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 Russian Reaction Blog / SyriaTeasers

So it’s been a few days since the Syria Strikes, everyone and his dog have thrown in their two cents, and there has been a set of confusing and contradictory reactions from US officials and pretty much everyone else involved in this saga.

The more the contradictions pile on, the less clear the picture becomes.

Is it a “zrada”/betrayal? Is it 666D chess/clever plan? Or is everyone involved just a bunch of opportunists and/or bumbling morons?

And what is this all going to lead to?

podcast-3d-chess Let’s try to consider all these issues one by one. But first, for those of you who like podcasts, I have already participated in two where I go indepth into these issues

***

What Happened?

On April 4, a toxic gas engulfed the town of Khan Shaykhun, which is occupied by Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Nusra offshoot (which in turn stems from Al Qaeda). There are many reasons to doubt that Assad was responsible, as I argued from the outset. Since then, the reasons for skepticism have only increased in number. For instance, see this Duran summary of a 14 page report by MIT Professor Theodore Postol on the Syria chemical attacks (full document also attached).

In response, without any sort of investigation, UN mandate, or even Congressional approval, Trump ordered a 59 Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat Airbase, though not before warning Russia. This happened while having a chocolate cake dessert with Xi Jinping.

Opinions vary on the success of the missile strikes. At first, there were claims that 23 of the 59 missiles hadn’t even hit anything, which led to theories that either the failure had been intentional on Trump’s part, or that they have been partially intercepted by Syrian air defences. (Technical failure was very unlikely, since even in the early 1990′s Tomahawks had a failure rate of 5%, whereas here it was allegedly closer to 40%). I do not buy the first theory that it was an intentional failure. I can hardly even see how you could communicate an order like that to the military, expect it to be carried out, and not have it be leaked.

Incoming Tomahawks fly close to the ground, making them mostly invisible to ground based radar, and to my knowledge Russia does not have a continuous AWACS presence over the Syrian skies which conventional air defense systems need to take the Tomahawks out. As such, if the claims are true, I believe the likeliest explanation is the presence of a Russian EW weapon within the vicinity of Shayrat Airbase. This would be consistent with the fact that even the missiles that did get through failed to do damage; i.e., their flight path had still been affected to some extent, making them deviate from their planned course and as a result less effective.

On the other hand, more recent analyses from the past few days by ISI and War is Boring (h/t Reiner Tor) indicate a 58/59 success rate, with flights from Shayrat being sharply curtailed in the aftermath.

Reactions

syria-strike-response

politicians-behind-syria-strikes US Domestic: Defense Secretary James Mattis has raised the possibility of establishing a NFZ in Syria, and WH spokesman Sean Spicer bracketed Russia in with the Axis of Evil (2017 edition) – Syria, Iran, and the DPRK – which opposed its actions in Syria. Steve Bannon and the “nationalist” wing of Trump’s administration opposed the strike on Syria, but he has been gradually losing influence to Jared Kushner and the “neocon” wing. For instance, Katie McFarland, a Michael Flynn protege, was fired from the NSC just a few days ago and demoted to being the Ambassador to Singapore. There has even been talk of a 150,000 troop US ground intervention in Syria pushed by new NSC head Herbert McMaster and David Petraeus, though this extreme variant was apparently opposed by both Bannon and Kushner, and has already been shot down by Trump.

US International: The US and UK led the vanguard in condemning Assad’s gassing of his own people and in affirming Russian culpability in it. Nikki Haley has been busy waving photos of gassed children in the UN. Rex Tillerson and British FM were pushing for new sanctions against Syria and Russia at a meeting of the G7 before the latter’s flight to Moscow. At the G7 meeting, there was talk that Tillerson would present a carrot and stick ultimatum to Moscow: Drop support for Assad, and get reinvited back into the G8; or face newer sanctions (as it was, they failed to get European and Japanese support for the latter). The summit between Rex Tillerson and Russian FM Sergey Lavrov has just ended on an ambiguous note. Tillerson is ambivalent on Ukranie, even going so far as to describe the Russia’s incorporation of Crimea as “certain moves by Russia”, which segues with his skepticism at the G7 meeting where he asked his European counterparts why American taxpayers should care about Ukraine. On the other hand, he continued to insist that Assad should step down, and that Russia should pressure him to do that.

Russia: Russia has opposed the strikes, with Putin saying that the US-Russian relationship has deteriorated – no mean achievement, considering where it was at under Obama. More to the point, Russia shut down the military communication channel in Syria with the US, which has already resulted in a reduction in US military overflights above Syria. Just recently, Russia blocked a Western-sponsored resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council; Bolivia voted with Russia, while China and two other countries abstained because of its reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which had previously been used by the West to carry through regime change in Libya in 2011 despite having reassured Russia it would do no such thing.

China: Chinese state media started attacking the strikes as soon as Xi Jinping returned from the US. However, in tandem with the US rerouting the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group towards North Korea, it has expressed a willingness to also strike against the DPRK if it crossed China’s “bottom line”, and has moved 150,000 troops to its border with the hermit kingdom [fake news]. In his turn, Trump has also adopted a more positive line on China, retreating from his prior threats to label it a currency manipulator and praising Xi Jinping for what at least what Trump saw as his cooperative spirit.

666D Chess

clever-planm

So you have a bewildering range of factors to consider when trying to fit all these events into any sort of internationally consistent framework:

(1) A domestic power struggle in the US between Bannonite nativists and Kushnerite globalists, which the latter faction is winning. Indeed, there is good evidence to believe that it is not long before Bannon is dismissed entirely, with Trump now claiming that he wasn’t that critical to his victory in the 2016 elections anyway.

msm-on-syria-strikes(2) The strikes enjoy bipartisan support, the support of the Mainstream Media, and the support of a majority of Americans (~50-55% support, 35-40% oppose).

(3) What at a minimum appears to be a serious disagreement between the US and Russia on Syria, with the former insisting that Assad has to go, and mooting the possibility of no fly zones – a prospect that many thought had fallen by the wayside with Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

(4) A surprisingly more accomodating US position on Ukraine – more so than that of the Europeans – though Tillerson has taken care to explicitly rule out any quid pro quo deals with Russia that tie Ukraine to Syria.

trump-norks(5) Though Chinese state media have reacted negatively to the US strike on Syria, they have been – at least rhetorically – a lot more cooperative on another brewing flashpoint, that of North Korea (see above). The Chinese have no great love for Kim Jong Un, who is rumored to be a Sinophobe and who had his uncle executed for trying to create a pro-Chinese political/economic faction within the DPRK.

On the other hand, the DPRK is a vital security concern for China – not so much perhaps the oft stated issue of the refugee flood should the regime fall (population of North Korea: 25 million; population of just the two regions adjoining it: 70 million), but because it could do without American military bases peppering the Korean peninsula all the way up to its border. More to the point, China has a mutual defense treaty with the DPRK from 1961 that it has continued to renew, despite festering disagreements between the two countries. Could China be… too accomodating of Trump? Is the US walking into some kind of trap?

So, so many things to consider.

***

Donald’s Game

It seems to me that the Trump administrations actions in recent days fall into three major narrative bins:

  • Zrada: Trump has subscribed to the neocon agenda, on account of deep state blackmail, political convenience, or perhaps because he never had a strong commitment to “America First” anyway;
  • 4 Chess: Trump is playing 666D interuniversal Teichmuller chess (or “clever plan”/chess combination, as we say in Russian) to win over his skeptics with a “short victorious war” and return to MAGA;
  • Drumpf: Trump is an inexperienced politician, or just a moron, and is making impulsive decisions on the fly.

Let’s consider the evidence for and against each of these in turn:

Zrada (Betrayal)

Trump has subscribed to the neocon agenda, on account of deep state blackmail, political convenience, or perhaps because he never had a strong commitment to “America First” anyway.

kushner-trump-meme This is the main reaction to Donald Trump on both the anti-imperialist Left and the Alt Right.

Points For

One Breitbart-endorsed version of this was that Trump was driven to fling his Tomahawks on account of Ivanka’s tears on account of the poor Syrian babies and children. While this might have been a factor – after all, Trump is known to be very close to his daughter – the idea that important decisions are made in such soap opera fashion still beggar belief, even adjusting for the continuing Latinization of American politics.

Perhaps closer to the truth is the observation in a recent WaPo article that Bannonism isn’t any good for the Trump brand, quoting one Republican operative as saying, “The fundamental assessment is that if they want to win the White House in 2020, they’re not going to do it the way they did in 2016, because the family brand would not sustain the collateral damage… It would be so protectionist, nationalist and backward-looking that they’d only be able to build in Oklahoma City or the Ozarks.” If you elect a merchant, I suppose you will get a merchant.

Another major consideration is the changes in cadres, which indicate a gradual purge of Bannonists from the government (Lewandowski, Manafort, Flynn, McFarland – with Gorka and Bannon himself now coming under the crosshairs), in favor of various neocons, Goldman Sachs globalists, and members of the Kushner clan.

cohen-israel-syria

Alongside the rehabilitation of the neocons, it has also been acquiring a much more explicitly Zionist administration. It is worth bearing in mind that Kushner himself is a Zionist, and that Trump has always been very forthright about his support for Israel – much more so than Obama. The Israelis have been returning the favor – Trump was always very popular in Israel, and Israeli politicians have expressed strong support for the Syria strikes. This is not surprising, since Israelis see a united Syria as a greater threat to them to a Balkanized Syria swarming with Islamists and ethnic militias.

Perhaps there were always plans to move ahead with removing Assad as soon as a convenient opportunity popped up, or maybe the percentage of neocons and Zionists reached a critical mass that tilted things in this direction. I don’t suppose it matters all that much.

Another version of this narrative is that the deep state has finally acquired some nuclear level “kompromat” on Trump, which it is using to blackmail him – for instance, one commenter here has suggested pedophilia, or an expensive drug habit. Or maybe there really is damning evidence of collusion with the Russian Occupation Government. Alternatively, maybe his family is being credibly threatened in some way. I suppose this is all possible, but I don’t think it’s all too likely, considering the diversity of other, more natural explanations.

Points Against

As early as a week ago, the Trump administration was open to Assad staying on as President of Syria. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat on good terms with Trump, paid a visit to Syria several weeks ago where she called on the US to stop arming terrorists, and just a week ago Rex Tillerson was saying that the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” Nikki Haley went even further, noting that “our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out.” The sheer suddenness of this 180 turn might hint at its artificiality (666D Chess Theory).

It’s worth noting that even as of today the administration still hasn’t gone full neocon. James Mattis has recently affirmed that the defeat of Islamic State remains the first priority, and Trump clarified that the US will not be entering the Syrian Civil War. Note that Thomas L. Friedman, the globalist par excellence, is currently arguing for the US to let the Islamic State be to fight against the Syrian government on the pages of the New York Times. Anti-imperialists might bewail the neocon hijacking of the White House, but frankly, there’s still some ways to go before it plummets to the level of NYT-reading “educated mainstream.” It’s pretty depressing to think about, but in the postmodernist exhibition that is current American politics, where Antifa assaults Alt Right anti-war protests, a move to the “moderate center” implicitly involves adopting the language of interventionism.

All of which suggests a second possibility…

666D Interuniversal Teichmuller Chess

Trump is playing 666D interuniversal Teichmuller chess (or “clever plan”/chess combination, as we say in Russian) to win over his skeptics with a “short victorious war” and return to MAGA;

Points For

Let’s make one thing clear. Even if it turns out we were all ultimately cucked, there were many very good reasons why we were fans of the God-Emperor for so long. One of them was his consistency. Trump was advocating protectionism back in 1988. He condemned the bombing of Serbia back in 1999. Infamously now, he was a vociferous critic of intervention in Syria in 2013.

So it is wrong to say his opposition to invade/invite the world owes itself to “President Bannon.” He was America First for decades.

Moreover, Trump’s overtly Russophile sympathies during the campaign were completely unbecoming of a US politician, and while the gesture was appreciated by some, this stance almost certainly hindered him more than helped him. He was factually correct on Putin being popular and there being no evidence of him killing journalists, and he was right that the people of Crimea supported reunification with Russia (though since becoming President, he has demanded Russia return Crimea to Ukraine). He had no apparent reasons to do this from an electoral perspective, and yet he did it anyway.

Furthermore, the US military did warn the Russians they were about to strike Shayrat, though this shouldn’t be weighed too heavily as any Russian military casualties would have risked an outright escalation, which pretty much everyone but the very craziest neocons wants to avoid.

According to the 666D Chess theory, Trump struck Syria to win some support from the MSM and the Establishment at a time of sinking approval ratings, failures in healthcare and immigration policy, and the slow-burning scandal over his purported ties to Russia.

A good example is Mike Cernovich’s take:

cernovich-syria-4d-chess

Moreover, this would not be the first time Trump has… trumped his critics.

