to causing social chaos in the parts of inhabited areas grabbed by the jihadis, making it difficult for the jihadis to consolidate control in those areas.

    “I’m not sure however there is really much truth to the ‘Assad wants Islamists to thrive’ line.”

    There isn’t – don’t swallow retroactive neocon justificatory propaganda. If that were true, then why do the U.S. government and MSM start blustering and threatening Assad whenever Syrian government forces get close to victory against Al Qaida or ISIS on some front?

    Read More
  16. Here’s an analysis which I find unfortunately quite plausible: it says almost all missiles hit their targets. Here’s another one, which says the number of sorties run by the Syrian Air Force from that base has dropped significantly since the attack.

    As much as I’d like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it’s very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Zzz

    As much as I’d like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it’s very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).
     
    It's not because they can hit something, many nations have cruise missiles, and not even how good they are at hiting. But because they can actually attack some country without reason and get away with it. And they do it.
    When they meet retaliation then it will mean that something is different.
    , @Astuteobservor II
    this has absolutely nothing to do with the table presented.
    , @Randal

    As much as I’d like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it’s very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).
     
    This seems self-evident to me.

    For all the talk of the US losing what are basically its rulers dabbling in remote wars of choice that don't really matter to Americans, the reality is that a substantially bigger gdp and military spend usually wins conventional wars, and I see no entirely convincing reason why that should not be true in relation to the US today.

    Yes, there are lots of arguments about US spending being corrupt, its military virtues (which have always been weak relative to truly martial nations - which is not of course to say that there are not plenty of extremely brave and competent US military men) having declined, etc. But such arguments and others tending to question whether the performance of a nation's military will live up to its spending weight can be supplied for any country in the real world. Some countries punch rather above their weight and some rather below, but generally in the modern world of industrialised warfare it's gdp that will tell as it did in the two world wars.

    I also take with a pinch of salt most of the predictions for the performance of particular untried weapon systems from either side. The truth is that nobody who really knows all the facts even about their own side's capabilities is talking honestly about them, and those people anyway don't know all the other side's capabilities. And nobody knows how these systems will interact in a substantial war between modern powers, because that hasn't happened since long before any of these systems were even imaginable.

    But yes, overall I'd say it's safe to say the US dominates the world militarily, as well as economically and politically, and rivals like Russia and China ultimately have to step carefully. They certainly can't just launch illegal wars against places on the other side of the world with impunity, and just assume that nobody can do anything about it, as the US has on several occasions.

    That said, while matters still hang somewhat in the balance, the US's economic predominance (which is what underpins its military superiority) is slipping relative to China and the world, so it might be that we will survive the close brush we experienced in the C20th with world government from Washington.
  17. Zzz says:
    @reiner Tor
    Here's an analysis which I find unfortunately quite plausible: it says almost all missiles hit their targets. Here's another one, which says the number of sorties run by the Syrian Air Force from that base has dropped significantly since the attack.

    As much as I'd like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it's very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).

    As much as I’d like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it’s very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).

    It’s not because they can hit something, many nations have cruise missiles, and not even how good they are at hiting. But because they can actually attack some country without reason and get away with it. And they do it.
    When they meet retaliation then it will mean that something is different.

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    I wrote the above comment to the Saker's article, but thought it's good here, too.

    I was referring to the claims that only 23 of the 59 missiles hit their intended targets. The most likely number is unfortunately 58 out of 59. (One missile was found on the ground with pictures sent through Syrian social media.)
  18. @Zzz

    As much as I’d like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it’s very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).
     
    It's not because they can hit something, many nations have cruise missiles, and not even how good they are at hiting. But because they can actually attack some country without reason and get away with it. And they do it.
    When they meet retaliation then it will mean that something is different.

    I wrote the above comment to the Saker’s article, but thought it’s good here, too.

    I was referring to the claims that only 23 of the 59 missiles hit their intended targets. The most likely number is unfortunately 58 out of 59. (One missile was found on the ground with pictures sent through Syrian social media.)

    Read More
    • Replies: @Zzz
    There also analysis debunking this analysis and back and forth. But at big scheme of things it's not matter much because what I said.
  19. Zzz says:
    @reiner Tor
    I wrote the above comment to the Saker's article, but thought it's good here, too.

    I was referring to the claims that only 23 of the 59 missiles hit their intended targets. The most likely number is unfortunately 58 out of 59. (One missile was found on the ground with pictures sent through Syrian social media.)

    There also analysis debunking this analysis and back and forth. But at big scheme of things it’s not matter much because what I said.

    Read More
  20. @Zzz
    There also analysis debunking this analysis and back and forth. But at big scheme of things it's not matter much because what I said.

    Can you point me to one such debunking?

    Read More
  21. @reiner Tor
    Here's an analysis which I find unfortunately quite plausible: it says almost all missiles hit their targets. Here's another one, which says the number of sorties run by the Syrian Air Force from that base has dropped significantly since the attack.

    As much as I'd like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it's very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).

    this has absolutely nothing to do with the table presented.

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    You are correct, it was somewhat off topic, it was only about the alleged 23/59 success ratio of the US cruise missiles.
  22. reiner Tor says: • Website
    @Astuteobservor II
    this has absolutely nothing to do with the table presented.

    You are correct, it was somewhat off topic, it was only about the alleged 23/59 success ratio of the US cruise missiles.

    Read More
  23. Randal says:
    @German_reader
    "There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible "

    I'm not sure however there is really much truth to the "Assad wants Islamists to thrive" line. Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition. But honestly, wasn't it always likely that the conflict in Syria would take on a strongly sectarian dimension? Opposition to the Assad regime has had a religious flavour in the past (the Muslim brotherhood uprising which led to the flattening of Hama in the early 1980s), and Islamist groups were the most likely recipients of foreign support from countries like Turkey and the Gulf states. Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.

    We can rarely hope to really get to the bottom of particular claim/counterclaim situations in wartime until many years afterwards, at least, so imo the best approach is, in parallel with weighing the claims and evidence , to take the strategic logic into account – that’s the strongest reason for questioning the idea that the Syrian government used chemicals last week as opposed to the alternative possibilities of a staged event or an accident of war. In doing so, however, one must fight to control one’s inherent partisan sympathies and remember that really there are no good guys and bad guys, just groups struggling for power and various causes.

    The strategic logic argument certainly confirms that Assad’s interests especially early in the war were served by the less islamist parts of the rebellion being destroyed or deemphasized, to leave him as the only alternative to the islamists and jihadists. That much of the anti-Assad argument is certainly true. Although the islamists are much stronger demographically and militarily, the less islamist parts of the opposition were stronger in places that actually matter, rather than remote desert and rural locations, had much better coverage in the world power centres, and later on as the military dynamic developed they had the real potential for getting US intervention that was a far greater threat to the Syrian government than any bunch of jihadists would ever be.

    On the other hand it’s true that militarily the islamists were always far stronger than the non-islamist rebels, whose presence was never of any real significance and always exaggerated by US sphere interventionists.

    And of course much of the evidence supposedly proving Assad pursued this strategic logic in particular ways will have been black propaganda, just as much of the evidence the other way will have been. The interventionists of course are far better resourced and generally better at such propaganda.

    Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.

    That’s true, although in those cases the radical elements gained control only after the collapse of the government and the establishment of chaotic post-revolution rule. In Syria’s case there seems little doubt based just on the demographics that the islamists would have controlled any post-collapse situation unless external (US sphere) resources were put in to bolster the far weaker less islamist factions (ie a US sphere occupation or “peacekeeping” force), and that would most likely have led to disaster anyway.

    Likewise the islamists’ superior numbers and fighting quality was always going to mean they would dominate an ongoing armed rebellion and that could only be reduced or delayed by massive resources flowing from external support to the less islamist factions (and in fact a lot of the external support was going from the Gulf despots to the worst islamist factions anyway).

    This does not mean I agree with the interventionist notion that there was a viable non-islamist alternative to an islamist rebellion or post-revolutionary Syria. I do not believe that would have been viable long term any more than you do, But that does not mean that the non-islamists were no threat to the Syrian government. Essentially the danger was that the less islamist factions, with the superpower military backing they could command, would enable the destruction of the government and its subsequent replacement by islamists.

    Sorry if that’s a bit wordy, but these situations are not simplistic and the danger of being brief is that you open yourself up to simplistic misinterpretations and criticisms.

    Read More
    • Replies: @German_reader
    Good analysis, I agree on the essential points. Personally I'm not sure what to think about the recent gas attack, even though it seems somewhat irrational, it might well have been committed by Assad's forces. But I'd oppose intervention anyway, and if the US and its satellites escalate their military role in Syria it will be clear that the gas attack is merely a pretext, the real object being regime change and cutting Iran and Russia down to size (which obviously is an insanely dangerous policy in the case of Russia).
  24. Talha says:
    @German_reader
    "There is enough truth in each to allow it to be plausible "

    I'm not sure however there is really much truth to the "Assad wants Islamists to thrive" line. Supposedly he let a lot of Islamists out of prison back in 2011 when the protests started so they would discredit the opposition. But honestly, wasn't it always likely that the conflict in Syria would take on a strongly sectarian dimension? Opposition to the Assad regime has had a religious flavour in the past (the Muslim brotherhood uprising which led to the flattening of Hama in the early 1980s), and Islamist groups were the most likely recipients of foreign support from countries like Turkey and the Gulf states. Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.

    Hey GR,

    So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.

    Solid observation. Let’s break things down:

    - The trend in that part of the world is back toward religion, Syria being no exception. If one traveled in those countries a few decades ago, there were few women wearing hijab, lots of people drinking and socialism was the talk of the town – now it is different. Groups like Daesh represent the pendulum swinging way too far to the polar opposite and will hopefully fizz out. This was brewing years ago for anyone that was paying attention:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29401-2005Jan22.html

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1003/p06s01-wome.html

    In the circles I’m in, (before the war) it was known that Damascus was one of the best places to travel to to gain traditional Islamic knowledge (with a good helping of Sufism). The only danger at that time was that many single male students would get there and be completely captivated by the beautiful religious girls and shift their focus into trying to marrying one of them.

    - Syria’s biggest supporters in the region are Iran, Iraq and parts of Lebanon (Hezbollah) – none of these entities have a problem mixing religion and politics. In fact, we were instrumental in the result of Iraq having a Constitution that has Islam enshrined in the legal framework (Article 2). If Iran gets a say in things after the dust clears, they will not get in the way of Islam making more headway into Syrian politics. Russia probably doesn’t care as long as the ancient Orthodox populations have legal protections.