He mentioned he’d ban the burning of the American flag – the media rushed to show Leftists burning the American flag. He promoted the observation that many hate crimes were hoaxes – soon after, it emerged that the author of the threats against Jewish centers was a Black social justice writer for The Intercept who had been fired for making up sources. He claimed you wouldn’t believe what had happened in Sweden yesterday – we couldn’t believe what happened to Sweden tomorrow.

Perhaps what we are seeing this past week is just his most formidable “chess combination” yet, which will end in the most epic pwning of the media, the neocons, the bugmen in the moden history of the United States and the final draining of the Swamp in Washington D.C.

I suppose hope dies last.

Points Against

The first is the sheer scale of the changes in cadres (see Theory #1), and the broad range of campaign promises that Trump is going back on. For instance, just these past couple of days, he has reversed his positions on labeling China as a currency manipular (perhaps in exchange for its consent to a “short victorious war” missile salvo against the norks?), on Yellen’s future, on the Export-Import Bank, and on NATO, which he has suddenly decided is not “obsolete” after all.

Moreover, its worth noting that for the most part only two major groups of people still take this theory seriously:

(1) ROG conspiracy theoricists, such as Louise Mensch, in the style of “Putin’s puppet bombed Putin’s ally to deny that he is Putin’s puppet on Putin’s orders”:

mensch-rog-is-everywhere

(2) Trump cultists, such as Bill Mitchell:

mitchell-trump-clever-plan

mensch-war-with-russia The problem with the Louise Mensches is: At which point does this sort of argumentation invalidate itself? What can Trump do to conclusively demonstrate he is not Putin’s puppet? Firebombing Khmeimim Airbase? Dropping a nuke on Moscow? Not that she will be against any of that, mind… but presumably many of the Americans who would subsequently have to live in the Fallout universe might beg to differ.

The second group are basically unironic Trump cultists, like what /r/The_Donald has now become.

When the only people to believe in a hypothesis are Trump Nashists and Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers, I will probably bet against the theory.

Moreover, as a Russian, I have good reason to be especially skeptical about “666D Chess” because we have had our version of it for the past three years, namely, Putin’s clever plan/mnogokhodovka (lit. “chess combination), a term used by state propagandists to explain and rationalize Kremlin decisions of dubious wisdom, such as the Minsk agreements with Ukraine and the intervention in Syria. At one point they were seriously arguing that Syria could be used as a lever to end Western sanctions, whereas if anything it resulted in pressure for more sanctions.

In real life, clever plans/mnogokhodovkas/666D chess in geopolitics simply never exists, at least in the ever more incredible and complex forms that would be needed to explain this past week.

That is because, in practice, a lot of politicians are not the wily grandmasters of their supporters’ imagination. They are just retards.

Which brings us to Theory #3:

Donald Drumpf

Trump is an inexperienced politician, or just a moron, and is making impulsive decisions on the fly.

The major piece of evidence in favor of this particular interpretation is that the Syria strikes were worse than a crime – they were a blunder.

Let’s compile a balance sheet.

Advantages:

  • Demonstrate US resolve, credibility; enforce the red line, unlike Obama.
  • Kill the Putin collusion theory – and in fairness, people outside the dickpix/Menschosphere have started talking less about it.
  • Increased support, at least for the time being, from neocons
  • … from the MSM (17/20 of the top outlets support the strikes).
  • … and from a modest majority of Americans, including Republicans.

Disadvantages:

  • Neocon support is temporary – you just know they’re slavering to backstab Trump if he ever again fails to be sufficiently hard on Russia.
  • The media has a momentum of its own and now that the first cracks have appeared in the administration’s stance against intervention, they will just keep piling on, no matter that Trump and Mattis have since clarified that they are not committed to pursuing regime change in Syria.
  • Adding fuel to the fire, as Putin himself has pointed out, the Syrian rebels now have a perverse incentive to stage further false flag attacks, in the sure knowledge that Trump will definitely no longer have any option but to respond with massive force.
  • Moreover, this will also now be used by the globalist wing of the war party as a sledgehammer to batter down what remains of Trump’s anti-immigration agenda. As Hillary Clinton now asks, if you’re going to bomb Syrians – and you certainly should – how could you justify not taking in their refugees? Bizarrely, the American Federation of Teachers has also seen it fit to make a political stand, supporting the missile strikes on Syria but also calling for Trump to open up the borders.
  • He has already soured his relationships with Europe (too reactionary), the Muslim world in general (too Islamophobic), Latin America (position on immigration, “bad hombres”), Iran (too neocon), and China (trade policy, up to the point of claiming they invented global warming to acquire a competitive advantage). Now he apparently also wants to add Russia, one of his few remaining fans other than Israel, to this list.
  • Moreover, adding Russia to his shit-list won’t exactly improve European or Chinese attitudes towards him; the Europeans will now just think he’s G.W. Bush II, while the Chinese will be looking to get him bogged down in some quagmire to free their own hands in the South China Sea. Pretty much the only country of any note that this will make happy is the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine, which had ironically done its best to help Trump lose the elections.
  • It will directly increase the likelihood of a serious military clash with Russia in the skies over Syria, which can go in all sorts of unexpected directions. The military hotline between the two countries in Syria has been turned off, and the Russians are beefing up Syria’s air defenses even further.
  • It has moved Iran and Russia closer together, with Russian FM Sergey Lavrov inviting his Syrian and Iranian counterparts to Moscow. There are also several summits planned between Putin and Xi Jinping; though they long predate the Syria strikes, it is likely that relations between the two countries will now move forwards at a faster rate.
  • While Trump did demonstrate “resolve,” of a sort, as Alexander Mercouris points out, it also exacted a cost in credibility – the ease and suddenness with which Trump has reversed course from accepting that Assad would remain Syria’s President one week and then attacking him the next is going to be making not just the Russians, but also the Europeans and Chinese, asking to what extent he can be trusted.
  • Trump’s enemies will continue to hate him, and to work towards his undermining through the #Russiagate scandal. Don’t respond – evidence he is in league with Putin. Respond – evidence that it’s to draw attention away from his ties with Putin.
  • Conversely, he has thrown many of his most principled and fervent supporters overboard. Greg Johnson puts it best in his essay for The Unz Review: “Never betray your friends to court the favor of your enemies. If you betray your friends, the most principled and perceptive among them will drop you, leaving only the delusional and venal. That is not a good trade, given that the approval you gain is bound to be fleeting and contingent, whereas the contempt and distrust you create will be permanent. The people you betrayed may come back to you out of sentimentality or self-interest, but their trust and respect will never return. They will always regard you as a traitor.
  • To be sure, this probably isn’t going to massively impact on Trump’s poll ratings anytime soon. However, while the people most disillusioned with him – committed anti-imperialists and Alt Righters – might not be numerically large, but they did a disproportionate amount of the gruntwork for his campaign, making memes real while Hillary Clinton banked on and failed with traditional tools like big sponsors and TV. There will be a lot less “high energy” come the 2020 elections, assuming that he even makes it that long.

As we can see, there are several times more negatives than positives to this decision. It was disastrous by any objecture measure

But for this very reason there is reason to believe that it was something born out of stupidy instead of mendacity (Theory #1) or questionable genius (Theory #2).

I have long been skeptical about liberal arguments as to Trump’s lack of intelligence. They seemed to be all to reminscent of liberals’ Dubya obsessions in the 2000s; though I was never a fan of G.W. Bush – my first “political” experience in life was marching against the Iraq War – the psychometric evidence seemed pretty clear that it wasn’t that he wasn’t so much stupid as a bad public speaker. So I pattern matched this experience to Trump.

It also didn’t tally with Trump’s achievement in increasing his wealth by two orders of magnitude, which – contrary to media tropes – he could not have done by simply “investing in the stockmarket” or some nonsense like that. Though Trump did have a head start thanks to daddy’s money, multiplying the fortune one hundred times over does usually require brains.

However, I will now admit that I might have… “misoverestimated” Trump.

Maybe he has started to suffer from dementia, or something, but just read his latest interview, where he was describing how he informed Xi Jinping of his attack on Syria while eating “the most beautiful” piece of chocolate cake. So cringeworthy:

TRUMP: But I will tell you, only because you’ve treated me so good for so long, I have to (INAUDIBLE) right?
I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We’re now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.

And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?

And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way. And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you. This was during dessert.

We’ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.

BARTIROMO: Unmanned?

Brilliant.

TRUMP: It’s so incredible. It’s brilliant. It’s genius. Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five. I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.

Now we’re going to start getting it, because, you know, the military has been cut back and depleted so badly by the past administration and by the war in Iraq, which was another disaster.

So what happens is I said we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.

BARTIROMO: (INAUDIBLE) to Syria?

TRUMP: Yes. Heading toward Syria. In other words, we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading toward Syria. And I want you to know that, because I didn’t want him to go home. We were almost finished. It was a full day in Palm Beach. We’re almost finished and I — what does he do, finish his dessert and go home and then they say, you know, the guy you just had dinner with just attacked a country?

BARTIROMO: How did he react?

TRUMP: So he paused for 10 seconds and then he asked the interpreter to please say it again. I didn’t think that was a good sign.

And he said to me, anybody that uses gases — you could almost say or anything else — but anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that young children and babies, it’s OK.

I don’t know, I just don’t know.

Maybe the guy’s a retard after all, and the more intelligent Trump supporters were just too proficient at coming up with “clever plans” to explain and rationalize his statements to notice the awning cognitive black hole in front of them.

I do realize this reflects very badly on them, and for that matter on me, but this interpretation is less pessimistic than Theory #1 and more credible than Theory #2.

There have been persistent comments throughout the past year to the effect that Trump is just the average of the last six people he has spoken to, and that as his crowd of nativist nationalists has been replaced with neocon bugmen these past few months, so he has started adopting many of the latter’s beliefs and talking points.

Maybe, as Audacious Epigone suggests, Trump should just spend more time retweeting Twitter shitlords again – just like he did in the golden days of the Trump Train in 2016.

What is to be Done?

If Theory #1 or Theory #3 are correct, then I am afraid we are going to see the formalization of neoconservatism as the guiding light of the Trump administration, alongside its globalist accoutrements.

Invade/invite to the max.

The dismissal of Steve Bannon, which is now widely discussed in the media, will be the final confirmation that there is no 666D Chess combination after all.

In foreign policy, this will predictably be a failure. Instead of halting the process, as a wise US foreign policy would aim for, it will instead put the current trend towards a Russo-Chinese alliance into overdrive. There is also a very small but non-negligible chance of a serious escalation in Syria that could flare into a wider conflict between the US and Russia/Iran. I will explore this possibility in a later post.

Here’s the problem. Neoconservatism wasn’t cool by 2007. The Current Year is 2017. While the last ‘Murica! boomers might cheer and clap for it, those folks are not getting any younger, nor are they gaining converts; to the contrary, even many conservative warmongers of yesteryear are now opposed to further misadventures in the Middle East, such as the courageous Ann Coulter.

Meanwhile, the young MAGA nationalists, who have never cared for the more regressive elements of the traditional Republican agenda – promoting corporate interests and the 1%, hardcore social conservatism, and above all interventionism and wars for oil/Israel (cross out as per your ideological preferences) – and who are, incidentally, also the most Russophile demographic of the American population – will be utterly demoralized and repelled.

He will be left only with the bootlickers, the bankers, and the most retrograde boomers. Maybe a few token #NeverTrumpers will crawl back to him, confident now that he firmly under the thumb of the deep state, though they will still continue to despite him. That’s all!

The result of that will be a landslide victory for the Democratic candidate in 2020, which in all likelihood lead to a new sort of hell.

I’m afraid these comments by Scott Alexander from September 2016 may well prove to be prophetic:

One more warning for conservatives who still aren’t convinced. If the next generation is radicalized by Trump being a bad president, they’re not just going to lean left. They’re going to lean regressive, totalitarian, super-social-justice left.

Everyone has already constructed the narrative: Trump is the anti-PC, anti-social-justice candidate. If he wins, he’s going to be the anti-PC, anti-social-justice President. And he will fail. First of all, because he doesn’t really show much sign of knowing what he’s doing. Second of all, because all presidents fail in a sense – 80% of Americans consistently believe the country is headed the wrong direction and the president is the natural fall guy for this trend. And third of all, because even if by some miracle Trump avoids the first two failure modes, the media will say he failed and people will believe them. And when the anti-PC, anti-social-justice President fails, the reaction will be a giant “we told you so” from the social justice movement, and a giant shift of all the disillusioned young people right into their fold.

Trump is all set to be the biggest gift to the social justice movement in history. They thrive on claims of persecution, claims that they’re the ones fighting a stupid hateful regressive culture that controls everything. And people think that bringing their straw man to life and putting him in the Oval Office is going to help?

I still don’t think voting for Trump over Clinton was a mistake.

At the least, Trump’s brand of neoconservatism is going to be implemented in a cack-handed, incompetent way, as opposed to a competent and calculating one. This is good for the non-Americans who will have to deal with it.

Still, its very sad that it has come to this. I believe that Trump still has the time and opportunity to reverse his ill-starred course, but the clock is ticking down.

 

haley-un-versus-assad

There are so many problems with the propaganda campaign against Assad getting unrolled now.

partisangirl-fake-sarin(1) You can’t treat exposure to sarin with your bare hands without falling ill/dead yourself, as the White Helmets were apparently doing in the aftermath of the Idlib attack.

(2) As Syrian war reporter @Partisangirl noticed, some journalists were apparently discussing a chlorine sarin attack before it actually happened.

(3) It is eerily reminescent of the aftermath of the 2013 Gouta attacks, in which the Western media and neocon and neocon-in-all-but-name politicians and punditry parroted the official line that Assad’s troops were responsible even though consequent journalistic work by Sermour Hersh and MIT raised serious doubts over the veracity of that allegation.

(4) The “moderate rebels” have themselves resorted to poison gas on various occasions.

(5) Unlike in 2013, Assad is now winning. Why on Earth now, of all times, would he resort to poison gas – one of the few things he can do to that is capable of provoking a strong Western reaction – just to kill all of 75 civilians?

this-makes-sense

It just makes no sense.

So one can’t help but treat Nikky Haley’s melodramatic performance at the UN with skepticism. The idea that the poisoning was due to a bomb hitting a chemical weapons manufactory seems more plausible.

Trump’s initial non-interventionist rhetoric on assuming the Presidency was encouraging, as was his promotion of other anti-war figures such as Tulsi Gabbard. However, the latest response of the US administration, including Trump himself, is not giving any cause for optimism:

I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me, big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it, and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that… And I will tell you it’s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.

To be sure, one might view this as a merely ritualistic expression of outrage, but also coming on as it does on the eve of Steve Bannon’s dismissal from the National Security Council… one can’t help but start having dark thoughts on whether the deep state might be triumphing after all.

 

Yet another tired meme of the Lamestream Media is biting the dust.

Tulsi Gabbard is a Democrat who is on good terms with Trump – indeed, she was once viewed as a feasible if highly unlikely candidate for Secretary of State. She has gone to Syria, talked with the people, and confirmed that the “moderate rebels” are anything but, and has since proceeded to castigate CNN on their fake news (her interviewer wasn’t happy about that).

Incidentally, as Alexander Mercouris points out, it is most curious that the most fervent proponents of that meme never seemed to want to spend much time with the objects of their veneration:

A key point to make about Tulsi Gabbard is that she has made these comments after actually visiting Syria, and going to places like Damascus and Aleppo.

As I have previously pointed out, since the end of the fighting in Aleppo, the city is now safe to visit by Western journalists, which is why Tulsi Gabbard has been able to go there, and has been able to speak to people there. By contrast the Western media, which throughout the autumn was full of lurid reports of atrocities supposedly committed in Aleppo during the fighting there by the Syrian army and the Russians, is staying away.

Here is Gabbard’s official statement:

“I return to Washington, DC with even greater resolve to end our illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government. I call upon Congress and the new Administration to answer the pleas of the Syrian people immediately and support the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. We must stop directly and indirectly supporting terrorists—directly by providing weapons, training and logistical support to rebel groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS; and indirectly through Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey, who, in turn, support these terrorist groups. We must end our war to overthrow the Syrian government and focus our attention on defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS.

“From Iraq to Libya and now in Syria, the U.S. has waged wars of regime change, each resulting in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

This jives with Trump’s inauguration promise: “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

Anyhow, stinging from their defeat in Aleppo, the rebels in the Idlib pocket have descended into something resembling a civil war in record time. The eastern front remains stable – Deir ez-Zor has continued to hold out, despite Islamic State throwing so many men from their Iraqi wilayats and matériel captured from Palmyra at it in the past couple of weeks.

As this new reality dawns, Western states are beginning to publicly accept Assad’s right to a political role in the future Syria.

 

Just a collection of completely random, not very important news snippets.

(1) Diplomats’ Dissent Bolsters Calls for U.S. Assault on Assad:

For now, the Obama administration seems inclined to agree. A U.S. official who did not sign the memo but read it told Foreign Policy that the document was unlikely to influence Oval Office policy due to the relatively low rank of the signatories. None of the officials have reached the level of assistant secretary and some are not directly involved in Syria issues on a daily basis — though the list does include the consul general in Istanbul and a Syria desk officer.

The Obama administration has also repeatedly made clear that it believes strikes would merely add to the bloodshed without improving the political situation on the ground, while potentially getting ensnared in a decades-long conflict. Despite stinging criticisms from Arab and European allies, Obama has expressed no regrets about his handling of Syria in public comments and there was no sign Friday that the White House was ready to radically alter its strategy or tactics.

In a briefing with reporters on Air Force One, White House Deputy Secretary Jennifer Friedman said Obama “has been clear and continues to be clear that he doesn’t see a military solution to the crisis in Syria.”

“That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be discussions or a variety of conversations and a variety of opinions,” she added, “but that fundamental principle still remains.”

Still, Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria who resigned in protest over White House policy, said the dissent shows that “there’s a very broad consensus among working-level people that are trying to address different pieces of the Syria crisis that … the policy is not succeeding and will not succeed, and that the administration needs to change course.” He noted that it is “remarkable” to see 51 signatures on a cable that rarely gets more than four. {AK: Remarkable indeed – assuming this protest was really as “grassroots” as it is implied to be}

The memo is also a vivid reminder that Secretary of State John Kerry and the diplomats who work for him have consistently pushed for a more militaristic approach to the conflict than their colleagues at the Pentagon. During closed-door meetings in the past year and a half, Kerry has repeatedly pushed Obama to launch airstrikes at Syrian government targets — calls the White House rejected. His pleas were so routine that Obama reportedly announced at a National Security Council meeting last December that only the defense secretary would be allowed to offer proposals for military strikes.

Obama and Kerry clashed in 2013 when the president pulled back at the last moment from threatened military strikes against the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons, even though Obama had declared a “red line” over the issue. Kerry’s aides were miffed because the secretary of state just a few days earlier had given a muscular speech virtually promising a military response to Assad’s use of the weapons.

The protest memo appeared aimed not at the secretary of state but at the president and his aides who have remained steadfastly opposed to any direct confrontation with the Assad regime.

zhuchkovsky-no-putinsliv(2) There will be no “Putinsliv” in Donbass.

Morale amongst the NAF (Novorossiyan Armed Forces) tends to fluctuate amidst the flurry of contradictory signals the Russian official state tends to give them: Sometimes extending their full support, at other times extraditing NVF fighters to Ukraine and making noises about maybe pushing them all back into Ukraine for “humanitarian” reasons (these episodes tend to coincide with EU votes on the renewal of sanctions; speaking of which, they are 99% certain to be extended on Jun 28-29).

Well, a day ago Alexander Zhuchkovsky, an “insider” in the NVF and a generally reliable source, posted a most intriguing message:

Today I received an almost 100% guarantee that Donbass will not be given up to Ukraine (I say “almost” because Donbass will be surrendered in the case of a liberal coup in Russia, but I don’t think that will happen).

What kind of guarantee this is, I cannot say, but I write this post so that my readers and commentators could stop endlessly recycling this trope about the imminent return of Donbass with a nudge from Russia. All scaremongering about this topic will be see as either idiocy or deliberate intimidation of LDNR residents.

This does not imply that Donbass will soon be in for a bright future, and that one has to unconditionally approve all aspects of Russia’s policy towards Ukraine/LDNR. Unfortunately, today’s fragile and uncertain condition can well last for a long time yet, and from Russia we may once more hear outrageous claims that are at odds with our aspirations.

But that there will be no return of today’s LDNR territories into Ukraine under any conditions (except a hypothetical change in power in Russia) is an absolute, 100% certainty. I call on colleagues to bear this in mind, and opponents to live with this.

With this in mind in our rhetoric and our action we must actively propound the only possible and desirable solution – the incorporation of Donbass into Russia (at a minimum, at maximum – the return of all Novorossiya, which at this stage is a possibility that also cannot be excluded).

(3) RAND releases study calling for the rotation of 30,000 NATO troops into the Baltic states (which is the number that it calculates would be sufficient to deter, and if necessary hold up long enough, a Russian attack). This comes in tandem with the largest NATO exercises in Eastern Europe to date. Its pretty clear now that what little remained of the old American guarantees to the Soviet Union on NATO expansion are dead. Rest in peace, George Kennan. (We will see whether all this is more bark or bite during the Warsaw NATO summit on July 9).

(4) NATO explicitly adds the cyber realm to the domain of conflicts where Article 5 can be invoked. (In recent days, the DNC servers were “allegedly” hacked by Russians with state support).

(5) Russia begins bombing US-backed rebels in Syria (“Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia isn’t entirely certain who it’s bombing in Syria because “moderate” forces are mixed in with “terrorists.””)

(6) The PNAC crowd have made their fealty to Hillary Clinton even more resoundingly clear – a candidate who unlike Obama will certainly be no break on their regime change ambitions.

(7) Meanwhile, China and Russia continue to draw closer, with Putin at the ongoing Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum even suggesting a Eurasian economic partnership.

***

This is not to suggest all these are interlinked, let alone part of some singular conspiracy, but the sheer mass of these largely under the shadows developments does suggest there’s a lot of intense reshuffling of the chess pieces going on behind the scenes.

For instance, Russia’s intervention in Syria has been very successful to date, but its forces there are very vulnerable. This will become germane if Neocons Inc. come to power again – establishing a “no fly zone” over Syria is fraught with the danger of escalation, considering the presence of the Russian Air Force. But whereas Russia is completely outclassed by NATO in that theater, it has local dominance in the Baltics. Add two and two. As such one possible way of looking at the RAND proposal is as a ploy to annul Russia’s range of feasible responses to getting squeezed out of Syria.

But where does the pressure then get redirected? It is of course a longshot, but maybe (2) is somewhat related.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, NATO, Syria, War in Donbass 

So let’s do just that.

palmyra-liberated

Here is one of the latest maps via Al-Masdar News.

Not only have all of the hills towards the west of Palmyra been brought under firm SAA control, which allowed them to rain down fire on the hapless Islamic State defenders, but according to the latest reports Palmyra Airport has also been captured.

This means that Palmyra is as good as fully encircled, a development enabled in significant part by Russian air strikes in support of the SAA advance. Looks like Russia’s “retreat” wasn’t as total as some feared!

The current Islamic State plan is to abandon positions and establish a new line of defense at Al-Sukhanah, which controls a vital crossroads triangulated between Palmyra, Deir ez-Zor, and Raqqa. This is a critical point, because its loss would practically bisect the Islamic State between Iraq and Syria.

In general Islamic State seems to be pretty much falling apart now, showing up NATO/State Department claims about how Russia wasn’t doing anything against them for the self-serving lies they were.

Front-line commanders no longer speak of a scarily formidable foe but of Islamic State defenses that crumble within days and fighters who flee at the first sign they are under attack.

Of course seeing all this makes Atlanticist propagandists like Bild’s terminally Russophobic ISIS supporter Julian Roepcke very sad.

julian-roepcke-isis-sympathizer

Additionally, Palmyra’s liberation also means that the Islamic State will be deprived of the oil wells around Palmyra. This is not hugely important, since the Islamic State has always drawn the bulk of its revenues from tithes on locals even before Russia fighters put an end to their nice little oil smuggling arrangements with the Erdogan family. Nor will Syria itself will not be able to benefit immediately since it will take time to restore output and that’s making the bold assumption anybody will risk going there.

I suppose there might also now be a trickle of archaeologists coming in to assess the scale of the damage Islamic State wreaked on Syria’s cultural heritage.

palmyra-before-and-after

Just as the original ruins immortalized the glory of the Roman Empire, so the ruins of those ruins – doubleruins? metaruins? either way, their Ruinenwert must have gone through the roof – will stand testament to the criminal malignancy of the neocons who helped enable all this.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Military, Russia, Syria, Syrian Civil War 

generally-accomplished

Today came the shock announcement that Putin has ordered the withdrawal of most of the Russian strike force in Syria commencing on March 15, 2016.

In contrast to the weeks before the start of the intervention, when multiple observers including Stratfor observed signs of an imminent intervention, this has come as a complete surprise. Many ill thought out explanations have been rushed out.

(1) The more rhetorical anti-Russian voices in the West and the pro-Western Russian liberal opposition claim that this was on account of Russia’s unwinding economy. No matter that Russia’s budget deficit is at less than 3% of GDP, comes on top of negligible government debt levels, and the mounting evidence its recession has bottomed anyway.

(2) Fervent Assad and SAA supporters of 2015, who the year before had condemned Putin’s “betrayal” of Novorossiya, now rushed to condemn yet another “zrada.”

(3) Maybe Borovoy’s ultimatum to Putin was successful after all? /s

The real reasons that this happened are rather more prosaic.

Freezing Syria

The most obvious and indeed tautological one is that there is now a ceasefire between the government and the FSA that to considerable surprise is actually being more or less observed.