    - The Alawis will eventually be absorbed into either Shia or Sunni. They were basically a medieval heretical cult which survives well under circumstances where it is marginalized or physically isolated, but does not under the light of the sun. Their doctrines are very secretive to the point that not many of their own flock even know about it – thus it is more like a psuedo-ethnic affiliation. Recently they were officially declared Twelver Shias, but few people take that very seriously. And if it is to be taken seriously, well, then they are Shias and Alawi is a mere historical point of reference. Bashar already married a Sunni and how do we think his kids will be raised? Syria has gone out of its way to show photos of Bashar standing in congregational prayer at various times – and, get this – he is praying like a Sunni (Hanafi to be exact):

    https://www.google.com/search?q=bashar+assad+praying&espv=2&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjMlqL-4KHTAhXBiVQKHZUqCPIQ_AUIBigB&biw=1344&bih=774

    If this is just for show – then it marks clearly who the appeal is targeted to.* Axiom: the best thing that could have happened to the Alawis is gaining power – the worst thing that could have happened to the Alawis is gaining power.

    - One must remember that Bashar’s administration opened up government positions to Sunnis and others either from demographic pressure or a genuine play at enfranchising them more. He did also allow Syrian volunteers into Iraq when jihad was declared (even by official Syrian government Muslim scholars) against US forces – so it shows he knows how to work with even militant portions of his country in order to ensure staying in power.

    Likely, even if the Assad government stays in power, I don’t see the country becoming more secular after the war – rather, I think one of the concessions he will have to make is to allow more religion into it – the degree of changes is what I’m uncertain about.

    Peace.

    *Note: His father was rarely ever shown praying, but sometimes you come across crazy photos like this one – my, how times have changed, eh?

    http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/king-faisal-of-saudi-arabia-and-syrian-president-hafez-el-news-photo/543887918?esource=SEO_GIS_CDN_Redirect#king-faisal-of-saudi-arabia-and-syrian-president-hafez-el-assad-join-picture-id543887918

    Read More
    • Replies: @Randal

    Likely, even if the Assad government stays in power, I don’t see the country becoming more secular after the war – rather, I think one of the concessions he will have to make is to allow more religion into it – the degree of changes is what I’m uncertain about.
     
    Yes, see the long term dynamic in Turkey, for instance.
    , @German_reader
    "The Alawis will eventually be absorbed into either Shia or Sunni"

    I've read arguments for that as well...in a way Alawi-ness seems to be a rather empty identity, based to a large degree on fear of persecution by the other groups. I'm a bit surprised that you imply Assad is leaning to the Sunni side, I thought I had read somewhere he's genuinely fascinated by Shia doctrines, but I probably misunderstood (these aren't my own intellectual traditions after all).
    And yes, even if Assad wins secularism might well decrease in Syria; in Iraq Saddam Hussein from the late 1980s onwards also deemphasized the secular character of his regime and used religion for granting his rule additional legitimacy.

  25. Randal says:
    @reiner Tor
    Here's an analysis which I find unfortunately quite plausible: it says almost all missiles hit their targets. Here's another one, which says the number of sorties run by the Syrian Air Force from that base has dropped significantly since the attack.

    As much as I'd like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it's very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).

    As much as I’d like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it’s very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).

    This seems self-evident to me.

    For all the talk of the US losing what are basically its rulers dabbling in remote wars of choice that don’t really matter to Americans, the reality is that a substantially bigger gdp and military spend usually wins conventional wars, and I see no entirely convincing reason why that should not be true in relation to the US today.

    Yes, there are lots of arguments about US spending being corrupt, its military virtues (which have always been weak relative to truly martial nations – which is not of course to say that there are not plenty of extremely brave and competent US military men) having declined, etc. But such arguments and others tending to question whether the performance of a nation’s military will live up to its spending weight can be supplied for any country in the real world. Some countries punch rather above their weight and some rather below, but generally in the modern world of industrialised warfare it’s gdp that will tell as it did in the two world wars.

    I also take with a pinch of salt most of the predictions for the performance of particular untried weapon systems from either side. The truth is that nobody who really knows all the facts even about their own side’s capabilities is talking honestly about them, and those people anyway don’t know all the other side’s capabilities. And nobody knows how these systems will interact in a substantial war between modern powers, because that hasn’t happened since long before any of these systems were even imaginable.

    But yes, overall I’d say it’s safe to say the US dominates the world militarily, as well as economically and politically, and rivals like Russia and China ultimately have to step carefully. They certainly can’t just launch illegal wars against places on the other side of the world with impunity, and just assume that nobody can do anything about it, as the US has on several occasions.

    That said, while matters still hang somewhat in the balance, the US’s economic predominance (which is what underpins its military superiority) is slipping relative to China and the world, so it might be that we will survive the close brush we experienced in the C20th with world government from Washington.

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor

    a substantially bigger gdp and military spend usually wins conventional wars
     
    Yes, but apparently the quality (that is, the quality of the military technology) is also far behind that of the US. (Seems logical: military K+F almost totally collapsed in the 1990s, while it kept going in the US. The USSR was probably always behind the US anyway. So Russia must be a lot behind the US by now. Even if, probably, there is some catch-up since 2000.) I often read confident comments from pro-Russia commenters and analysts (the Saker is a good example of this) about Russian military capabilities, for example the downing of 36 of the 59 Tomahawks or the potential to easily destroy a US CBG. Obviously even they accept that eventually Russia has no chances against the US in a conventional war in Syria because of the American superiority in numbers (numbers of troops, planes, missiles, vessels, basically anything), but I'm not even confident they might even extract a significantly higher price for it than, say, Iraq in 1991. (Granted, the Russian contingent is very small, essentially just some air force and air defense.)

    The problem with this, of course, is that it increases the hubris of the US leaders, increasing the risk of a nuclear conflagration, when the desperate Russians, only to save face or avoid defeat, realizing that their conventional military was a paper tiger, will resort instead to nuclear weapons. (It might be different if a Syrian victory would result in major military losses for the US, like the loss of some major vessels and a significant number of airplanes. That way, the Americans might consider their victory Pyrrhic, while the Russians could also declare a victory of sorts, without any need for further measures to save face by either side.)

    Also, however little I like Putin, I really dread a future where our globalist overlords are lording over the rest of us unchallenged from anywhere. While as a young person I thought a World Government (of course peaceful, democratic, with a prosperous market economy and no racism) to be a utopia, I now understand that it would be a horrible dystopia.
  26. Randal says:
    @Talha
    Hey GR,

    So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.
     
    Solid observation. Let's break things down:

    - The trend in that part of the world is back toward religion, Syria being no exception. If one traveled in those countries a few decades ago, there were few women wearing hijab, lots of people drinking and socialism was the talk of the town - now it is different. Groups like Daesh represent the pendulum swinging way too far to the polar opposite and will hopefully fizz out. This was brewing years ago for anyone that was paying attention:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29401-2005Jan22.html
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1003/p06s01-wome.html

    In the circles I'm in, (before the war) it was known that Damascus was one of the best places to travel to to gain traditional Islamic knowledge (with a good helping of Sufism). The only danger at that time was that many single male students would get there and be completely captivated by the beautiful religious girls and shift their focus into trying to marrying one of them.

    - Syria's biggest supporters in the region are Iran, Iraq and parts of Lebanon (Hezbollah) - none of these entities have a problem mixing religion and politics. In fact, we were instrumental in the result of Iraq having a Constitution that has Islam enshrined in the legal framework (Article 2). If Iran gets a say in things after the dust clears, they will not get in the way of Islam making more headway into Syrian politics. Russia probably doesn't care as long as the ancient Orthodox populations have legal protections.

    - The Alawis will eventually be absorbed into either Shia or Sunni. They were basically a medieval heretical cult which survives well under circumstances where it is marginalized or physically isolated, but does not under the light of the sun. Their doctrines are very secretive to the point that not many of their own flock even know about it - thus it is more like a psuedo-ethnic affiliation. Recently they were officially declared Twelver Shias, but few people take that very seriously. And if it is to be taken seriously, well, then they are Shias and Alawi is a mere historical point of reference. Bashar already married a Sunni and how do we think his kids will be raised? Syria has gone out of its way to show photos of Bashar standing in congregational prayer at various times - and, get this - he is praying like a Sunni (Hanafi to be exact):
    https://www.google.com/search?q=bashar+assad+praying&espv=2&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjMlqL-4KHTAhXBiVQKHZUqCPIQ_AUIBigB&biw=1344&bih=774

    If this is just for show - then it marks clearly who the appeal is targeted to.* Axiom: the best thing that could have happened to the Alawis is gaining power - the worst thing that could have happened to the Alawis is gaining power.

    - One must remember that Bashar's administration opened up government positions to Sunnis and others either from demographic pressure or a genuine play at enfranchising them more. He did also allow Syrian volunteers into Iraq when jihad was declared (even by official Syrian government Muslim scholars) against US forces - so it shows he knows how to work with even militant portions of his country in order to ensure staying in power.

    Likely, even if the Assad government stays in power, I don't see the country becoming more secular after the war - rather, I think one of the concessions he will have to make is to allow more religion into it - the degree of changes is what I'm uncertain about.

    Peace.

    *Note: His father was rarely ever shown praying, but sometimes you come across crazy photos like this one - my, how times have changed, eh?
    http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/king-faisal-of-saudi-arabia-and-syrian-president-hafez-el-news-photo/543887918?esource=SEO_GIS_CDN_Redirect#king-faisal-of-saudi-arabia-and-syrian-president-hafez-el-assad-join-picture-id543887918

    Likely, even if the Assad government stays in power, I don’t see the country becoming more secular after the war – rather, I think one of the concessions he will have to make is to allow more religion into it – the degree of changes is what I’m uncertain about.

    Yes, see the long term dynamic in Turkey, for instance.

    Read More
  27. @Talha
    Hey GR,

    So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.
     
    Solid observation. Let's break things down:

    - The trend in that part of the world is back toward religion, Syria being no exception. If one traveled in those countries a few decades ago, there were few women wearing hijab, lots of people drinking and socialism was the talk of the town - now it is different. Groups like Daesh represent the pendulum swinging way too far to the polar opposite and will hopefully fizz out. This was brewing years ago for anyone that was paying attention:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29401-2005Jan22.html
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1003/p06s01-wome.html

    In the circles I'm in, (before the war) it was known that Damascus was one of the best places to travel to to gain traditional Islamic knowledge (with a good helping of Sufism). The only danger at that time was that many single male students would get there and be completely captivated by the beautiful religious girls and shift their focus into trying to marrying one of them.

    - Syria's biggest supporters in the region are Iran, Iraq and parts of Lebanon (Hezbollah) - none of these entities have a problem mixing religion and politics. In fact, we were instrumental in the result of Iraq having a Constitution that has Islam enshrined in the legal framework (Article 2). If Iran gets a say in things after the dust clears, they will not get in the way of Islam making more headway into Syrian politics. Russia probably doesn't care as long as the ancient Orthodox populations have legal protections.