First off, as The Saker points out, Russia’s goals in Syria were always limited: Not to outright win the war but to “stabilize the legitimate authority and create conditions for a political compromise.” This is a consistent goal that Russia has pursued from the earliest stages of the Syrian conflict, in contrast to Western politicians who have on at three separate points – the start of the uprising itself, the Ghouta false flag chemical weapons attacks, and as recently as the summer of the last year – plotted to lay the grounds for a no fly zone, which in practice translates into Assad’s forcible ouster and the transformation of Syria into either an Islamic State or a patchwork quilt of warlords. Moreover, Russia’s intervention was time-bounded from the outset. The influential Russian politician Alexey Pushkov had cited a figure of three to four months last October, while Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov talked of “not much longer than a few months.” The five and a half months of Russian air strikes fell within these projections, and avoided dragging Russia into a deeper quagmire that its supporters dreaded and its opponents anticipated.

Second, as I anticipated, Russian airpower as well as additional support in the form of training and equipment – for instance, you can observe in conflict videos that the SAA forces now tend to be much better outfitted, including with body armor that was almost universally absent half a year ago – has decisively swung the balance of military power across multiple fronts in favor of the government. Contrary to the pattern of slow retreat and periodic collapses that marked the conflict in prior years, now the SAA is on the advance in many areas and even the occasional local defeat such as the Islamic State’s takeover of the Khanasser road to Aleppo this February was reversed within days, whereas in previous years these sorts of setbacks tended to snowball into collapses across entire fronts. The insurgency has thus been “persuaded” into acknowledging that there is no longer a Final Victory in sight for them and negotiating with Syria’s legitimate authorities as a prerequisite of maintaining their “moderate” status. Considering Russia’s objectives as outlined above, Putin is quite accurate to say that they have been “generally accomplished.”

Otherwise, a tallying of Russia’s strategic gains minus losses reveals its final score to be almost entirely positive.

On the plus side, we have:

(1) The Khmeimim airbase, which will continue to host a few air assets as well as drones to monitor the ceasefire, together with the expanded naval base at Latakia. Should the ceasefire break down, it will be possible to rebase and restock within a few days.

(2) The cost of the Russian intervention was very low. The liberal Russian RBK media network has estimated it at around $2.5+ million per day; defense analyst Jane’s gives an upper bound of $4 million a day. Even taking the latter figure and multiplying it by 180 days yields a total cost of less than $1 billion. Military casualties number firmly in the single digits. For this very reasonable price, the Russian Air Force got the opportunity to practice “live,” show off its toys to potential buyers, and get rid of its surplus bombs US Gulf War-style.

(3) Taking air assets out of Syria removes the potential Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads in the form of the Turkish Air Force and an increasingly unstable Erdogan. Russia never had more than a dozen air superiority fighters in Khmeimim; even if they were one-for-one superior to Turkish F-15Ds, and regardless of the S-400 guarding them and the Moskva cruiser parked off the Syrian coast, they would have stood no chance in the event that Turkey decided to erase Russian airpower in Syria – thus leaving Russia in the unenviable situation of choosing between a humiliating climbdown or escalating to all out war with a powerful NATO country of “of which no one can predict the ultimate consequences” (to paraphrase a contemporary commentator on the Russian Empire stumbling into war against Japan in 1904).

(4) Finally, despite the increasingly demented ravings of neocon trolls such as Michael Weiss to shift the media narrative:

… and of General Breedlove’s (any relation to General Buck Turgidson?) attempts to lay the blame for Merkel’s mishandling of the refugee crisis on Russia’s actions in Syria, Western audiences have become increasingly reluctant to swallow the bait offered up by their elites. After all, most normal people don’t see anything wrong in wrong in dropping bombs on snackbaring fanatics in the desert and have been asking increasingly uncomfortable questions why the neocons seem to be having problems with that (especially once Russia started releasing drone footage of all those trucks ferrying oil from the Islamic State to Turkey).

There are a few negatives to be sure:

(1) The most obvious one is the breakdown of relations with Turkey, with which Russia had previously had good ties, including multiple industrial projects and visa-free travel. But ultimately the economic ties aren’t all that dense and are loaded aganist Turkey. Whereas Russian tourists can always go some other place – why not Crimea? – Turkey gets most of its gas from Russia, and is paying Rosatom to construct its nuclear power plants, so it would suffer far more from a total breakdown in relations than would Russia. In any case, since Turkey and Russia have so many conflicting spheres of interest – the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, and now even Crimea and the Near East – which transcend the particularities of any regime that would conveivably happen to be in power in either Ankara or Moscow, I don’t think any true strategic partnership between the two is possible in principle. There is a reason that the Russian and Ottoman Empires were fighting wars nonstop from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

(2) Some analysts such as Vox’s Max Fisher have claimed that Putin has failed to link his help in resolving the Syrian crisis in return for a “grand bargain” in which Crimea is recognized as part of Russia and sanctions are lifted. Therefore, their argument goes, there is not much use in continuing the charade. The problem is that there is no actual evidence for this hypothesis. Both US and Russian officials have repeatedly excluded that any such considerations exist, plus there is the banal but extremely important fact that the sanctions have been almost entirely negligible in their contribution to Russia’s recession (Reminder: According to Citi Research, they were responsible for only 10% of the decline in output).

On the converse, Russia’s withdrawal from Syria will give it a great deal more leeway in Ukraine (though if the prospect of a surge in tourism to Novorossiya that some Russian pundits are now positing is but a pleasant daydream).

(3) Another “problem” is that Russia’s withdrawal will be painted as a sign of weakness – of conviction, and/or fiscal. Worrying about it is pointless since the Western media will absolutely never treat Russia fairly so long as Russia remains sovereign and certain elites continue to exercise power in the West. Better be thought cowardly and/or insolvent than be actually stupid.

(4) The final issue that people have with this “premature” withdrawal is that it paves the wave for Syria’s partition. This is an issue that deserves to be addressed at length.

The Road to Partition

I appreciate the arguments that perhaps foreigners don’t have all that much business in poking their noses into the constitutional arrangements of other countries. All the more so if said countries belong to different civilizations and cultural traditions.

To the contrary, it is worth stressing that more than 70% of Syrians themselves oppose the division of their country across territories held by the government, the opposition, and even Islamic State (though this falls to 50% in YPG-held areas).

That said, the poll that revealed this didn’t feature a critical addendum: Would any of those groups still have been so deadset against division assuming that a faction they dislike was in charge of the central government? Hypothetically, if continued unity meant being ruled by the top dog from Idlib (to say nothing of Raqqa), I assume that support for a unified Syrian state amongst the cosmopolitan Alawites of Latakia would plummet to near 0%.

This is why I ultimately end up agreeing with former USN Admiral and NATO supreme commander James Stavridis that it is time to seriously consider partitioning Syria.

From the outset, I will reveal a dirty secret: Neither Turkey nor the Saudis actually want a partition of Syria.

If there is a de facto partition now, the Turks and Saudis will be left with a vast desert wasteland – poor, rural, backwards, heavily inbred and IQ-depressed even before the war; now utterly destroyed and teeming with dozens of warlords and tens of thousands of Islamist fanatics. Refugee outflows from Desert Syria will continue, or intensify further if the rebels now proceed to turn on each other. Should Far Right parties continue to consolidate their gains in Europe, that particular relief valve will be turned off, thus turning up the pressure on Syria’s more immediate neighbors. With a population that is now a quarter refugee and strongly influenced by Wahhabi sentiment, Jordan would be the next country primed for blowup. Turkey would be faced with the spectre of an independent Kurdish state abutting its restive Kurdish provinces. Like the Chaos Wastes, this benighted region will become the spawning grounds for new forcefully bred generations of Salafi militants. If Peter Lee is correct, Libya will be the location of choice to where they will now be “laundered,” but puppets do sometimes cut their strings and should Saudi Arabia see increasing domestic unrest as its oil money reserves dwindle then Islamic State might suddenly seem far too close for comfort.

sectarian-syria In contrast, the areas currently controlled by the government can be built up into a reasonably well functioning and cohesive state. According to opinion polls, more than half of the population in all the governorates held by the government support Assad, but this figure falls to 39% in Aleppo, 27% in Raqqa, and a mere 9% in Idlib. Moreover, the government held areas have been far less ravaged by war, and though its demographic losses due to conscription and poor military performance have been very considerable, they are dwarfed by the scale of the horrors that have been inflicted upon areas held by the opposition, which have borne the brunt of the fighting, and the Islamic State, with its indifference to military casualties and inability to maintain basic infrastructure. Although the rebel held areas only account for about a third of Syria’s population, they have produced two thirds of its refugees.

This Coastal Syria will be small but politically stable, immutable to Wahhabi infiltration by virtue of a predominantly Shi’ite-Christian ethnic makeup that it could easily maintain by refusing to accept the repatriation of those refugees hailing from areas held by the opposition and Islamic State. Since repatriating them to Desert Syria will not be an option either, the infrastructure there being unable to support even the populations still residing there, they will instead wreck their havoc in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Western Europe – in a fit of poetic justice, precisely those countries most responsible for wrecking Syria in the first place. Coastal Syria will pursue close ties with Iran and Hezbollah and will seek to pepper itself with Russian and (perhaps, eventually) Chinese bases to further secure itself against Turkish, Israeli, and Western encroachment.

However, if Assad were to regain full control of Syria, this would be a poisoned chalice. The cost of repairing all the destroyed infractructure, rooting out radicalism, and providing welfare for millions more displaced people will be an unbearable strain on its already heavily beleagured finances, causing resentment in the Alawite heartlands and buying no love amongst people who will come to think of their defeated forebears as having pursued a noble Lost Cause. Most critically, there is absolutely nothing stopping the Saudis and the Turks from once again trying to topple a Syrian government strained from the costs of reconstruction, Sunni refugee repatriation, and demographically dominated by Sunnis in another 10-20 years time.

These are the reasons why for the Saudis and the Turks, the fundamental choice is about either Damascus or nothing. Preferably they would like to topple Assad outright and replace his government with some kind of Nusrastan – sharia with shopping malls – a full Assad victory is a clear second best. This, ultimately, is why they have refrained from directly wading into the conflict themselves, despite their obvious frustration with the entire situation. I suspect the Russians who advise Putin realize this and have no desire to play to Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s interests. Assad might not; from both his life story (an apolitical doctor promoted to the throne by the chance death of his elder brother) and his interviews, he strikes me as very straightforward character: Honest, civilized, not unintelligent, but not really cut out for the cynicism, deviousness, and paradoxes of geopolitics.

In this respect, the Russian withdrawal is if anything doing him and Syria a favor.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Military, Russia, Syria, Syrian Civil War 

I am too tired right now to compile all this into something more elegant than a point-by-point rant, so here goes: Some preliminary thoughts on the latest terrorist attacks that have claimed 128+ lives in Paris.

(1) The usual cucks have wasted no time in making political hay of this tragedy

So don’t be shamed by traditional social conventions about avoiding making political points out of respect for the dead. Like it or not but the information age and the 24 hour news cycle have made this genteel habit obsolete and indeed, maladaptive.

Spread the anti-”Invite the World” propaganda far and wide (Liveleak version in case YouTube shuts it down).

Note as Whyvert points out that Marine Le Pen, leading the opinion polls and the one politician who might have materially reduced the chances of this happening, is currently on trial for Islamophobia. The globalist elites don’t play fair and neither should you.

(2) It’s probably not even gonna cost you much, if anything.

For instance, here is what Wikileaks – an impressively redpilled organization – Tweeted soon after the attacks.

Contrary to their numerous detractors in the comments, this is an entirely brave and entirely appropriate Tweet. It’s the exact time and place because nobody would pay any attention otherwise.

Moreover, I took note of their follower count when they made this Tweet. It was at 2.81 million. A few hours later, it was still at 2.81 million.

Note that this in spite of the SJWs having attacked Wikileaks for politicizing these terrorist attacks but not the the likes of establishment journalists like Ezra Klein. But apart from confirming SJWs as the mercenary attack dogs of the neocons that they are, this didn’t even have any substantial effect on Wikileaks’ follower numbers, which goes once more to show that the SJWs are more bark than bite.

(3) The globalist elites are pure unadultered evil so do not take anything they say at face value.

assad-on-western-hypocrisy

And now we come to the “Invade Whe world” part.

The Syrian Civil War was a primarily US sponsored project to weaponize their Islamist lackeys to break up Syria for make benefit of Israel. And ever since Sarkozy it should be borne in mind that France has become even more “American” than the Americans, as seen in Libya, and in the ferocity of their demands to oust Assad.

Therefore do not rush to celebrate, like the otherwise astute hbdchick:

Treat everything these reptiles say with the utmost suspicion.

When Hollande declares that this is a “war,” bear in mind that he might just as easily be talking about, say, French nationalists. Indeed, given the trends towards defining Islamic terrorism as “anti-Islamic activity,” terrorist attacks like these could for the elites be a convenient way of getting rid of two birds with one stone i.e. the Islamist problem that they themselves created, plus the Front National and other pro-French and pro-European forces.

Bear in mind also that in Western rhetoric Assad is responsible for the immigrant crisis and for terrorism and everything else that their own perverse policies have created, so do not be overly surprised if in a few days or weeks there arises a renewed clamor for removing Assad – the rock that holds the last bastion of civilization in place in the region.

Note that the “intellectual” foundations for any such developments are already being laid by the neocons:

See also:

At the extreme end of the spectrum of the possible fallout from all this we could see a resuscitation of the Western plans for a no fly zone over Syria which were in place before Russia intervened (Translation: Bombing the legitimate Syrian government, helping exterminate civilized Alawites, Islamic State apemen spreading their reach to the Mediterranean Sea).

This is an idea with plenty of neocon support and Lindsey Graham has been the latest Western politician to endorse it.

As I said before I do not think the Western elites are that crazy – at least the guys in the Pentagon should be realistic and well-informed enough to put the damper on any such adventurist nonsense should it gain further traction in what passes for “debate” in American foreign policy – but then again when it comes to these people nothing can be definitively ruled out…

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Conspiracy Theories, France, Syria, Terrorism 

Apologies for the tabloidy title. This is an otherwise serious post.

It is well known that higher rates of cousin marriages – especially the father’s brother’s daughter (FBD) type that is common in the Arab Muslim world – tends to increase clannishness and depress IQs. It is often discussed in HBD circles. The main focus of the most prominent current discussions led by Steve Sailer are the ways in which cousin marriage relates to the European immigration crisis. His argument basically goes that Europe is about to get tons of mentally stunted inbreds who will use proceed to use cousin marriage as a mechanism by which to bring over millions more of their (literal) cousins from the Middle East and Pakistan.

That Sailer, an American nativist, chooses to focus on the “invite” side of his “invade/invite the world” dichotomy is understandable. But what it leaves unsaid is that consideration of cousin marriage patterns also appears to explain quite a lot of the dynamics of the Syrian Civil War – and crucially, in so doing, invalidates all of the “intellectual” underpinnings of the neocon clamoring for Ramboing into Syria to remove Assad.

Using data from Consang.net (a survey of cousin marriage Syria in 2008, i.e. before the war) and the ORB International Syrian 2015 opinion poll (which measured Syrian political attitudes in June 2015), I compiled the following table comparing the rate of consanguineous marriage and support for Assad across regions. The average %consang column is just the unweighted average of the rural and urban figures (I couldn’t be bothered hunting down the urban/rural breakdown for Syria’s governorates). Since with the sole exception of Tartus the rural %consang rates are systemically higher than the urban rates in a pretty predictable, linear way I do not think this is a particularly big statistical sin.

Governorate Type %Consang Ave.%Consang %Assad
Damascus Urban 35.4% 40.8% 81%
Rural 46.1% 50%
Hama Urban 33.7% 40.4% 63%
Rural 47.1%
Latakia Urban 14.6% 18.7% 69%
Rural 22.8%
Tartus Urban 28.2% 26.4% 89%
Rural 24.6%
Al Raqqa Urban 48.9% 56.0% 27%
Rural 63.0%
Homs Urban 33.5% 39.9% 52%
Rural 46.3%
Idlib Urban 17.2% 20.6% 9%
Rural 23.9%
Aleppo Urban 24.7% 28.8% 39%
Rural 32.8%
Syria Urban 27.5% 31.7% 47%
Rural 35.9%

Several patterns immediately strike the eyes.

(1) As can be expected from Lebanese consanguinity data, the Christians and Alawite areas have lower rates of cousin marriage, while Sunni areas have higher rates of cousin marriage.

syria-map-rate-of-consanguineous-marriage

(2) It also maps very well onto maps of political control by Assad, Al Nusra/FSA, and ISIS, down to the detail that even in contested areas the regime tends to control the cities – Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Damascus – while insurgents have a major presence in the surrounding countryside.

syrian-civil-war-09.19.2015

Is there an ethno-religious confound in play (i.e. Shi’ites support Assad, and Sunnis support Islamist rebels, regardless of consanguinity levels)? To a large extent, that is surely the case. But note that Al Raqqa city and its countryside, the two regions with the highest %consang rates out of all surveyed Syrian cities and rural areas, just happen to be the heartland of Islamic State power. Across the Muslim world, there is definitely a good correlation between rates of consanguineous marriage, depressed IQs, and support for radical Islamic positions on issues like apostasy. Surely it is not entirely a coincidence that the two single areas in Syria with the highest rates of consanguineous marriage also happen to host the most “virile”/virulent strains of Islamic extremism.

(3) There is an R2=0.38 correlation (excluding the one strong outlier that Idlib) between rates of consanguinity and support for Assad in the Syrian governorates. Considering the small samples, the clumsy averaging, and the uncertainties of surveying both cousin marriage rates and political attitudes in a civil war environment, this is not an unimpressive result.

syria-consanguineous-marriage-and-assad-support

But while all this might be interesting, why does it actually matter?

Because according to the neocon and liberal interventionist narrative, one of the root causes of the Syrian uprising was the hoarding of the nation’s wealth and power in the hands of a small Alawite elite. For instance, here is an entirely typical description of the Syrian political system from the BBC in 2012:

“You have got to think of Syria as a kleptocracy,” says a British financial investigator who asked not to be named, “where the state hands out licences to its friends and close relatives.”

According to this narrative, the Syrian Civil War began as a result of Syrian Sunnis getting fed up with the Shi’ites monopolizing all the most lucrative positions. (I don’t recall the question of why Christians didn’t likewise revolt against Alawite oppression ever being addressed).

The alternate and altogether more banal explanation is that differences in ethnic representation in Syria’s state apparatus and in the ranks of its moneyed elites is that the Shi’ites are simply brighter than the Sunnis because they don’t bang their cousins as much.

In other words, for the same reason that Jews constitute a third of America’s billionaires – namely, not due to some ZOG conspiracy, but the fact of a 1 S.D. advantage over the American average in intelligence that translates to much bigger “smart fractions” capable of becoming billionaires in the first place.

Very conveniently, it just so happens that according to the official Western dogma, as expounded by Saint S.J. Gould and his acolytes, IQ is a “social construct,” its relationship to economic performance is a statistical artifact that can be fully explained by variation in parental socio-economic status, and even discussing the role of cousin marriage on Muslim society and intellect is “racist” and “Islamophobic.” The Western media will freely and even enthusiastically publish calls from the neocons and imperialists to aid mythical “moderate” rebels against Assad, to bomb Syria, and even to knock Russian warplanes out of the sky for daring to attack America’s pet jihadists. But they will never in a million years print anything like this article, not least thanks to the self-styled “progressives” and even “anti-imperialists” who make it their mission to police and censor crimethink.

The end result of all this is that, if the explanations ventured here are substantially true, the American and Western establishments are in effect supporting what can functionally be described as a Bolshevik takeover of the Syrian state – just with more beheadings and slave markets.

 

As Russian fighters begin their baptism of fire in Syria, it is worth pointing out there are at least three separate wars going on here. And they’re all quite distinct.

(1) The Actual War

Once again I urge people to familiarize themselves with a map of the Syrian conflict (e.g. here). All of Assad’s most critical fronts – the big region between Aleppo and Latakia, and the pockets around Homs and Damascus – are FSA/Al Nusra/Al Qaeda. So long as they threaten Syria’s three biggest cities, including its capital and the Alawite heartlands (where Russia’s airbases happen to be located), focusing on the Islamic State would be sheer military folly.

Striking ISIS intensively right now would be pointless because there are no ready SAA forces that could rush in to exploit it. The US coalition’s own record proves that. Which is not to say that Russia is avoiding striking the Islamic State on principle, as the more deranged neocons have been claiming. You will just not be hearing much of them, first because (as per above) Al Nusra/FSA are the main priorities right now, second because the Western MSM has clearly been given a directive to discredit the Russian intervention.

Here is a side-by-side map of areas of control in Syria, and of the location of the Russian air strikes. ISIS territories do get bombed, but the main targets are logically those that are closer to SAA positions.

russian-syria-air-strikes

As those of you who have been following my recent writings on the Arab militaries will know, one of the key problems that the SAA – as a conventional Muslim Arab army – continues to face even now is a relative lack of morale (compared to those who fight for God, like Al Nusra or IS, or those who fight for clan, like the Kurds, the Druze, and the Shi’ite militias). This means that although it is able to hold on quite effectively when defending its Shi’ite heartlands, it finds it much more difficult to make offensive gains, since its combat efficiency is lower due to those morale hits that typically accrue to any Arab conventional state army, and its superiority in military capital (tanks, fighters, etc) is considerably nullified by their incompetence in using them. Like it not, but the sad reality is that clannish, ~85 IQ peoples just do not make good soldiers for the purposes of modern combined arms warfare. Needless to say, it also doesn’t help that it is usually attacking well-fortified urban outposts (attackers generally need a 3-to-2 total combat power advantage to make gains in such conditions).

This is where the Russian Air Force can hopefully make a big difference. Even the fighters already in place will allow the Syrians to effectively double their number of sorties, and Russian fighter pilots are much more skilled and have more modern armaments than their Syrian counterparts. Effectively, this translates to a tripling or quadrupling of Syrian air power that can be concentrated in support of SAA ground operations. Air power can seriously degrade the combat power of enemy formations that do not have adequate AA counters to it (that describes both the FSA/Al Nusra and ISIS). Whereas a front might have once been in equilibrium, due to roughly matching combat power on either side, a sustained air campaign could begin to systemically swing the advantage over to the SAA and eventually enable the reconquista of Syrian territorities currently under renegade Islamist control.

Why are American air strikes hopeless? Because they are missing the ground element. Even in its most benign interpretation it is nothing but a big Whac-a-Mole game. It refused to countenance any sort of coordination with the SAA. If it had, then the ISIS takeover of Palmyra – which involved crossing 150km+ of open desert over a single major road over a period of a month – would have been impossible (and Khaled al-Asaad, the executed architect who became the object of many MSM crocodile tears, would still have his head attached to his shoulders). Even the Pentagon has admitted that its project to train “moderate” fighters to combat IS has been a colossal, expensive failure. It claims that its airstrikes killed 10,000 ISIS fighters but these are frankly dubious. Even if it did, considering that IS probably has close to 100,000 troops by now, it wouldn’t have made a major difference anyway.

(2) The Propaganda War

This pretty much says everything there is to say.

Homs Airstrike: White Helmets Caught Faking Syria Casualties

propaganda-2

No wonder everybody sane from Russia to Hungary to Egypt are kicking out American NGOs!

Mark Adomanis sardonically points out that whereas the US couldn’t find moderate rebels in 3 years, the Russians did so in 24 hours.

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/649186242903568385

Senile Cold Warriors from McCain to cuckservative icon Tom Cotton rave and demand to knock Russian fighters out of the sky to protect their beloved Al Qaeda proteges. On the off chance this leads to WW3 and the world of Stalker/Fallout, Americans should know that they did this to protect literal cannibals, genocidal fanatics, and – horror of horrors – homophobes.

Note also that there were no loud proclamations from Obama and his stooge Hollande when Turkey hit only Kurdish targets under the pretense of fighting ISIS.

This is because the US is disinterested in combatting ISIS and cares only about overthrowing President Assad, no matter if doing so involves flagrant violations of international law (Syria never gave it permission to use its airspace) and effectively allying itself with the people who carried out 9/11.

Perhaps the only redeeming feature in all of this is that, to the elites’ horror and bewilderment, the general public and their representative The Donald have stopped lapping up their lies and propaganda, something that is easy to observe from the comments sections on sites from YouTube to CNN (incidentally, has anyone else noticed how all the MSM sites are beginning to close their comments sections? What’s up with that LOL).

(3) The Geopolitical War

Remember my account of Egor Prosvirnin’s recent legal travails? Well, his Sputnik i Pogrom site has produced the following propaganda poster:

soviet-regimes-end

“The finale of Soviet regimes is remarkably simiar: Afghanistan, 1979 – Syria, 2015.”

This poster encompasses two big criticisms of Russia’s new Syria adventure from the (nationalist) Right.

(There are is also the usual predictable whining in Russia from pro-Western liberals going on about how Russia is supporting a “bloody dictator” and hoping the freedom fighters knock Russian fighter jets from the sky but nobody cares about their opinions except the American NGOs who finance them).

(1) The idea that Syria will become an Afghanistan-like quagmire.