    - The Alawis will eventually be absorbed into either Shia or Sunni. They were basically a medieval heretical cult which survives well under circumstances where it is marginalized or physically isolated, but does not under the light of the sun. Their doctrines are very secretive to the point that not many of their own flock even know about it - thus it is more like a psuedo-ethnic affiliation. Recently they were officially declared Twelver Shias, but few people take that very seriously. And if it is to be taken seriously, well, then they are Shias and Alawi is a mere historical point of reference. Bashar already married a Sunni and how do we think his kids will be raised? Syria has gone out of its way to show photos of Bashar standing in congregational prayer at various times - and, get this - he is praying like a Sunni (Hanafi to be exact):
    https://www.google.com/search?q=bashar+assad+praying&espv=2&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjMlqL-4KHTAhXBiVQKHZUqCPIQ_AUIBigB&biw=1344&bih=774

    If this is just for show - then it marks clearly who the appeal is targeted to.* Axiom: the best thing that could have happened to the Alawis is gaining power - the worst thing that could have happened to the Alawis is gaining power.

    - One must remember that Bashar's administration opened up government positions to Sunnis and others either from demographic pressure or a genuine play at enfranchising them more. He did also allow Syrian volunteers into Iraq when jihad was declared (even by official Syrian government Muslim scholars) against US forces - so it shows he knows how to work with even militant portions of his country in order to ensure staying in power.

    Likely, even if the Assad government stays in power, I don't see the country becoming more secular after the war - rather, I think one of the concessions he will have to make is to allow more religion into it - the degree of changes is what I'm uncertain about.

    Peace.

    *Note: His father was rarely ever shown praying, but sometimes you come across crazy photos like this one - my, how times have changed, eh?
    http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/king-faisal-of-saudi-arabia-and-syrian-president-hafez-el-news-photo/543887918?esource=SEO_GIS_CDN_Redirect#king-faisal-of-saudi-arabia-and-syrian-president-hafez-el-assad-join-picture-id543887918

    “The Alawis will eventually be absorbed into either Shia or Sunni”

    I’ve read arguments for that as well…in a way Alawi-ness seems to be a rather empty identity, based to a large degree on fear of persecution by the other groups. I’m a bit surprised that you imply Assad is leaning to the Sunni side, I thought I had read somewhere he’s genuinely fascinated by Shia doctrines, but I probably misunderstood (these aren’t my own intellectual traditions after all).
    And yes, even if Assad wins secularism might well decrease in Syria; in Iraq Saddam Hussein from the late 1980s onwards also deemphasized the secular character of his regime and used religion for granting his rule additional legitimacy.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Talha
    Hey GR,

    I’m a bit surprised that you imply Assad is leaning to the Sunni side
     
    I don't know where his loyalties lie exactly. Alawi doctrine - what is known about it - is Shiah doctrine on heretical steroids. I was simply pointing out that he married a Sunni and that he prays publicly like a Sunni (if he was praying like a Shiah, he would have held his hands to the side*). I do know his father had very deep and respectful private discussions with the late Shaykh Ramadan Bouti (the unofficial Grand Mufti of Syria - and much of the Levant) on religion.

    Saddam Hussein from the late 1980s onwards also deemphasized the secular character of his regime and used religion for granting his rule additional legitimacy.
     
    If you know the historical background of the Muslim world, then you'll know this is an age-old practice. Undertaken by various rulers; Seljuks, Mamluks, etc. - if you want legitimacy in the Muslim world, you must eventually appeal to religious sensibilities. Building mosques or Islamic universities is the regular route - Saddam established one:
    "The regime has also established the Saddam University of Islamic Studies to enshrine the new Iraqi Islamic philosophy."
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/dec/24/iraq.rorymccarthy

    ...sometimes works - even if you drink like an Irishman and have a harem of a hundred concubines.

    Note that in Syria, the revival was actually spearheaded by women. The group known as the Qubaisiyya were able to operate in an environment that was very hostile to men. The regime would not think of jailing and torturing women for starting up schools for Qur'an schools. The genius of the Qubaisiyya was to also target the daughters and wives of the elite in society.
    "Hadeel said she had at first been astonished by the way the Qubaisiate, ostensibly a women’s prayer group, seemed to single out the daughters of wealthy and influential families and girls who were seen as potential leaders...Mr. Abdul Salam explained that such secret Islamic prayer groups recruited women differently, depending on their social position. 'They teach poor women how to humble themselves in front of their husbands and how to pray, but they’re teaching upper-class women how to influence politics,' he said."
    http://www.nytimes.com/ref/world/middleeast/29syria.html
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7710822.stm

    Honestly, it is one of the best and remarkable (and practically an open secret) non-violent revolutions ever done.

    Peace.

    *Note: The Sunni Maliki school also prays with hands on the side, but has practically no presence in Syria - so it needs no inclusion in the discussion because I can guarantee you he is not Maliki.
  28. @Randal
    We can rarely hope to really get to the bottom of particular claim/counterclaim situations in wartime until many years afterwards, at least, so imo the best approach is, in parallel with weighing the claims and evidence , to take the strategic logic into account - that's the strongest reason for questioning the idea that the Syrian government used chemicals last week as opposed to the alternative possibilities of a staged event or an accident of war. In doing so, however, one must fight to control one's inherent partisan sympathies and remember that really there are no good guys and bad guys, just groups struggling for power and various causes.

    The strategic logic argument certainly confirms that Assad's interests especially early in the war were served by the less islamist parts of the rebellion being destroyed or deemphasized, to leave him as the only alternative to the islamists and jihadists. That much of the anti-Assad argument is certainly true. Although the islamists are much stronger demographically and militarily, the less islamist parts of the opposition were stronger in places that actually matter, rather than remote desert and rural locations, had much better coverage in the world power centres, and later on as the military dynamic developed they had the real potential for getting US intervention that was a far greater threat to the Syrian government than any bunch of jihadists would ever be.

    On the other hand it's true that militarily the islamists were always far stronger than the non-islamist rebels, whose presence was never of any real significance and always exaggerated by US sphere interventionists.

    And of course much of the evidence supposedly proving Assad pursued this strategic logic in particular ways will have been black propaganda, just as much of the evidence the other way will have been. The interventionists of course are far better resourced and generally better at such propaganda.

    Also, the most radical elements usually come out on top in revolutions (like in France in the 1790s, Russia in 1917, Iran in 1979). So I doubt there was ever much likelihood of a secular, democratic opposition staying important over the long term.
     
    That's true, although in those cases the radical elements gained control only after the collapse of the government and the establishment of chaotic post-revolution rule. In Syria's case there seems little doubt based just on the demographics that the islamists would have controlled any post-collapse situation unless external (US sphere) resources were put in to bolster the far weaker less islamist factions (ie a US sphere occupation or "peacekeeping" force), and that would most likely have led to disaster anyway.

    Likewise the islamists' superior numbers and fighting quality was always going to mean they would dominate an ongoing armed rebellion and that could only be reduced or delayed by massive resources flowing from external support to the less islamist factions (and in fact a lot of the external support was going from the Gulf despots to the worst islamist factions anyway).

    This does not mean I agree with the interventionist notion that there was a viable non-islamist alternative to an islamist rebellion or post-revolutionary Syria. I do not believe that would have been viable long term any more than you do, But that does not mean that the non-islamists were no threat to the Syrian government. Essentially the danger was that the less islamist factions, with the superpower military backing they could command, would enable the destruction of the government and its subsequent replacement by islamists.

    Sorry if that's a bit wordy, but these situations are not simplistic and the danger of being brief is that you open yourself up to simplistic misinterpretations and criticisms.

    Good analysis, I agree on the essential points. Personally I’m not sure what to think about the recent gas attack, even though it seems somewhat irrational, it might well have been committed by Assad’s forces. But I’d oppose intervention anyway, and if the US and its satellites escalate their military role in Syria it will be clear that the gas attack is merely a pretext, the real object being regime change and cutting Iran and Russia down to size (which obviously is an insanely dangerous policy in the case of Russia).

    Read More
  29. Talha says:
    @German_reader
    "The Alawis will eventually be absorbed into either Shia or Sunni"

    I've read arguments for that as well...in a way Alawi-ness seems to be a rather empty identity, based to a large degree on fear of persecution by the other groups. I'm a bit surprised that you imply Assad is leaning to the Sunni side, I thought I had read somewhere he's genuinely fascinated by Shia doctrines, but I probably misunderstood (these aren't my own intellectual traditions after all).
    And yes, even if Assad wins secularism might well decrease in Syria; in Iraq Saddam Hussein from the late 1980s onwards also deemphasized the secular character of his regime and used religion for granting his rule additional legitimacy.

    Hey GR,

    I’m a bit surprised that you imply Assad is leaning to the Sunni side

    I don’t know where his loyalties lie exactly. Alawi doctrine – what is known about it – is Shiah doctrine on heretical steroids. I was simply pointing out that he married a Sunni and that he prays publicly like a Sunni (if he was praying like a Shiah, he would have held his hands to the side*). I do know his father had very deep and respectful private discussions with the late Shaykh Ramadan Bouti (the unofficial Grand Mufti of Syria – and much of the Levant) on religion.

    Saddam Hussein from the late 1980s onwards also deemphasized the secular character of his regime and used religion for granting his rule additional legitimacy.

    If you know the historical background of the Muslim world, then you’ll know this is an age-old practice. Undertaken by various rulers; Seljuks, Mamluks, etc. – if you want legitimacy in the Muslim world, you must eventually appeal to religious sensibilities. Building mosques or Islamic universities is the regular route – Saddam established one:
    “The regime has also established the Saddam University of Islamic Studies to enshrine the new Iraqi Islamic philosophy.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/dec/24/iraq.rorymccarthy

    …sometimes works – even if you drink like an Irishman and have a harem of a hundred concubines.

    Note that in Syria, the revival was actually spearheaded by women. The group known as the Qubaisiyya were able to operate in an environment that was very hostile to men. The regime would not think of jailing and torturing women for starting up schools for Qur’an schools. The genius of the Qubaisiyya was to also target the daughters and wives of the elite in society.
    “Hadeel said she had at first been astonished by the way the Qubaisiate, ostensibly a women’s prayer group, seemed to single out the daughters of wealthy and influential families and girls who were seen as potential leaders…Mr. Abdul Salam explained that such secret Islamic prayer groups recruited women differently, depending on their social position. ‘They teach poor women how to humble themselves in front of their husbands and how to pray, but they’re teaching upper-class women how to influence politics,’ he said.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/ref/world/middleeast/29syria.html

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7710822.stm

    Honestly, it is one of the best and remarkable (and practically an open secret) non-violent revolutions ever done.