After all, the Soviet Union never *invaded* Afghanistan either (even if it was presented as such by the Cold Warriors). It came by request of the legitimate Afghan authorities. And it ended getting bogged down and losing the lives of 15,000 soldiers, in an ultimately futile attempt to preserve some semblance of civilization against mujahedeen financed and sponsored by the Saudis and their best friends the Americans. According to Islamist propaganda, which neocons admire greatly (at least so long as it is aimed against Russia), this provoked the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The key difference: So far Russia is only sending fighter aircraft, and military advisors who will not be actively taking part in the fighting. So long as things stay that way, the Syria intervention will not constitute a major financial commitment, or a major commitment in terms of morale and approval ratings. The worst that can happen is that a fighter pilot is captured and gruesomely executed by Al Nusra or ISIS.

That, however, runs the risk of provoking a larger-scale Russian ground intervention, especially if the SAA fails to make the hoped for advances with the help of the Russian Air Force. They could get gradually sucked in like the Americans did in Vietnam. At least this is how this argument goes in Russian liberal and some nationalist circles. But I assume the Russians are familiar with that particular history and will not fall into a similar trap, no matter how much the neocons might be wishing otherwise.

(2) The idea that it involves abandoning the Novorossiya project.

There is, in fact, a recent Guardian article to that effect, which happens to quote Prosvirnin himself:

In Moscow, too, there are rumblings that the “Novorossia project” to carve out a pro-Russian statelet in east Ukraine has been well and truly closed down. Egor Prosvirnin, editor of the nationalist blog Sputnik and Pogrom, has been called in for questioning in recent weeks over suspicions that his website may contain “extremist material”.

The article in question, while advocating for Russia to take full control of eastern Ukraine, does not contain anything that could not have been heard regularly on Russian state television over the past year and a half, and Prosvirnin believes Russian authorities are now trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

“The conflict is being frozen and we are too strongly in support of the Novorossia project, we’re too independent. This is a warning to us to stop what we’re doing,” he said.

As a result, there is currently a great deal of hatred for Assad and Syria in Sputnik i Pogrom circles. (The hatred for Putin has always been there).

At this point, it’s worth quoting the main parts of SiP’s “conspiracy theory” as I recounted it (otherwise known in Russian discussions as “Putinsliv” theory, lit. Putin flushing [Novorossiya] away):

But then again… back in July of this year, Prosvirnin on his Facebook page – I can’t locate it now, but it was certainly there – predicted that Novorossiya would soon be betrayed (nothing new) and replaced with a propaganda campaign in favor of Russian involvement in Syria, including boots on the ground (very new!).

He even argued that this would be a way of mending US-Russian relations, which certainly cuts against the conventional wisdom – both in the mainstream and the altsphere – that the West and Russia are fundamentally at odds in Syria and that the US is committed to seeing Assad go.

In effect, Russia would doing the “dirty” work of wrapping up the Syrian Civil War with the quiet acquiescence and approval of the West and the Gulf Arab states while they get to wash their hands of it, condemn Russia, take meaningless symbolic actions against it (e.g. requesting that Greece close its airspace to Russian military cargo only for Greece to promptly refuse it), and otherwise quietly shake Putin’s hand and congratulate him with the restoration of order in the Levant and, in the Europeans’ case, for helping end the refugee crisis.

And for all my, and the Saker’s, prior skepticism… some of this does seem to be happening.

Russians tanks and gunships are appearing in the Alawite heartlands. Bases are getting expanded. According to the latest reports from gazeta.ru (an anti-Kremlin publication), Russian military contractors are being sent to Syria to fight for Assad against their will.

It looks increasingly that Prosvirnin must have either guessed very, very well… or that he had very, very senior informants in the Kremlin.

If this version of affairs is in any way accurate, then it appears that Putin is setting himself up for a fail of epic, 1989-like proportions.

My operating assumption is that the US does not tend to honor those of its commitments that are not both written and binding (just ask Gorbachev about NATO expansion). Imagine that Russia “sorts out” Syria, assuming onto itself the opprobrium of keeping “bloody Assad” in power and doubtless taking some military casualties in the process to boot. Assume it also betrays Novorossiya, as Prosvirnin has been insisting it would for over a year now. Assume it does all this on some promise from the US to drop sanctions, accept Crimea, and help reintegrate Russia into the international (read: Western) community.

But why would it?

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on… shame on you, as that old Texan saying somewhere in Tennessee goes. If Putin falls for a trap this obvious, he will have nobody to blame himself. And with an approval rating now presumably in tatters, he will find both nationalists and liberals coming at him with knives unsheathed (unless, perhaps, he takes care of them beforehand).

And indeed the points in support of this theory have arguably grown since then. Now we know for sure that Russia’s intervention in Syria is 100% real. We have evidence of a real de-escalation in the Donbass, perhaps even in preparation for “stuffing back” the LDNR into Ukraine (though I should remind panicky readers that the DNR is preparing to go forwards with local elections on October 18th and the LNR on November 1st, which is is evidence against Putinsliv because these elections do not abide by the conditions of Minsk 2). And, away from neocon and Cold Warrior hysterics, it seems that the CENTCOM and the Russian military, and Obama and Putin at the higher level, are initiating a real dialog on avoiding costly “misunderstandings” in Syrian airspace.

All of this must be very distressing for those Russians who consider Novorossiya to be orders of magnitude greater importance than what is going on in Syria. That is perfectly understandable.

But as I also wrote in my Ask.fm answer to a question on the future of Novorossiya:

The military power of the NAF continues increasing. It now has 40,000 well-equipped troops and (reportedly) 450 MBTs. A year ago, it had no more than 20,000 troops, with just a few dozen MBTs. More importantly, it is a *real* army now, with centralized C&C, whereas a year ago it consisted primarily of independent militias. These can be adequate in defense, but you cannot carry out coherent, large-scale offensive operations with that kind of structure. Prosvirnin and Co. say the purging of the most recalcitrant militia leaders is “proof” that a zrada is nigh. But it could just as plausibly be interpreted as rational, consecutive steps to increase the NAF’s military power. I do not think these changes could have been possible without Russia’s support. Ultimately, why would Russia bother with upgrading the NAF if it planned to give it all back to the junta anyway?

In the meantime, with any luck, the Ukrainian economy will continue to degrade, and Poroshenko finds himself trapped between a rock (the Minsk Accords) and a hard place (the Maidan absolutists and the hardliners of the Far Right), and we will see a collapse into complete chaos, which may finally convince the Western powers to give up on Ukraine and create many other opportunities. But it’s also quite possible that the system will manage to pull through. That is the risk Putin took when he decided against military intervention last April.

Ultimately, the military power of the Novorossiya Armed Forces (to say nothing of the Russian Southern Military District) is still incomparably bigger than Russia’s current, ultimately modest investment in Syria.

The transfer of a couple dozen modern ground attack fighters to Latakia does not represent any real diminution of Russia’s military capabilities relative to the Ukrainian junta.

It will however provide valuable “real life” training opportunities for the Russian Air Force, much like Spain in the 1930s or Korea in the early 1950s.

And another potential advantage (though one I expect absolutely no-one will exploit) is that observing the fighting in Syria will serve to better demonstrate what real Russian combined arms warfare actually looks like in practice. So that the next time some two-bit neocon propaganda stooge like Paul Goble or Roderick Gregory claims a bazillion Pskov paratrooper casualties in the Donbass they would be laughed off the stage instead of getting endlessly and respectfully requoted in MSM outlets. But in fairness I don’t expect any of this to happen, since Poroshenko is in the West’s pocket and the “independence” of the Western media is mostly a fiction, while Russian soft power doesn’t have the requisite reach and sophistication.

So as before I still say that the Putinsliv theory remains unproven, and as such, there is no reasonable cause for dismay just yet. It’s not a very satisfying answer, to be sure, but if I was in the business of giving simple, satisfying, and self-confident answers, my readership would be a lot higher than it actually is.

 

syrian-civil-war-09.19.2015

Source: Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.

I admit to not having been following the Syrian Civil War anywhere near as closely the war in the Donbass.

But with recent rumors of stepped up Russian involvement now being confirmed by videos – and even talk of China possibly sending troops (crazy, but a year ago you’d have said the same of Russians) – it is well past time to remedy this.

The first thing I like to do when it comes to getting up to speed on some conflict or other is studying maps. Just looking at them for an hour or two. Wikipedia has a very impressive data gathering operation that gets updated in real time. In combination with this article listing the military histories for all the major cities and towns you can get a very good idea of the ebb and flow of the conflict through time. Arguably, this is far more useful than reading any number of editorials on the subject.

Some patterns immediately jump out.

syria-ethnic-map

Source: Washington Post.

(1) The pattern of regime, FSA/Al-Nusra and ISIS control correlate exceedingly well with the ethnic and religious composition of the geographic areas in question. The coastal Alawite heartlands of Tartus and Latakia, corresponding to the old borders of the eponymous state, are near totally secure. Shi’ite and Christian minorities, such as the Druze, Assyrians, and Armenians, correlate with pockets of regime support – even the Armenian pocket around Deir es-Zor in the desert each of the country, still holding out despite being completely surrounded by the Islamic State. In contrast, Palmyra fell to ISIS this year despite being more than 150km from the nearest area of ISIS control at Kabajeb. Suweida, populated by Dzuze and other minorities, is under Assad’s control in the far south, while neighboring Daraa – entirely Arab Sunni – is held by the FSA.

All this just goes to show the extent to which this is an ethnic, tribalistic war, where the “normal” rules of military theory – where force concentrations are king, and surrounded pockets get liquidated fast – don’t apply as they do even in the Donbass War. I suspect and nothing I’ve read about Syria contradicts this that this is ultimately due to the very low combat effectiveness of Arab armies. Unlike Europeans or East Asians, who have a long tradition of nation-statehood and conscript armies, the Arabs as a people only fight well for clan and God. A dictator like Saddam Hussein or Assad can force them to fight, but not very well or enthusiastically, while a democracy can barely do anything at all – see how ISIS once steamrolled their way to the outskirts of Baghdad, even though the Iraqi forces are armed with modern US equipment that the Syrian Arab Army can only dream about). This has the effect of depressing the value of conventional military power, with the result that warfare becomes a lot like urban gang warfare, just with much fancier military toys and more rape and ethnic cleansing. In this kind of “4GW” confrontrations, the fact that rebel groups and ISIS are much more enthusiastic, more combat effective (due to fighting for clan and/or God instead of a country whose lines were drawn by the French and British), and have the option of blending in with the civilian population in areas where they enjoy support allows them to level out the military capital (tanks, artillery, etc.) superiority of the SAA. Even the SAA has over the past few years bowed to these realities and become much more of a homogenous (primarily Alawite) force and come to rely less on unmotivated conscripts and more on the locally-rooted National Defense Forces.

syria-poll-2015-assad-support

ORB International poll, Syria, July 2015.

(2) The pattern of control also tallies very well with support for Assad in opinion polls (to a large extent this will of course be an ethnic/religious confound). No area in which Assad has more than 60% support is there a very serious rebel threat. In areas where he has less than 40% support, there is either very intensive fighting or the area is entirely ruled by an opposing faction. Aleppo, the “Stalingrad” of the conflict, registers 39% support for Assad; Idleb, in between Aleppo and Alawite Latakia – and the scene of major rebel successes this year, with just a small regime garrison continuing to hold out in the Shi’ite villages around Fu’ah – registers just 9% support for Assad. Nowin fairness, opinion polls have to be treated with some caution in Syria, because none of the warring factions is exactly very nice to visible dissenters. Still, the fact that Assad registers 27% support in ISIS ruled territories, while the FSA registers 15% in areas held by the government – as opposed to near 0% in both cases – does imply that the fear of speaking one’s mind at least privately is far from total throughout Syria.

(3) More generally, many Western media propaganda/neocon talking points immediately become hollow through this simply map-viewing exercise.

For instance, the idea that Assad isn’t interested in fighting ISIS, or even that he is in some sort of alliance with them. Where the areas under Assad’s control and ISIS border each other, there is intense fighting, e.g. an entire frontline on the approach to Al Salamiyah behind which lie Homs and Hama, and the struggle to relieve the surrounded Kweiris airbase. But by far the biggest challenges the legitimate Syrian government faces right now lies in the areas of Idlib and Aleppo, which apart from being large territories under JaN and FSA control also splinter SAA forces and constitute a conduit for Turkish arms supplies to other rebel formations throughout the country. Focusing attention on this area is just military common sense – and its not like there is any cardinal moral difference between Al Nusra and ISIS anyway (Al Nusra just doesn’t act axe-crazy for the cameras).