    Peace.

    *Note: The Sunni Maliki school also prays with hands on the side, but has practically no presence in Syria – so it needs no inclusion in the discussion because I can guarantee you he is not Maliki.

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    I think the German Hohenzollern family converted to Lutheranism and made it the official religion in their domains, but then a little later they converted to Calvinism. However, for a long time, they didn't feel strong enough to force the conversion of the rest of the population, for whom Calvinism was too much. After almost a century, they forced a union of the Calvinist and Lutheran churches, but the local parishes could keep their doctrines.

    It might be similar with Assad: even if he was fascinated with Sunni Islam, for political expediency his tribe (and, politically, he himself, too) lean towards the Shia, and perhaps he won't be able to convert them to Sunnism. On the other hand, publicly showing favors to Sunni Islam might just be political expediency: he needs to appease the vast Sunni majority (while he can take the loyalty of the small Shia minority for granted), regardless of his personal religious convictions. (Same thing with the Sunni wife, though having seen pictures of her, I suspect there could easily have been romantic love, too...)
  30. reiner Tor says: • Website
    @Randal

    As much as I’d like to believe that the US regime is not totally dominating the world, it’s very likely that the US military is still stronger by far than any of their possible enemies (or allies, or neutrals, for the matter).
     
    This seems self-evident to me.

    For all the talk of the US losing what are basically its rulers dabbling in remote wars of choice that don't really matter to Americans, the reality is that a substantially bigger gdp and military spend usually wins conventional wars, and I see no entirely convincing reason why that should not be true in relation to the US today.

    Yes, there are lots of arguments about US spending being corrupt, its military virtues (which have always been weak relative to truly martial nations - which is not of course to say that there are not plenty of extremely brave and competent US military men) having declined, etc. But such arguments and others tending to question whether the performance of a nation's military will live up to its spending weight can be supplied for any country in the real world. Some countries punch rather above their weight and some rather below, but generally in the modern world of industrialised warfare it's gdp that will tell as it did in the two world wars.

    I also take with a pinch of salt most of the predictions for the performance of particular untried weapon systems from either side. The truth is that nobody who really knows all the facts even about their own side's capabilities is talking honestly about them, and those people anyway don't know all the other side's capabilities. And nobody knows how these systems will interact in a substantial war between modern powers, because that hasn't happened since long before any of these systems were even imaginable.

    But yes, overall I'd say it's safe to say the US dominates the world militarily, as well as economically and politically, and rivals like Russia and China ultimately have to step carefully. They certainly can't just launch illegal wars against places on the other side of the world with impunity, and just assume that nobody can do anything about it, as the US has on several occasions.

    That said, while matters still hang somewhat in the balance, the US's economic predominance (which is what underpins its military superiority) is slipping relative to China and the world, so it might be that we will survive the close brush we experienced in the C20th with world government from Washington.

    a substantially bigger gdp and military spend usually wins conventional wars

    Yes, but apparently the quality (that is, the quality of the military technology) is also far behind that of the US. (Seems logical: military K+F almost totally collapsed in the 1990s, while it kept going in the US. The USSR was probably always behind the US anyway. So Russia must be a lot behind the US by now. Even if, probably, there is some catch-up since 2000.) I often read confident comments from pro-Russia commenters and analysts (the Saker is a good example of this) about Russian military capabilities, for example the downing of 36 of the 59 Tomahawks or the potential to easily destroy a US CBG. Obviously even they accept that eventually Russia has no chances against the US in a conventional war in Syria because of the American superiority in numbers (numbers of troops, planes, missiles, vessels, basically anything), but I’m not even confident they might even extract a significantly higher price for it than, say, Iraq in 1991. (Granted, the Russian contingent is very small, essentially just some air force and air defense.)

    The problem with this, of course, is that it increases the hubris of the US leaders, increasing the risk of a nuclear conflagration, when the desperate Russians, only to save face or avoid defeat, realizing that their conventional military was a paper tiger, will resort instead to nuclear weapons. (It might be different if a Syrian victory would result in major military losses for the US, like the loss of some major vessels and a significant number of airplanes. That way, the Americans might consider their victory Pyrrhic, while the Russians could also declare a victory of sorts, without any need for further measures to save face by either side.)

    Also, however little I like Putin, I really dread a future where our globalist overlords are lording over the rest of us unchallenged from anywhere. While as a young person I thought a World Government (of course peaceful, democratic, with a prosperous market economy and no racism) to be a utopia, I now understand that it would be a horrible dystopia.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Randal

    Yes, but apparently the quality (that is, the quality of the military technology) is also far behind that of the US. (Seems logical: military K+F almost totally collapsed in the 1990s, while it kept going in the US. The USSR was probably always behind the US anyway. So Russia must be a lot behind the US by now. Even if, probably, there is some catch-up since 2000.)
     
    Indeed so, but the lead in quality is essentially a consequence of the gdp and military spend advantage. Essentially the US has been spending nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on its military for decades, and that spend includes a lot of R&D work.

    Obviously even they accept that eventually Russia has no chances against the US in a conventional war in Syria because of the American superiority in numbers (numbers of troops, planes, missiles, vessels, basically anything), but I’m not even confident they might even extract a significantly higher price for it than, say, Iraq in 1991.
     
    I think it's generally accepted that the US has escalation superiority in Syria, and the Russians would have to resort to "horizontal escalation", elsewhere. I'm not sure how far that would really get them in the short run, though.

    As for extracting a price, if it came to open war in Syria then apart from hitting regional bases with very destructive missile strikes, the obvious response is for Russian subs to sink a few big US ships as a price for the destruction of their expeditionary force (one of the reasons the escalation possibilities in Syria are unacceptably high imo). That would certainly have an impact, even if they weren't able to get a carrier. What the political response in the US would be is hard to gauge and would probably depend on the general political support for the war going in.

    Also, however little I like Putin, I really dread a future where our globalist overlords are lording over the rest of us unchallenged from anywhere. While as a young person I thought a World Government (of course peaceful, democratic, with a prosperous market economy and no racism) to be a utopia, I now understand that it would be a horrible dystopia.
     
    Sadly a lot of people never grow out of their childish "Star Trek" naivety on such matters.
  31. reiner Tor says: • Website
    @Talha
    Hey GR,

    I’m a bit surprised that you imply Assad is leaning to the Sunni side
     
    I don't know where his loyalties lie exactly. Alawi doctrine - what is known about it - is Shiah doctrine on heretical steroids. I was simply pointing out that he married a Sunni and that he prays publicly like a Sunni (if he was praying like a Shiah, he would have held his hands to the side*). I do know his father had very deep and respectful private discussions with the late Shaykh Ramadan Bouti (the unofficial Grand Mufti of Syria - and much of the Levant) on religion.

    Saddam Hussein from the late 1980s onwards also deemphasized the secular character of his regime and used religion for granting his rule additional legitimacy.
     
    If you know the historical background of the Muslim world, then you'll know this is an age-old practice. Undertaken by various rulers; Seljuks, Mamluks, etc. - if you want legitimacy in the Muslim world, you must eventually appeal to religious sensibilities. Building mosques or Islamic universities is the regular route - Saddam established one:
    "The regime has also established the Saddam University of Islamic Studies to enshrine the new Iraqi Islamic philosophy."
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/dec/24/iraq.rorymccarthy

    ...sometimes works - even if you drink like an Irishman and have a harem of a hundred concubines.

    Note that in Syria, the revival was actually spearheaded by women. The group known as the Qubaisiyya were able to operate in an environment that was very hostile to men. The regime would not think of jailing and torturing women for starting up schools for Qur'an schools. The genius of the Qubaisiyya was to also target the daughters and wives of the elite in society.
    "Hadeel said she had at first been astonished by the way the Qubaisiate, ostensibly a women’s prayer group, seemed to single out the daughters of wealthy and influential families and girls who were seen as potential leaders...Mr. Abdul Salam explained that such secret Islamic prayer groups recruited women differently, depending on their social position. 'They teach poor women how to humble themselves in front of their husbands and how to pray, but they’re teaching upper-class women how to influence politics,' he said."
    http://www.nytimes.com/ref/world/middleeast/29syria.html
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7710822.stm

    Honestly, it is one of the best and remarkable (and practically an open secret) non-violent revolutions ever done.

    Peace.

    *Note: The Sunni Maliki school also prays with hands on the side, but has practically no presence in Syria - so it needs no inclusion in the discussion because I can guarantee you he is not Maliki.

    I think the German Hohenzollern family converted to Lutheranism and made it the official religion in their domains, but then a little later they converted to Calvinism. However, for a long time, they didn’t feel strong enough to force the conversion of the rest of the population, for whom Calvinism was too much. After almost a century, they forced a union of the Calvinist and Lutheran churches, but the local parishes could keep their doctrines.

    It might be similar with Assad: even if he was fascinated with Sunni Islam, for political expediency his tribe (and, politically, he himself, too) lean towards the Shia, and perhaps he won’t be able to convert them to Sunnism. On the other hand, publicly showing favors to Sunni Islam might just be political expediency: he needs to appease the vast Sunni majority (while he can take the loyalty of the small Shia minority for granted), regardless of his personal religious convictions. (Same thing with the Sunni wife, though having seen pictures of her, I suspect there could easily have been romantic love, too…)

    Read More
    • Replies: @Talha
    Hey RT,

    I hear you. Either way, I just don't see Alawi identity going strong for more than a couple more generations. What you describe is serious Muslim ruler realpolitik.

    Been done before quite a bit; one of the best examples, the tactical genius, Nadir Shah of Iran who ruled a mostly Shiah (but mixed) population and did his best to get both sides to chill out:
    "Nāder tried to redefine religious and political legitimacy in Persia at symbolic and substantive levels. One of his first acts as shah was to introduce a four-peaked hat (implicitly honoring the first four “rightly-guided” Sunni caliphs), which became known as the kolāh-e Nāderi (EIr. X, p. 797, pl. CXIII), to replace the Qezelbāš turban cap (Qezelbāš tāj; EIr. X, p. 788, pl. C), which was pieced with twelve gores (evocative of the twelve Shiʿite Imams)...Nāder’s view of Twelver Shiʿism as a mere school of law within the greater Muslim community (umma) glossed over the entire complex structure of Shiʿite legal institutions, because his main goal was to limit the potential of Sunnite-Shiʿite conflict to interfere with his empire-building dreams. The Jaʿfari maḏhab proposal also seems intended as tool to smooth relations between the Sunni and Shiʿite components of his own army."
    http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/nader-shah

    AKA - "I'm buildin' an empire here! Fuggedaboutit!"