Another common talking point that has been raised especially since Russia stepped up its involvement is the claim that Assad’s forces have killed far more Syrians than ISIS. The aim is quite transparent: Since ISIS has so ably demonized itself, associating Assad with them by way of quantitative comparison should be pretty easy to do. And I think it mostly works. I see a lot of people in comments sections raising this point in in that really smarmy, pretentious way that the more intelligent American imperialists adopt to come off as “smart” and “balanced.” Entirely absent of course is context:

  • That the SAA is fighting long, grinding campaigns primarily in the heavily built up, urbanized areas of the North-West, while ISIS specialized more in blitzes, typically moving in when its adversaries become mutually exhausted. The latter type of warfare will inevitably produce fewer civilian casualties, regardless of the mass executions and slave markets that ISIS sets up afterwards. But its certainly not account of any greater moral superiority or legitimacy; quite the contrary, in fact.
  • That there is no chance of the SAA getting “smart weapons.” Meanwhile, its relative preponderance in military capital – artillery, tanks, helicopter gunships, etc. – is the one thing it has going for it. Since the average SAA soldier is far less motivated and combat effective than his Al Nusra or ISIS counterpart (see above) and since they cannot blend into the civilian population as the various rebels can, of course the SAA has no choice but to make use of its superior firepower so as to least keep up with if not overwhelm the enemy. Not doing so would not only be criminal towards its own soldiers, many more of whom would otherwise die. The question would also quickly become entirely moot since if the SAA was to go soft it would also be quickly defeated, with tragic consequences for the Shi’ite and Christian minorities it is still heroically protecting.
  • The not completely irrelevant point that ISIS openly and proudly commits all sort of atrocities harkening in spirit all the way back to the methods of the Assyrian Empire. In contrast, the great bulk of SAA “casualties” are collateral damage from military actions, and even when it comes to the dirty but necessary task of rooting out Islamist sympathizers – who would otherwise tell SAA coordinates to ISIS or Al Nusra, or suicide bomb themselves to ease their advance – it is something that the Syrian regime does in shadowy basements, where any such actions properly belong. For those who still want to play the numbers game, in what way in particular is this different from, say, US methods in Vietnam? (With the exception that it was a voluntary intervention, whereas Assad is merely defending his own country0.

Now in fairness I do know that the neocons have a narrative to keep up and so do their shills in the media, like Michael Weiss who is constantly agitating for aggressive actions to overthrow both Putin and Assad and enjoys huge influence in the media despite having zero knowledge of either Russian or Arabic. Same goes for their dupes and bots on the comments sections. But anyone else seriously arguing that Assad is on a level with ISIS has all of this to address first.

syrian-desert-palmyra

Source: Google Maps.

(4) A single, 153km road separates Palmyra from Kabajeb, the nearest ISIS-controlled area to Palmyra prior to the month-long offensive in July 2015 that led to its capture and other tragic consequences. This area looks like it could be used to film a Mad Max sequel. It should also be exceedingly easy for anyone with a competent airforce with air superiority to make mincemeat of any attack along this route. To the contrary, the kind of out-in-the-open, logistically challenging, and lengthy ISIS operation that should have been one of the easiest to forestall went on right ahead, successfully.

So why didn’t the US with its vaunted air campaign against ISIS do anything?

Because ultimately it is entirely fine with ISIS making advances when it is at the expense of the regime. This is not too surprising, since ISIS is after America’s baby and destabilizing Assad is its entire raison d’etre – as declassified Pentagon documents, Wikileaks, and the intuitions of Syrians themselves have proved over the past few months.

Plus, ISIS is better than Assad anyway. Look at all the hundreds of articles making this point they can’t all be wrong.

The US has an air campaign that is supposedly fast “degrading” ISIS, but there is no evidence of it making any kind of dent in its military capabilities. From its unconditional demands to have Assad step down to its attempts to pressure its NATO allies to block airspace to Russian planes carrying military aid to Syria (Bulgaria obliged, Greece didn’t) the US cannot be considered a sincere partner in wishing peace upon Syria. And that will remain the case so long as the US continues to be ruled by the neocon agenda, even if the actual neocons are now mostly out of power.

 

One of the more frustrating misconceptions Westerners have about Russia – including even many of the more well meaning ones – is that Putin is some kind of nationalist.

He is not. Nor was he ever.

It appeared he might be sort of leaning in that direction in the heady days after Crimea’s return into Russia. For the first time, he even started using the term russkie – ethnic Russians, as opposed to the multiethnic, and about as fictional as “Soviet,” nationality called rossiyane – in some of his speeches. But since then he moved back into old forms and familiar habits, and the wholesale “regathering of the Russian lands” that many (but far from all – it’s complicated) Russian nationalists were salivating after in mid-2014 wasn’t to happen.

This is not, of course, to say that Putin is a bad leader, or anti-Russian, like the real Russian nationalists have always claimed. It is not exactly a secret that yours truly believes he is objectively better for the Russian nation and its ethnic minorities than any plausible liberal or Communist opposition alternative. But apart from being a patriot, Putin is also an ethnic blank slatist. No nationalist of whatever stripe would have allowed large-scale Central Asian immigration into the Slavic Russian heartlands, which even many of my decidedly anti-nationalist and cosmopolitan acquaintances in Russia have complained about.

And most nationalists would have supported Novorossiya to the hilt, Western sanctions and ostracism be damned. Ironically Putin might get damned either way. It doesn’t much matter if you steal $10,000 (Crimea) or $10 billion (Novorossiya and Malorossiya) from a bank. Either way, the (world) police is going after you. I personally don’t fully buy this argument 100%, but it should be stressed that this has been one of the main domestic criticisms of Putin’s Ukraine policy from the Right (which in Russia includes the Hard Left, i.e. the Communists). And these criticisms are arguably far more potent and potentially dangerous for Putin than criticisms from pro-Western liberals for going against the West.

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Egor Prosvirnin, the chief editor of Sputnik i Pogrom, the closest thing Russia has to a US-style Alt Right.

It is in this context that we the see the police search of Egor Prosvirnin’s apartment, and the confiscation of his computer and other electronics.

Egor Prosvirnin is the chief editor of Sputnik i Pogrom (SiP), a Russian nationalist glossy magazine. Unlike most of the Neo-Nazis and liberal nationalists, they are ardent supporters of Novorossiya, and tend to idolize Tsarism and the White movement. Prosvirnin has met with Igor Strelkov on several occasions and SiP has been responsible for raising several millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and in organizing “vacations” to the lush resorts of the Donbass. In this sense, their Novorossiya policy is in line with that of the Communists and the Eurasianist imperialists, and (to a far more limited extent) to that of the Russian state proper.

It is also the closest thing Russia has to a US-style Alt Right, though as with all European nationalist movements, it does not have the Americans’ preoccupation with race, and is far less literate on IQ matters. Its writers tend to be young, socially liberal, supportive of free speech, and unusually familiar with Europe and the US. It has been called “Russian nationalism for hipsters” by several commentators. One anecdote to illustrate this: Dugin, their “Eurasian” antithesis, appears to believe “transhumanism” is some particularly deviant variant of transgenderism. The SiPers, in stark contrast, are familiar with Ray Kurzweil and write articles about Russia’s potential role in the technological singularity.

Sometimes this familiarity with the West leads them down some very questionable avenues in which they overestimate Western wisdom and intellectual vitality. I got the (possibly mistaken) impression that Prosvirnin believes that the European immigration crisis is a devious plot by Germany to enhance its power in Europe, as opposed to Merkel being her usual dithering and feckless self. He is a militant atheist who wouldn’t be out of place at /r/atheism. He regularly cites Stratfor, and more or less reprints its geopolitical analysis. Now Stratfor might be very good at marketing itself as a “shadow CIA” but it is far less competent at actual geopolitics, or even password security for that matter. And the SiP guys are positively obsessed with the concept of “Putinsliv,” that is, the idea that Putin is going to “flush” Novorossiya anytime now. In this obsession, they are a somewhat ironic mirror image of Ukrainian “svidomy” who harp on about peremogi – victories, and zrada – betrayals, and the endless ways in which they morph and coalesce between each other.

But such minor quibbles aside, SiP is an excellent resource that regularly produces quality articles on Russian history and culture as well as on more loaded political topics, and (for Russian speakers) it is well worth its $50 annual subscription price. Its name regardless, it is not particularly anti-Semitic. It just don’t care about Jews very much (which admittedly is equivalent to anti-Semitism in many Western and Russian liberal circles).

Nor, until recently, did SiP appear to have particularly big problems with the Russian state.

What happened?

Russia does not have the First Amendment. It does have Article 282 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes hate speech, like in most European countries. But it is a tool that has been wielded selectively, mostly against politicians of the Neo-Nazi persuasion. Incidentally, the Neo-Nazis as well as the “liberal nationalists” (mostly Krylov and the more famous Navalny) have for the most part been the Russian nationalists most against Novorossiya, seeing it as a sovok creature and praising the Ukrainian junta as the new citadel of the White Nationalist global revolution. (Asking them what they thought of this White nationalist paradise having a Jewish oligarch as Fuehrer and an Armenian sci-fi nerd as Goering was a reliable and entertaining way to trigger them).

Anyway, Article 282… a tool that has been wielded selectively… until now. In that its application against a public figure with no obvious Neo-Nazi connections and a history of support for Novorossiya is unprecedented.

Now to be fair, Prosvirnin has always been staunchly – even rabidly – anti Putin. But this never got him into legal trouble before, so that is unlikely to have been a key motivator now.

The pessimistic explanation – and one advanced by Prosvirnin himself – is that Putin is indeed plotting some great “zrada” (betrayal) against Novorossiya. Naturally, this would excite massive opposition amongst most Russian nationalists, so in this interpretation the confiscation of Prosvirnin’s computer equipment – especially were it to lead to further arrests and prosecutions of Novorossiya supporters – could be the Russian state nipping potential opposition in the bud.

Here is the opinion of one SiP writer, Kirill Kaminets:

Now it should be noted at the outset that SiP doesn’t have a great predictive record. It is been predicting Putinsliv for more than a year now, but during this same period the DNR and LNR have consolidated themselves as functioning states, and the Novorossiya Armed Forces are far more powerful today than they were even in early 2015 during the Battle of Debaltsevo. It would be strange of Putin to have enabled all this, only to “flush” it all down later on. In any case, the Minsk Agreements are failing on all fronts – most of all thanks to helpful Ukrainian nationalists who are the main obstacle to Poroshenko implementing his side of the deal. With Minsk II in its death throes, it would be exceedingly difficult for Putin to commit his “zrada” in any plausibly face-saving way.

And yet… and yet…

If that is indeed the plan, to decisively close up the Novorossiya project, try to make amends with the junta, and hope they and the Western “partners” forget and forgive Crimea, this is pretty much what I’d be doing in Putin’s place: Harassing and seizing the computers of Novorossiya supporters, using that to build criminal cases against them, discrediting them in the media, and sending them off to prison. So this might conceivably be Step 1 of such an operation. Or it might not be. It probably isn’t.

But then again… back in July of this year, Prosvirnin on his Facebook page – I can’t locate it now, but it was certainly there – predicted that Novorossiya would soon be betrayed (nothing new) and replaced with a propaganda campaign in favor of Russian involvement in Syria, including boots on the ground (very new!).

He even argued that this would be a way of mending US-Russian relations, which certainly cuts against the conventional wisdom – both in the mainstream and the altsphere – that the West and Russia are fundamentally at odds in Syria and that the US is committed to seeing Assad go.

In effect, Russia would doing the “dirty” work of wrapping up the Syrian Civil War with the quiet acquiescence and approval of the West and the Gulf Arab states while they get to wash their hands of it, condemn Russia, take meaningless symbolic actions against it (e.g. requesting that Greece close its airspace to Russian military cargo only for Greece to promptly refuse it), and otherwise quietly shake Putin’s hand and congratulate him with the restoration of order in the Levant and, in the Europeans’ case, for helping end the refugee crisis.

And for all my, and the Saker’s, prior skepticism… some of this does seem to be happening.

Russians tanks and gunships are appearing in the Alawite heartlands. Bases are getting expanded. According to the latest reports from gazeta.ru (an anti-Kremlin publication), Russian military contractors are being sent to Syria to fight for Assad against their will.

It looks increasingly that Prosvirnin must have either guessed very, very well… or that he had very, very senior informants in the Kremlin.

If this version of affairs is in any way accurate, then it appears that Putin is setting himself up for a fail of epic, 1989-like proportions.

My operating assumption is that the US does not tend to honor those of its commitments that are not both written and binding (just ask Gorbachev about NATO expansion). Imagine that Russia “sorts out” Syria, assuming onto itself the opprobrium of keeping “bloody Assad” in power and doubtless taking some military casualties in the process to boot. Assume it also betrays Novorossiya, as Prosvirnin has been insisting it would for over a year now. Assume it does all this on some promise from the US to drop sanctions, accept Crimea, and help reintegrate Russia into the international (read: Western) community.

But why would it?

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on… shame on you, as that old Texan saying somewhere in Tennessee goes. If Putin falls for a trap this obvious, he will have nobody to blame himself. And with an approval rating now presumably in tatters, he will find both nationalists and liberals coming at him with knives unsheathed (unless, perhaps, he takes care of them beforehand).

But it is also this very obviousness that is also the best argument against it. Say what you will of him, but one thing Putin definitely is not, is stupid.