    I'm fairly certain the man loves his family deeply - whether the marriage was originally set up as a political union. If Assad's daughter eventually ends up wearing the hijab; done, game over.

    Peace.
  32. Randal says:
    @reiner Tor

    a substantially bigger gdp and military spend usually wins conventional wars
     
    Yes, but apparently the quality (that is, the quality of the military technology) is also far behind that of the US. (Seems logical: military K+F almost totally collapsed in the 1990s, while it kept going in the US. The USSR was probably always behind the US anyway. So Russia must be a lot behind the US by now. Even if, probably, there is some catch-up since 2000.) I often read confident comments from pro-Russia commenters and analysts (the Saker is a good example of this) about Russian military capabilities, for example the downing of 36 of the 59 Tomahawks or the potential to easily destroy a US CBG. Obviously even they accept that eventually Russia has no chances against the US in a conventional war in Syria because of the American superiority in numbers (numbers of troops, planes, missiles, vessels, basically anything), but I'm not even confident they might even extract a significantly higher price for it than, say, Iraq in 1991. (Granted, the Russian contingent is very small, essentially just some air force and air defense.)

    The problem with this, of course, is that it increases the hubris of the US leaders, increasing the risk of a nuclear conflagration, when the desperate Russians, only to save face or avoid defeat, realizing that their conventional military was a paper tiger, will resort instead to nuclear weapons. (It might be different if a Syrian victory would result in major military losses for the US, like the loss of some major vessels and a significant number of airplanes. That way, the Americans might consider their victory Pyrrhic, while the Russians could also declare a victory of sorts, without any need for further measures to save face by either side.)

    Also, however little I like Putin, I really dread a future where our globalist overlords are lording over the rest of us unchallenged from anywhere. While as a young person I thought a World Government (of course peaceful, democratic, with a prosperous market economy and no racism) to be a utopia, I now understand that it would be a horrible dystopia.

    Yes, but apparently the quality (that is, the quality of the military technology) is also far behind that of the US. (Seems logical: military K+F almost totally collapsed in the 1990s, while it kept going in the US. The USSR was probably always behind the US anyway. So Russia must be a lot behind the US by now. Even if, probably, there is some catch-up since 2000.)

    Indeed so, but the lead in quality is essentially a consequence of the gdp and military spend advantage. Essentially the US has been spending nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on its military for decades, and that spend includes a lot of R&D work.

    Obviously even they accept that eventually Russia has no chances against the US in a conventional war in Syria because of the American superiority in numbers (numbers of troops, planes, missiles, vessels, basically anything), but I’m not even confident they might even extract a significantly higher price for it than, say, Iraq in 1991.

    I think it’s generally accepted that the US has escalation superiority in Syria, and the Russians would have to resort to “horizontal escalation”, elsewhere. I’m not sure how far that would really get them in the short run, though.

    As for extracting a price, if it came to open war in Syria then apart from hitting regional bases with very destructive missile strikes, the obvious response is for Russian subs to sink a few big US ships as a price for the destruction of their expeditionary force (one of the reasons the escalation possibilities in Syria are unacceptably high imo). That would certainly have an impact, even if they weren’t able to get a carrier. What the political response in the US would be is hard to gauge and would probably depend on the general political support for the war going in.

    Also, however little I like Putin, I really dread a future where our globalist overlords are lording over the rest of us unchallenged from anywhere. While as a young person I thought a World Government (of course peaceful, democratic, with a prosperous market economy and no racism) to be a utopia, I now understand that it would be a horrible dystopia.

    Sadly a lot of people never grow out of their childish “Star Trek” naivety on such matters.

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    I just slipped. K+F is Hungarian for R&D.

    Essentially what could be possible is that there was some infusion of Western technology to Russia since 1991, there must be a lot of spying going on, there was some collaboration with some parts of the Western defense industry (mostly the French, I think), and they might have scrapped a lot of non-essential areas. (Though idiotically they might be trying to build carriers, which in my opinion would be a waste of resources for them, a status symbol of little use.) They might also have concentrated on asymmetric approaches, probably a lot of expensive systems could be vulnerable to some cheap countermeasures. The Russians are anyway well known of simple but robust solutions, which might work better under the apocalyptic circumstances of a greater power conventional war (and especially during nuclear war). I know that most Hungarian military men I talked to prefer Russian (or Russian designed) weapons (that could include Polish or Czech made weapons from these NATO allies) over Western ones, because the Western require perfect maintenance and logistics, while the Russian ones are more robust and reliable under adverse conditions and with little to no maintenance.

    So occasionally I look full of hope at reports indicating that Russian military technology might not be hopelessly behind Western/US tech, but in general I don't keep my hopes high: it's probably a couple decades behind in most areas, and that's the most developed systems. The bulk of the Russian military hardware might be totally obsolete, but we already knew that.
  33. Talha says:
    @reiner Tor
    I think the German Hohenzollern family converted to Lutheranism and made it the official religion in their domains, but then a little later they converted to Calvinism. However, for a long time, they didn't feel strong enough to force the conversion of the rest of the population, for whom Calvinism was too much. After almost a century, they forced a union of the Calvinist and Lutheran churches, but the local parishes could keep their doctrines.

    It might be similar with Assad: even if he was fascinated with Sunni Islam, for political expediency his tribe (and, politically, he himself, too) lean towards the Shia, and perhaps he won't be able to convert them to Sunnism. On the other hand, publicly showing favors to Sunni Islam might just be political expediency: he needs to appease the vast Sunni majority (while he can take the loyalty of the small Shia minority for granted), regardless of his personal religious convictions. (Same thing with the Sunni wife, though having seen pictures of her, I suspect there could easily have been romantic love, too...)

    Hey RT,

    I hear you. Either way, I just don’t see Alawi identity going strong for more than a couple more generations. What you describe is serious Muslim ruler realpolitik.

    Been done before quite a bit; one of the best examples, the tactical genius, Nadir Shah of Iran who ruled a mostly Shiah (but mixed) population and did his best to get both sides to chill out:
    “Nāder tried to redefine religious and political legitimacy in Persia at symbolic and substantive levels. One of his first acts as shah was to introduce a four-peaked hat (implicitly honoring the first four “rightly-guided” Sunni caliphs), which became known as the kolāh-e Nāderi (EIr. X, p. 797, pl. CXIII), to replace the Qezelbāš turban cap (Qezelbāš tāj; EIr. X, p. 788, pl. C), which was pieced with twelve gores (evocative of the twelve Shiʿite Imams)…Nāder’s view of Twelver Shiʿism as a mere school of law within the greater Muslim community (umma) glossed over the entire complex structure of Shiʿite legal institutions, because his main goal was to limit the potential of Sunnite-Shiʿite conflict to interfere with his empire-building dreams. The Jaʿfari maḏhab proposal also seems intended as tool to smooth relations between the Sunni and Shiʿite components of his own army.”

    http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/nader-shah

    AKA – “I’m buildin’ an empire here! Fuggedaboutit!”

    I’m fairly certain the man loves his family deeply – whether the marriage was originally set up as a political union. If Assad’s daughter eventually ends up wearing the hijab; done, game over.

    Peace.

    Read More
  34. reiner Tor says: • Website
    @Randal

    Yes, but apparently the quality (that is, the quality of the military technology) is also far behind that of the US. (Seems logical: military K+F almost totally collapsed in the 1990s, while it kept going in the US. The USSR was probably always behind the US anyway. So Russia must be a lot behind the US by now. Even if, probably, there is some catch-up since 2000.)
     
    Indeed so, but the lead in quality is essentially a consequence of the gdp and military spend advantage. Essentially the US has been spending nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on its military for decades, and that spend includes a lot of R&D work.

    Obviously even they accept that eventually Russia has no chances against the US in a conventional war in Syria because of the American superiority in numbers (numbers of troops, planes, missiles, vessels, basically anything), but I’m not even confident they might even extract a significantly higher price for it than, say, Iraq in 1991.
     
    I think it's generally accepted that the US has escalation superiority in Syria, and the Russians would have to resort to "horizontal escalation", elsewhere. I'm not sure how far that would really get them in the short run, though.

    As for extracting a price, if it came to open war in Syria then apart from hitting regional bases with very destructive missile strikes, the obvious response is for Russian subs to sink a few big US ships as a price for the destruction of their expeditionary force (one of the reasons the escalation possibilities in Syria are unacceptably high imo). That would certainly have an impact, even if they weren't able to get a carrier. What the political response in the US would be is hard to gauge and would probably depend on the general political support for the war going in.

    Also, however little I like Putin, I really dread a future where our globalist overlords are lording over the rest of us unchallenged from anywhere. While as a young person I thought a World Government (of course peaceful, democratic, with a prosperous market economy and no racism) to be a utopia, I now understand that it would be a horrible dystopia.
     
    Sadly a lot of people never grow out of their childish "Star Trek" naivety on such matters.

    I just slipped. K+F is Hungarian for R&D.

    Essentially what could be possible is that there was some infusion of Western technology to Russia since 1991, there must be a lot of spying going on, there was some collaboration with some parts of the Western defense industry (mostly the French, I think), and they might have scrapped a lot of non-essential areas. (Though idiotically they might be trying to build carriers, which in my opinion would be a waste of resources for them, a status symbol of little use.) They might also have concentrated on asymmetric approaches, probably a lot of expensive systems could be vulnerable to some cheap countermeasures. The Russians are anyway well known of simple but robust solutions, which might work better under the apocalyptic circumstances of a greater power conventional war (and especially during nuclear war). I know that most Hungarian military men I talked to prefer Russian (or Russian designed) weapons (that could include Polish or Czech made weapons from these NATO allies) over Western ones, because the Western require perfect maintenance and logistics, while the Russian ones are more robust and reliable under adverse conditions and with little to no maintenance.

    So occasionally I look full of hope at reports indicating that Russian military technology might not be hopelessly behind Western/US tech, but in general I don’t keep my hopes high: it’s probably a couple decades behind in most areas, and that’s the most developed systems. The bulk of the Russian military hardware might be totally obsolete, but we already knew that.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Randal
    It's probably ahead in some areas as well - specialist niches like cavitating propulsion, and areas like EW where they have concentrated in order to counter US strengths - as you say, asymmetric approaches. But who really knows what all this will count for when the balloon goes up?
    , @Kimppis
    First of all, I don't think we should overanalyze the Syrian missile strike. The Russians obviously didn't try to shoot those missile down, with their air-defence systems anyway. And Russia itself launched dozens of cruise missiles into Syria a while ago. That said, cruise missile failure rate should be around 10-20%.

    So let's say that Russia's electronic warfare systems managed to neutralize dozens of American missiles. That would indicate that those systems are superb. On the other hand, if the official reports from the US are correct, that would show absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, from a technological point of view. Other countries have cruise missiles too and this is not the first US launches them. They are supposed to precision weapons.

    It's of course true that the US military is still the strongest in the world. But you two seem to somewhat overly pessimistic, IMO. :) First of all, when you are talking about "GDP", are you talking about nominal or purchasing power parity? Because nominal GDP obviously underestimates some countries' defence budgets, Russia and China in particular.

    Both countries have very large-scale military industries on their own, and they don't import weapons, while their own systems and other costs are much lower in dollar terms.I don't think the US really ever invested as much resources on the military as the rest of the world combined, and that is certainly not the case today. Maybe something like 1/4th (nowadays, that is), which is of course still very impressive.

    There are really two possible scenarios: a conflict far away from Russia or China or a conflict on their backyard. The US would certainly dominate the former. But during a conflict, let's say in Ukraine, Baltics, Taiwan or Korea, Russia and China would enjoy considerable geographic advantages.

    Indeed, the US has invested massive amounts on its power projection capabilities, so the US military has ridiculous amounts of carriers, long-range naval ships in general, and transport planes and helicopters. Which would enable it to conduct operations close to Russia and China at all, but their effectiveness would still be limited. Moving those assets would take a long time, etc. It took them months to do that against Iraq (!), and unlike the Iraqis, Russia and China would be able to hit back. Also, Russia in particular is not a seapower. The US is sort of an island, far away from Eurasia. Russia and China are already there.

    Overall, I don't there's massive corruption in the US military or its budget, compared to Russia and China, and they are overall number 1, but really:,
    1. The US maintenance costs are high and they have hundreds of foreign bases and operations thousands of kms away, none of that is free.

    2. In dollar terms, US weapons are expensive, without, IMO, being somehow massively superior to directly competing foreign analogues (of the same generation), OR, in other words Russian and Chinese budgets in reality are simply larger than their nominal military spending AND:

    3. They spend huge amounts of money on power projection assets, which by themselves don't "inflict damage" on the enemy, but which are required to enable large scale troops movements thousands of kilometers away, again, AT ALL.

    It's also quite obvious the Russian (and IMO, nowadays even Chinese) weapon systems are globally competitive, period. Russia is a massive weapon's exporter and the systems seem to have roughly the same features. So really, are we comparing an older variant of Su-27 to a F-22, or a PAK-FA to a F-22???

    During WW2, even smaller countries, like Poland, managed developed very competitive systems. The problem was that they had them only in low numbers. Not to mention that the Soviet systems were very competitive vs. the German ones. What on earth has changed? Nothing, IMO, if anything Russians are better off nowadays. Their human capital vs. German or the US better now than it was in the 40s.

    Lastly, China is already an ecomic superpower. So really, don't be so damn pessimistic. :) The world is already quite a bit more multipolar than it was a decade ago, and that trend is set to continue.

  35. Randal says:
    @reiner Tor
    I just slipped. K+F is Hungarian for R&D.

    Essentially what could be possible is that there was some infusion of Western technology to Russia since 1991, there must be a lot of spying going on, there was some collaboration with some parts of the Western defense industry (mostly the French, I think), and they might have scrapped a lot of non-essential areas. (Though idiotically they might be trying to build carriers, which in my opinion would be a waste of resources for them, a status symbol of little use.) They might also have concentrated on asymmetric approaches, probably a lot of expensive systems could be vulnerable to some cheap countermeasures. The Russians are anyway well known of simple but robust solutions, which might work better under the apocalyptic circumstances of a greater power conventional war (and especially during nuclear war). I know that most Hungarian military men I talked to prefer Russian (or Russian designed) weapons (that could include Polish or Czech made weapons from these NATO allies) over Western ones, because the Western require perfect maintenance and logistics, while the Russian ones are more robust and reliable under adverse conditions and with little to no maintenance.

    So occasionally I look full of hope at reports indicating that Russian military technology might not be hopelessly behind Western/US tech, but in general I don't keep my hopes high: it's probably a couple decades behind in most areas, and that's the most developed systems. The bulk of the Russian military hardware might be totally obsolete, but we already knew that.

    It’s probably ahead in some areas as well – specialist niches like cavitating propulsion, and areas like EW where they have concentrated in order to counter US strengths – as you say, asymmetric approaches. But who really knows what all this will count for when the balloon goes up?

    Read More
  36. Kimppis says:
    @reiner Tor
    I just slipped. K+F is Hungarian for R&D.

    Essentially what could be possible is that there was some infusion of Western technology to Russia since 1991, there must be a lot of spying going on, there was some collaboration with some parts of the Western defense industry (mostly the French, I think), and they might have scrapped a lot of non-essential areas. (Though idiotically they might be trying to build carriers, which in my opinion would be a waste of resources for them, a status symbol of little use.) They might also have concentrated on asymmetric approaches, probably a lot of expensive systems could be vulnerable to some cheap countermeasures. The Russians are anyway well known of simple but robust solutions, which might work better under the apocalyptic circumstances of a greater power conventional war (and especially during nuclear war). I know that most Hungarian military men I talked to prefer Russian (or Russian designed) weapons (that could include Polish or Czech made weapons from these NATO allies) over Western ones, because the Western require perfect maintenance and logistics, while the Russian ones are more robust and reliable under adverse conditions and with little to no maintenance.

    So occasionally I look full of hope at reports indicating that Russian military technology might not be hopelessly behind Western/US tech, but in general I don't keep my hopes high: it's probably a couple decades behind in most areas, and that's the most developed systems. The bulk of the Russian military hardware might be totally obsolete, but we already knew that.

    First of all, I don’t think we should overanalyze the Syrian missile strike. The Russians obviously didn’t try to shoot those missile down, with their air-defence systems anyway. And Russia itself launched dozens of cruise missiles into Syria a while ago. That said, cruise missile failure rate should be around 10-20%.

    So let’s say that Russia’s electronic warfare systems managed to neutralize dozens of American missiles. That would indicate that those systems are superb. On the other hand, if the official reports from the US are correct, that would show absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, from a technological point of view. Other countries have cruise missiles too and this is not the first US launches them. They are supposed to precision weapons.

    It’s of course true that the US military is still the strongest in the world. But you two seem to somewhat overly pessimistic, IMO. :) First of all, when you are talking about “GDP”, are you talking about nominal or purchasing power parity? Because nominal GDP obviously underestimates some countries’ defence budgets, Russia and China in particular.

    Both countries have very large-scale military industries on their own, and they don’t import weapons, while their own systems and other costs are much lower in dollar terms.I don’t think the US really ever invested as much resources on the military as the rest of the world combined, and that is certainly not the case today. Maybe something like 1/4th (nowadays, that is), which is of course still very impressive.

    There are really two possible scenarios: a conflict far away from Russia or China or a conflict on their backyard. The US would certainly dominate the former. But during a conflict, let’s say in Ukraine, Baltics, Taiwan or Korea, Russia and China would enjoy considerable geographic advantages.

    Indeed, the US has invested massive amounts on its power projection capabilities, so the US military has ridiculous amounts of carriers, long-range naval ships in general, and transport planes and helicopters. Which would enable it to conduct operations close to Russia and China at all, but their effectiveness would still be limited. Moving those assets would take a long time, etc. It took them months to do that against Iraq (!), and unlike the Iraqis, Russia and China would be able to hit back. Also, Russia in particular is not a seapower. The US is sort of an island, far away from Eurasia. Russia and China are already there.

    Overall, I don’t there’s massive corruption in the US military or its budget, compared to Russia and China, and they are overall number 1, but really:,
    1. The US maintenance costs are high and they have hundreds of foreign bases and operations thousands of kms away, none of that is free.

    2. In dollar terms, US weapons are expensive, without, IMO, being somehow massively superior to directly competing foreign analogues (of the same generation), OR, in other words Russian and Chinese budgets in reality are simply larger than their nominal military spending AND:

    3. They spend huge amounts of money on power projection assets, which by themselves don’t “inflict damage” on the enemy, but which are required to enable large scale troops movements thousands of kilometers away, again, AT ALL.

    It’s also quite obvious the Russian (and IMO, nowadays even Chinese) weapon systems are globally competitive, period. Russia is a massive weapon’s exporter and the systems seem to have roughly the same features. So really, are we comparing an older variant of Su-27 to a F-22, or a PAK-FA to a F-22???

    During WW2, even smaller countries, like Poland, managed developed very competitive systems. The problem was that they had them only in low numbers. Not to mention that the Soviet systems were very competitive vs. the German ones. What on earth has changed? Nothing, IMO, if anything Russians are better off nowadays. Their human capital vs. German or the US better now than it was in the 40s.

    Lastly, China is already an ecomic superpower. So really, don’t be so damn pessimistic. :) The world is already quite a bit more multipolar than it was a decade ago, and that trend is set to continue.

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    The PAK FA is intended to enter service in 2018. It will use the same engine as the most modern versions of the Su-27 until a modern engine could be developed. But let's suppose it will be the equivalent of the F-22. Even so, there's a 13-year time lag (assuming no lags in the PAK FA schedule), and more if we take into account the more rushed nature of rollout, which probably affects more than just the engine. The Americans were in no hurry to introduce their fighters with no rival in sight.

    Comparing mere prototypes or even designs only existing on the drawing board to American weapons systems already widely in service is not very fruitful.

    But yeah, there are advantages to being that much behind your main enemy: you can use the already existing planes as potential adversaries (to design against their weaknesses, albeit only if you manage to steal secrets about it), they will also be introduced in a more leisurely manner and probably more wastefully and even with more corruption. (We don't really need it, the enemy is decades behind anyway, why not steal it?)
    , @reiner Tor
    At least many components of the old Soviet systems were often based on designs bought abroad (like the Christie-suspension), and though there was some sale of Western technology to Russia in recent decades, I'm not sure if it was as widespread as then. By the way the Germans had the restrictive Versailles treaty which prevented them from being the best in many areas. They couldn't overcome the problems they had with tank engine designs (so their heavy tanks were hopelessly undermotorized) or large aircraft until the very end. They also suffered from lack of raw materials.

    In any event, Soviet weapon designs were competitive in select areas only, like tank design (but even there worse vision for the commander, lack of radios, which were supposed to be offset by better abilities on difficult terrain), but in the most complicated cases (like heavy bombers) they were hopelessly behind the West.
    , @Randal
    You make a lot of good points, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with all of them. I'll respond to some below, but please bear in mind that there's always an element of devil's advocate, or of putting an argument in its strongest possible terms for the sake of the debate, in such matters.

    So really, don’t be so damn pessimistic.
     
    Can't speak for reiner Tor, obviously, but I like being a pessimist, damn it! That way the surprises are mostly on the upside.

    First of all, when you are talking about “GDP”, are you talking about nominal or purchasing power parity?
     
    PPP is obviously the best option for making such comparisons. Here are the shares for 2015 from the IMF per economywatch.com (I've rounded to 1dp):

    China 17.1%
    EU 16.9%
    US 15.8%
    Russia 3.3%

    So you are correct that China is currently overtaking the US in gdp terms. However, crystallised military capability is a lag indicator for economic strength, as most significant military capabilities (technologies, systems, institutions, etc) involve decades of investment at the top levels.

    I don’t think the US really ever invested as much resources on the military as the rest of the world combined, and that is certainly not the case today. Maybe something like 1/4th (nowadays, that is), which is of course still very impressive.
     
    There's a degree of hyperbole in the assertion that "the US has spent nearly as much as the rest of the world combined" (factually correct based upon nominal figures for some years), it's true. On the other hand, a large proportion of the non-US military spending is by US allies, satellite states and protectorates (often also feeding a share of their expenditures into the US's military production chain by buying high cost American systems). Here are the figures for 2015 from one recognised source (SIPRI) which uses constant 2014 dollars at market exchange rates:

    Spending by countries that will either fight for the US in global or regional conflicts or at the least will never in any presently plausible scenario fight against it:

    EU total $281.9b
    Japan $46.3b
    Israel $17.5b
    Saudi Arabia $85.4b
    South Korea $38.6
    Taiwan $10.3b
    Canada $17.2b
    Australia $27.8b
    New Zealand $2.4b
    Total for pro-US group: $527.4b

    US $595.5b
    China $214.5b
    Russia $91b

    World total $1773b

    So in reality world military spending is roughly one third by the US directly, one third by US allies, satellite states or protectorates, and one third by the rest, which probably reasonably accurately represents the world military balance.

    Not to mention that the Soviet systems were very competitive vs. the German ones. What on earth has changed? Nothing, IMO, if anything Russians are better off nowadays. Their human capital vs. German or the US better now than it was in the 40s.
     
    I think the trend has been for human capital to be less important (never, of course, unimportant) as a factor in military conflicts over time (in the context of direct military combat) as war-fighting has become progressively more industrialised and more technology dependent, and that trend has probably continued since WW2.

    That's one reason why women have progressively become more involved in war-fighting. At the macro scale, women are essentially useless in hand-to-hand war-fighting, usable to some degree in C20th industrial warfare as drivers, pilots, factory workers and some specialist roles such as snipers, and progressively more useful as technological multipliers and enablers become ever more prevalent.

    Lastly, China is already an ecomic superpower. So really, don’t be so damn pessimistic. :) The world is already quite a bit more multipolar than it was a decade ago, and that trend is set to continue.
     
    I think I made that point myself, didn't I? :-)

    We had a very near miss in the 1990s when Russia was collapsed and co-opted and China had not yet begun to exercise its potential. Fortunately the US elites proved incompetent to exploit the potential of the situation, Russia is recovering and China has managed so far to avoid being co-opted too much.

    Time will tell.
  37. @Kimppis
    First of all, I don't think we should overanalyze the Syrian missile strike. The Russians obviously didn't try to shoot those missile down, with their air-defence systems anyway. And Russia itself launched dozens of cruise missiles into Syria a while ago. That said, cruise missile failure rate should be around 10-20%.

    So let's say that Russia's electronic warfare systems managed to neutralize dozens of American missiles. That would indicate that those systems are superb. On the other hand, if the official reports from the US are correct, that would show absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, from a technological point of view. Other countries have cruise missiles too and this is not the first US launches them. They are supposed to precision weapons.

    It's of course true that the US military is still the strongest in the world. But you two seem to somewhat overly pessimistic, IMO. :) First of all, when you are talking about "GDP", are you talking about nominal or purchasing power parity? Because nominal GDP obviously underestimates some countries' defence budgets, Russia and China in particular.

    Both countries have very large-scale military industries on their own, and they don't import weapons, while their own systems and other costs are much lower in dollar terms.I don't think the US really ever invested as much resources on the military as the rest of the world combined, and that is certainly not the case today. Maybe something like 1/4th (nowadays, that is), which is of course still very impressive.

    There are really two possible scenarios: a conflict far away from Russia or China or a conflict on their backyard. The US would certainly dominate the former. But during a conflict, let's say in Ukraine, Baltics, Taiwan or Korea, Russia and China would enjoy considerable geographic advantages.

    Indeed, the US has invested massive amounts on its power projection capabilities, so the US military has ridiculous amounts of carriers, long-range naval ships in general, and transport planes and helicopters. Which would enable it to conduct operations close to Russia and China at all, but their effectiveness would still be limited. Moving those assets would take a long time, etc. It took them months to do that against Iraq (!), and unlike the Iraqis, Russia and China would be able to hit back. Also, Russia in particular is not a seapower. The US is sort of an island, far away from Eurasia. Russia and China are already there.

    Overall, I don't there's massive corruption in the US military or its budget, compared to Russia and China, and they are overall number 1, but really:,
    1. The US maintenance costs are high and they have hundreds of foreign bases and operations thousands of kms away, none of that is free.

    2. In dollar terms, US weapons are expensive, without, IMO, being somehow massively superior to directly competing foreign analogues (of the same generation), OR, in other words Russian and Chinese budgets in reality are simply larger than their nominal military spending AND:

    3. They spend huge amounts of money on power projection assets, which by themselves don't "inflict damage" on the enemy, but which are required to enable large scale troops movements thousands of kilometers away, again, AT ALL.

    It's also quite obvious the Russian (and IMO, nowadays even Chinese) weapon systems are globally competitive, period. Russia is a massive weapon's exporter and the systems seem to have roughly the same features. So really, are we comparing an older variant of Su-27 to a F-22, or a PAK-FA to a F-22???

    During WW2, even smaller countries, like Poland, managed developed very competitive systems. The problem was that they had them only in low numbers. Not to mention that the Soviet systems were very competitive vs. the German ones. What on earth has changed? Nothing, IMO, if anything Russians are better off nowadays. Their human capital vs. German or the US better now than it was in the 40s.

    Lastly, China is already an ecomic superpower. So really, don't be so damn pessimistic. :) The world is already quite a bit more multipolar than it was a decade ago, and that trend is set to continue.

    The PAK FA is intended to enter service in 2018. It will use the same engine as the most modern versions of the Su-27 until a modern engine could be developed. But let’s suppose it will be the equivalent of the F-22. Even so, there’s a 13-year time lag (assuming no lags in the PAK FA schedule), and more if we take into account the more rushed nature of rollout, which probably affects more than just the engine. The Americans were in no hurry to introduce their fighters with no rival in sight.

    Comparing mere prototypes or even designs only existing on the drawing board to American weapons systems already widely in service is not very fruitful.

    But yeah, there are advantages to being that much behind your main enemy: you can use the already existing planes as potential adversaries (to design against their weaknesses, albeit only if you manage to steal secrets about it), they will also be introduced in a more leisurely manner and probably more wastefully and even with more corruption. (We don’t really need it, the enemy is decades behind anyway, why not steal it?)

    Read More
  38. @Kimppis
    First of all, I don't think we should overanalyze the Syrian missile strike. The Russians obviously didn't try to shoot those missile down, with their air-defence systems anyway. And Russia itself launched dozens of cruise missiles into Syria a while ago. That said, cruise missile failure rate should be around 10-20%.

    So let's say that Russia's electronic warfare systems managed to neutralize dozens of American missiles. That would indicate that those systems are superb. On the other hand, if the official reports from the US are correct, that would show absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, from a technological point of view. Other countries have cruise missiles too and this is not the first US launches them. They are supposed to precision weapons.

    It's of course true that the US military is still the strongest in the world. But you two seem to somewhat overly pessimistic, IMO. :) First of all, when you are talking about "GDP", are you talking about nominal or purchasing power parity? Because nominal GDP obviously underestimates some countries' defence budgets, Russia and China in particular.

    Both countries have very large-scale military industries on their own, and they don't import weapons, while their own systems and other costs are much lower in dollar terms.I don't think the US really ever invested as much resources on the military as the rest of the world combined, and that is certainly not the case today. Maybe something like 1/4th (nowadays, that is), which is of course still very impressive.

    There are really two possible scenarios: a conflict far away from Russia or China or a conflict on their backyard. The US would certainly dominate the former. But during a conflict, let's say in Ukraine, Baltics, Taiwan or Korea, Russia and China would enjoy considerable geographic advantages.

    Indeed, the US has invested massive amounts on its power projection capabilities, so the US military has ridiculous amounts of carriers, long-range naval ships in general, and transport planes and helicopters. Which would enable it to conduct operations close to Russia and China at all, but their effectiveness would still be limited. Moving those assets would take a long time, etc. It took them months to do that against Iraq (!), and unlike the Iraqis, Russia and China would be able to hit back. Also, Russia in particular is not a seapower. The US is sort of an island, far away from Eurasia. Russia and China are already there.

    Overall, I don't there's massive corruption in the US military or its budget, compared to Russia and China, and they are overall number 1, but really:,
    1. The US maintenance costs are high and they have hundreds of foreign bases and operations thousands of kms away, none of that is free.

    2. In dollar terms, US weapons are expensive, without, IMO, being somehow massively superior to directly competing foreign analogues (of the same generation), OR, in other words Russian and Chinese budgets in reality are simply larger than their nominal military spending AND:

    3. They spend huge amounts of money on power projection assets, which by themselves don't "inflict damage" on the enemy, but which are required to enable large scale troops movements thousands of kilometers away, again, AT ALL.

    It's also quite obvious the Russian (and IMO, nowadays even Chinese) weapon systems are globally competitive, period. Russia is a massive weapon's exporter and the systems seem to have roughly the same features. So really, are we comparing an older variant of Su-27 to a F-22, or a PAK-FA to a F-22???

    During WW2, even smaller countries, like Poland, managed developed very competitive systems. The problem was that they had them only in low numbers. Not to mention that the Soviet systems were very competitive vs. the German ones. What on earth has changed? Nothing, IMO, if anything Russians are better off nowadays. Their human capital vs. German or the US better now than it was in the 40s.

    Lastly, China is already an ecomic superpower. So really, don't be so damn pessimistic. :) The world is already quite a bit more multipolar than it was a decade ago, and that trend is set to continue.

    At least many components of the old Soviet systems were often based on designs bought abroad (like the Christie-suspension), and though there was some sale of Western technology to Russia in recent decades, I’m not sure if it was as widespread as then. By the way the Germans had the restrictive Versailles treaty which prevented them from being the best in many areas. They couldn’t overcome the problems they had with tank engine designs (so their heavy tanks were hopelessly undermotorized) or large aircraft until the very end. They also suffered from lack of raw materials.

    In any event, Soviet weapon designs were competitive in select areas only, like tank design (but even there worse vision for the commander, lack of radios, which were supposed to be offset by better abilities on difficult terrain), but in the most complicated cases (like heavy bombers) they were hopelessly behind the West.

    Read More
  39. Randal says:
    @Kimppis
    First of all, I don't think we should overanalyze the Syrian missile strike. The Russians obviously didn't try to shoot those missile down, with their air-defence systems anyway. And Russia itself launched dozens of cruise missiles into Syria a while ago. That said, cruise missile failure rate should be around 10-20%.

    So let's say that Russia's electronic warfare systems managed to neutralize dozens of American missiles. That would indicate that those systems are superb. On the other hand, if the official reports from the US are correct, that would show absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, from a technological point of view. Other countries have cruise missiles too and this is not the first US launches them. They are supposed to precision weapons.

    It's of course true that the US military is still the strongest in the world. But you two seem to somewhat overly pessimistic, IMO. :) First of all, when you are talking about "GDP", are you talking about nominal or purchasing power parity? Because nominal GDP obviously underestimates some countries' defence budgets, Russia and China in particular.

    Both countries have very large-scale military industries on their own, and they don't import weapons, while their own systems and other costs are much lower in dollar terms.I don't think the US really ever invested as much resources on the military as the rest of the world combined, and that is certainly not the case today. Maybe something like 1/4th (nowadays, that is), which is of course still very impressive.

    There are really two possible scenarios: a conflict far away from Russia or China or a conflict on their backyard. The US would certainly dominate the former. But during a conflict, let's say in Ukraine, Baltics, Taiwan or Korea, Russia and China would enjoy considerable geographic advantages.

    Indeed, the US has invested massive amounts on its power projection capabilities, so the US military has ridiculous amounts of carriers, long-range naval ships in general, and transport planes and helicopters. Which would enable it to conduct operations close to Russia and China at all, but their effectiveness would still be limited. Moving those assets would take a long time, etc. It took them months to do that against Iraq (!), and unlike the Iraqis, Russia and China would be able to hit back. Also, Russia in particular is not a seapower. The US is sort of an island, far away from Eurasia. Russia and China are already there.

    Overall, I don't there's massive corruption in the US military or its budget, compared to Russia and China, and they are overall number 1, but really:,
    1. The US maintenance costs are high and they have hundreds of foreign bases and operations thousands of kms away, none of that is free.

    2. In dollar terms, US weapons are expensive, without, IMO, being somehow massively superior to directly competing foreign analogues (of the same generation), OR, in other words Russian and Chinese budgets in reality are simply larger than their nominal military spending AND:

    3. They spend huge amounts of money on power projection assets, which by themselves don't "inflict damage" on the enemy, but which are required to enable large scale troops movements thousands of kilometers away, again, AT ALL.

    It's also quite obvious the Russian (and IMO, nowadays even Chinese) weapon systems are globally competitive, period. Russia is a massive weapon's exporter and the systems seem to have roughly the same features. So really, are we comparing an older variant of Su-27 to a F-22, or a PAK-FA to a F-22???

    During WW2, even smaller countries, like Poland, managed developed very competitive systems. The problem was that they had them only in low numbers. Not to mention that the Soviet systems were very competitive vs. the German ones. What on earth has changed? Nothing, IMO, if anything Russians are better off nowadays. Their human capital vs. German or the US better now than it was in the 40s.

    Lastly, China is already an ecomic superpower. So really, don't be so damn pessimistic. :) The world is already quite a bit more multipolar than it was a decade ago, and that trend is set to continue.

    You make a lot of good points, and I certainly wouldn’t disagree with all of them. I’ll respond to some below, but please bear in mind that there’s always an element of devil’s advocate, or of putting an argument in its strongest possible terms for the sake of the debate, in such matters.

    So really, don’t be so damn pessimistic.

    Can’t speak for reiner Tor, obviously, but I like being a pessimist, damn it! That way the surprises are mostly on the upside.

    First of all, when you are talking about “GDP”, are you talking about nominal or purchasing power parity?

    PPP is obviously the best option for making such comparisons. Here are the shares for 2015 from the IMF per economywatch.com (I’ve rounded to 1dp):

    China 17.1%
    EU 16.9%
    US 15.8%
    Russia 3.3%

    So you are correct that China is currently overtaking the US in gdp terms. However, crystallised military capability is a lag indicator for economic strength, as most significant military capabilities (technologies, systems, institutions, etc) involve decades of investment at the top levels.

    I don’t think the US really ever invested as much resources on the military as the rest of the world combined, and that is certainly not the case today. Maybe something like 1/4th (nowadays, that is), which is of course still very impressive.

    There’s a degree of hyperbole in the assertion that “the US has spent nearly as much as the rest of the world combined” (factually correct based upon nominal figures for some years), it’s true. On the other hand, a large proportion of the non-US military spending is by US allies, satellite states and protectorates (often also feeding a share of their expenditures into the US’s military production chain by buying high cost American systems). Here are the figures for 2015 from one recognised source (SIPRI) which uses constant 2014 dollars at market exchange rates:

    Spending by countries that will either fight for the US in global or regional conflicts or at the least will never in any presently plausible scenario fight against it:

    EU total $281.9b
    Japan $46.3b
    Israel $17.5b
    Saudi Arabia $85.4b
    South Korea $38.6
    Taiwan $10.3b
    Canada $17.2b
    Australia $27.8b
    New Zealand $2.4b
    Total for pro-US group: $527.4b

    US $595.5b
    China $214.5b
    Russia $91b

    World total $1773b

    So in reality world military spending is roughly one third by the US directly, one third by US allies, satellite states or protectorates, and one third by the rest, which probably reasonably accurately represents the world military balance.

    Not to mention that the Soviet systems were very competitive vs. the German ones. What on earth has changed? Nothing, IMO, if anything Russians are better off nowadays. Their human capital vs. German or the US better now than it was in the 40s.

    I think the trend has been for human capital to be less important (never, of course, unimportant) as a factor in military conflicts over time (in the context of direct military combat) as war-fighting has become progressively more industrialised and more technology dependent, and that trend has probably continued since WW2.

    That’s one reason why women have progressively become more involved in war-fighting. At the macro scale, women are essentially useless in hand-to-hand war-fighting, usable to some degree in C20th industrial warfare as drivers, pilots, factory workers and some specialist roles such as snipers, and progressively more useful as technological multipliers and enablers become ever more prevalent.

    Lastly, China is already an ecomic superpower. So really, don’t be so damn pessimistic. :) The world is already quite a bit more multipolar than it was a decade ago, and that trend is set to continue.

    I think I made that point myself, didn’t I? :-)

    We had a very near miss in the 1990s when Russia was collapsed and co-opted and China had not yet begun to exercise its potential. Fortunately the US elites proved incompetent to exploit the potential of the situation, Russia is recovering and China has managed so far to avoid being co-opted too much.

    Time will tell.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    I tried to adjust for all those factors in this article:

    http://www.unz.com/akarlin/top-10-militaries-2015/

    My assessment is that Russia and China each have approximately a third of America's comprehensive military power.
  40. @Randal
    You make a lot of good points, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with all of them. I'll respond to some below, but please bear in mind that there's always an element of devil's advocate, or of putting an argument in its strongest possible terms for the sake of the debate, in such matters.

    So really, don’t be so damn pessimistic.
     
    Can't speak for reiner Tor, obviously, but I like being a pessimist, damn it! That way the surprises are mostly on the upside.

    First of all, when you are talking about “GDP”, are you talking about nominal or purchasing power parity?
     
    PPP is obviously the best option for making such comparisons. Here are the shares for 2015 from the IMF per economywatch.com (I've rounded to 1dp):

    China 17.1%
    EU 16.9%
    US 15.8%
    Russia 3.3%

    So you are correct that China is currently overtaking the US in gdp terms. However, crystallised military capability is a lag indicator for economic strength, as most significant military capabilities (technologies, systems, institutions, etc) involve decades of investment at the top levels.

    I don’t think the US really ever invested as much resources on the military as the rest of the world combined, and that is certainly not the case today. Maybe something like 1/4th (nowadays, that is), which is of course still very impressive.
     
    There's a degree of hyperbole in the assertion that "the US has spent nearly as much as the rest of the world combined" (factually correct based upon nominal figures for some years), it's true. On the other hand, a large proportion of the non-US military spending is by US allies, satellite states and protectorates (often also feeding a share of their expenditures into the US's military production chain by buying high cost American systems). Here are the figures for 2015 from one recognised source (SIPRI) which uses constant 2014 dollars at market exchange rates:

    Spending by countries that will either fight for the US in global or regional conflicts or at the least will never in any presently plausible scenario fight against it:

    EU total $281.9b
    Japan $46.3b
    Israel $17.5b
    Saudi Arabia $85.4b
    South Korea $38.6
    Taiwan $10.3b
    Canada $17.2b
    Australia $27.8b
    New Zealand $2.4b
    Total for pro-US group: $527.4b

    US $595.5b
    China $214.5b
    Russia $91b

    World total $1773b

    So in reality world military spending is roughly one third by the US directly, one third by US allies, satellite states or protectorates, and one third by the rest, which probably reasonably accurately represents the world military balance.

    Not to mention that the Soviet systems were very competitive vs. the German ones. What on earth has changed? Nothing, IMO, if anything Russians are better off nowadays. Their human capital vs. German or the US better now than it was in the 40s.
     
    I think the trend has been for human capital to be less important (never, of course, unimportant) as a factor in military conflicts over time (in the context of direct military combat) as war-fighting has become progressively more industrialised and more technology dependent, and that trend has probably continued since WW2.

    That's one reason why women have progressively become more involved in war-fighting. At the macro scale, women are essentially useless in hand-to-hand war-fighting, usable to some degree in C20th industrial warfare as drivers, pilots, factory workers and some specialist roles such as snipers, and progressively more useful as technological multipliers and enablers become ever more prevalent.

    Lastly, China is already an ecomic superpower. So really, don’t be so damn pessimistic. :) The world is already quite a bit more multipolar than it was a decade ago, and that trend is set to continue.
     
    I think I made that point myself, didn't I? :-)

    We had a very near miss in the 1990s when Russia was collapsed and co-opted and China had not yet begun to exercise its potential. Fortunately the US elites proved incompetent to exploit the potential of the situation, Russia is recovering and China has managed so far to avoid being co-opted too much.

    Time will tell.

    I tried to adjust for all those factors in this article:

    http://www.unz.com/akarlin/top-10-militaries-2015/

    My assessment is that Russia and China each have approximately a third of America’s comprehensive military power.

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