The alternative explanation, and one in line with the theory of the “mnogokhodovka” – the idea or faith amongst pro-Kremlin commentators that Putin has a very devious, multi-step plan for final victory in Ukraine – is that Putin does plan to walk into this trap but to then spring it on the US itself. If so, it would be fascinating to see this play out.

The third, and in my opinion likeliest scenario, is that both Prosvirnin and I are overanalyzing things, that the case against Egor is just what it says on the tin (alleged hate speech in one of SiP’s articles), and that nothing particularly radical is happening in either Syria or Ukraine.

Though in fairness to Prosvirnin, he at least has the benefit of his conspiracy theories being given weight by the heavy, arbitrary hand of the Russian justice system.

 

Would be an alternative and rather more relevant headline versus “One in five Syrians say Islamic State is a good thing, poll says,”, which is meant to shock the nativist ill-informed and divert the conversation from the US’ uncompromising and ruinous drive for regime change to the politically safer (for an American audience) topic of the European immigration crisis.

But hey, credit where credit’s due: At least WaPo reported this, which is more than you can say of the rest of the MSM.

 

syria-orb-poll-2015-isis

Here are the main highlights from this poll, which impressively managed to cover all 14 governates including those held by the Islamic State (PDF):

  • Only 21% of Syrians prefer life now compared to life under Assad’s full control several years ago.
  • 82% say ISIS was created by the US and allies.
  • Though 71% of respondents in territories under ISIS control say they support ISIS – surprising it’s not higher, given their… reputation – some 62% of them also agree that ISIS was created by the US and its allies.
  • Assad (47%) and Iran (43%) are more popular than the Arab Gulf countries (37%), al-Nusra (35%), the FSA (35%), “Syrian Opposition Candidate” (26%), and the Islamic State (21%). Reminder that this is in a majority Sunni country that is being “oppressed” by Shi’ite Alawites.

Overall, pretty depressing reading for those who bought into the US neocon/Likudnik regime change narrative on Syria on moral or political legitimacy reasons.

islamic-state-us-creation

Above are the detailed results of the ISIS/US connection question.

 

The vast bulk of the Syrian (and not so Syrian) immigrants to the EU have been making their way through the “sluice” countries of the Med such as Greece and Italy. Germany has joined Sweden Yes! in the level of its enthusiastic affirmativeness, while the Visegrad countries are locked in a surly and impotent position that is only made tolerable for them by the fact that none of the “refugees” actually want to settle in their welfare-less countries.

Russia has been largely in the sidelines, but not entirely so.

wsj-northern-route Like most countries outside the Hajnal zone, it is not very enthusiastic about giving out refugee status; to date only 2,000 Syrians have been granted temporary asylum, with a mere one case being given the status of a refugee. The actual numbers of refugees without status is considerably more, perhaps 10,000 (I wrote about the phenomenon back in February 2013, though that concerned persecuted Egyptian Christian Copts).

Russia has a Visegrad-level GDP per capita, with even less in the way of welfare, so naturally the vast bulk of immigrants are only interested in it as a transit country. This is a burgeoning industry, albeit one beginning from a very low base. See the map to the right via the WSJ.

When Ali Al-Salim and a fellow Syrian arrived at the port city by train from Moscow earlier this year, they were greeted by officers from the FSB, Russia’s domestic security agency.

“We said we were visiting the place but they replied: Nobody comes here for tourism, it’s a military city,” Mr. Al-Salim said, adding the officers made him and his friend buy a return ticket to Moscow.

Days later, as Mr. Al-Salim prepared to travel from Murmansk to the Norwegian border, the FSB officers came to his hotel. Mr. Al-Salim said he disclosed his real plans.

“We don’t have any problem with that, but you must get a ride there yourself,” one of the FSB officers said, according to Mr. Al-Salim.

For $150, the two Syrians found a driver who took them to the border.

And according to a Komsomolskaya Pravda report, apparently it’s really good days for Russian taxi drivers and bicycle retailers near the Norwegian border.

“My colleagues take $200-$800 from foreigners. The more people, the more expensive. I personally take $500-$600,” says Oleg, a taxi driver from the border town of Nickel.

The prices for rides straight from Murmansk are even wilder. Syrians are ready to pay up to $1,400 and not even all taxi drivers agree to that sum. The Norwegians can take away visas for transporting refugees or even take apart their cars and be completely in their legal rights to do so… Bicycles in Nickel are becoming short in supply. They can be found at twice the price of those in Murmansk at one local shop…

Even with the recently inflated prices, though, the Arctic Route is still far cheaper and far safer than traveling in an overcrowded dinghy organized by shady mafia types who don’t really much care where you make it to your destination in one piece. There are also even fewer bureacratic obstacles. Hungary and Co. at least have to abide by the formal requirements of European treaties, whereas Russia quite rightly considers Schengen issues to be none of its concerns and just let’s them go on their merry way, the sooner the better.

With Mutti apparently having some second thoughts on all this, the prominence of the Arctic Route may well increase in the months ahead.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Arctic, Illegal Immigration, Russia, Syria 

What striking about Syria is how so many people insist on speaking about it in profoundly moralistic, Manichaean terms. This is complete nonsense, given that its civil war isn’t a showdown between democracy and dictatorship, but an ethnic and religious conflict. Here’s a more realistic guide:

The Assad regime

The rhetoric: He kills his own people! He is the Evil Overlord (TM)!

The reality: That’s kind of what happens in a civil war. Abraham Lincoln also “killed his own people,” you know. It is obvious why the “regime” fights on: That is what regimes do – as a general rule of thumb, they’re fond of surviving. The rather more interesting and telling question is: Why do key elements of the population continue to back them?

As far as the Alawites and Christians are concerned, it’s pretty clear: The Sunnis have never been particularly well disposed to them, and the past few years haven’t made them any fonder. The last time the Sunnis revolted in Hama in 1982, one of the slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood was “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the graveyard.”

In the game of Homs, you win or you die – and the “you” is in its plural form. No wonder Assad has a solid support base.

The rebels

The rhetoric: Democratic freedom fighters! or, Lung-eating demons!

The reality: They encompass the entire spectrum of “morality” (to the extent such a concept is even applicable). It is reasonable to posit that at the beginning, a substantial part of the opposition fighters were basically normal Sunnis who were disenchanted with the regime – or rather, with dearth (all the Arab revolts coincided with a peak in global grain prices) married with lingering resentment over the pro-Shi’ite favoritism that is said to predominate within Syrian state structures. This is not to say there were no genuine “idealists” and “democracy supporters” – democracy as in democracy, not particularistic ethnocracy – but we have to be realistic about their true influences. Considering that opinion polls in Arab countries indicate the vast majority of their denizens want the death penalty for adultery and apostasy, claiming that they ever constituted the majority is nothing short of willful blindness.

Furthermore, it seems that on balance, the pendulum is swinging away from the Big Mac eaters to the lung-eaters within the Free Syrian Army. For a start, many rebels have started defecting back, repulsed by the more hardcore Islamists’ brutality, demoralized by the revival of the Syrian Arab Army, and enticed by the regime’s offer of amnesty. The rebellion has also become more dominated by foreign elements as the original instigators were killed off and Saudi intelligence – with its links to global armed Islamist movements – began to take a more direct hand. “War makes monsters of us all,” as some might say.

Israel

The commonsense refrain: Why would the Israelis have any interest in Assad being replaced by jihadists?

The reality: They’re not.

What they are interested in, however, is crippling Syria’s military capabilities, and – best of all – its chemical warfare capacity. That means whichever side eventually takes over – potentially after many years of internecine warfare – won’t be able to pose even a minimal threat to Israel that a CW-eqipped Syrian Arab Army once posed. A weakened Syria will also mean that Israel will be able to strike at Hezbollah depots and supply routes with that much more ease and impunity.

Egging on the US to carry out airstrikes against Assad fully fits into that position. And, as Craig Murray recently pointed out, it is most curious that it was the Israelis who detected the “incriminating” phone calls that ostensibly pointed at Syrian state complicity in the recent gas attacks, while the Brits – possessing the most advanced EW facility in the Middle East – failed to pick up on it.

The Saudis/Qatar

The rhetoric: Admittedly, even well-tuned propaganda organs have difficulty coming up with a plausible reason for why highly repressive Arab monarchies would be interested in Syrian democracy.

The reality: This is all part of the Sunni vs. Shi’ite struggle – and their broader geopolitical standoff with Iran. Bahrain in particular brutally put down a Shi’ite uprising back in 2011, with Saudi military help and the cynical non-chalance of the US – which happens to base its 5th Fleet there. Syria is a close friend of Iran.

Russia

The rhetoric: Just the Mutual Support Group of Dictators in action. Plus broken-down Russia needs all the $$$ from weapons sales to Damascus.

The reality: Which is why Assad visited Paris more often than Moscow, and used to take dinners with John Kerry before he began calling him a “two-bit dictator” and comparing him with “Hitler.” And Russia’s yearly trade with Syria amounts to just about $2 billion. This is peanuts compared to its total trade of almost one trillion dollars.

The only reasonable explanation left is that given by Putin himself:

We aren’t defending the government. We are defending something completely different. We are defending the contemporary order of the world. We are defending the modern international order. We are defending the discussion of the possible use of force exclusively within the confines of international order and international rules and international law. That’s what we are defending. These values are absolute. When issues related to the use of force are solved outside the UN and the UN Security Council, the danger arises that such illegitimate decisions could be made against anyone under any pretext…..

Needless to say Putin doesn’t say this because he is a nice and fluffy rule of law type, but because the US is strong and Russia is weak. And since the default state of the world is for strong do what they can and the weak to suffer what they must, appeals to the proprieties of international law – a sphere in which Russia has a veto via the UN Security Council – are eminently logical.

The West (aka US, UK, France)

The rhetoric: Do I have to echo Dave’s and Barry’s talking points?

The reality: As a certain friend on Facebook put it, here is the crux of Obama’s dilemma: “He doesn’t want to repeat Iraq, but it ideologically committed to liberal internvetionism – the Democratic Party’s version of neoconservatism.”

That, or he really believes his own shit. On second thought, the two positions aren’t really mutually exclusive.

(Reprinted from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

I am back to writing for the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel, which since my hiatus has found an additional home at Voice of Russia. The latest topic was on whether Russia, China, and the West could find a common approach to the challenges of the Arab Spring. My response is pessimistic, as in my view Western actions are driven by a combination of ideological “democracy fetishism” and the imperative of improving their own geopolitical positions vis-à-vis Iran, Russia, and China. This makes it difficult to find any middle ground:

It is true that many Muslims in the Middle East want their aging strongman rulers out, and democracy in. Even Osama bin Laden, who purportedly “hates us for our freedom”, once mused that the reason Spain has a bigger economy than the entire Arab world combined was because “the ruler there is accountable.”

And this is also part of the reason why we should refrain from fetishizing “democracy” as the solution to all the region’s ills.

That is because liberal democracy as we know it in the West, with its separation of powers – in particular, that of the Church and state – isn’t at the top of most locals’ priority lists. It only really concerns the liberal youth who initially headed the revolt, while the other 95% of the population is concerned with more trivial things, like unemployment and food prices. As per the historical pattern with the French and Russian revolutions, the Arab Spring happened during a period of record high grain prices. And now as then, a revolution won’t magically create jobs or fill bellies.

In today’s Egypt, it is not foreign-residing technocrats like El Baradei, with his 2% approval ratings, who become President; nor is the cultural discourse set by young Cairo women who strip nude against patriarchy. Remove a secular, modernizing dictator from a country where 75% of the populations supports stoning for adultery, and sooner rather than later you get restrictive dress codes for women (de facto if not de jure), attacks against Christian minorities, and bearded Islamists worming their way into power.

As for Syria, the biggest practical difference is that the liberal minority in the opposition was sidelined even before the fall of the dictator, as it is the Islamists who are now taking the lead in the fighting against Assad.

Will the new regimes that emerge out of the Arab Spring be anywhere near as accommodating with the West as were the likes of Mubarak, or even Assad – who, as Putin reminded us, visited Paris more times that he did Moscow? Will religious fundamentalists be able, or even willing, to build up the (educational) human capital that is the most important component of sustained economic growth?wahh Will they even be able to regain control of their borders, or will they end up like Libya, an anarchic zone disgorging Wahhabi mujahedeen into neighboring countries that don’t really want them?

Western policy-makers do not seem all that eager to consider these questions. Maybe they think they can manipulate the Arab Spring to serve their own interests – after all, Assad’s Syria is an ally of Iran, supplies Hezbollah, and has security relations with Russia and China. They may be calculating that the geopolitical boon from removing the Alawites from power outweighs the costs of Islamists taking over in Damascus. Certainly there are grounds to doubt that genuine concern for democracy explains French, British, and American actions: After all, the two dictatorships friendliest to the West, Bahrain and Yemen, were actively supported in their crackdowns.

If the above interpretation is anywhere near true, there can be little hope for Russia and China finding common ground with the West. It would imply that the Middle East is a chessboard for Great Power games – and chess isn’t a game that you typically play to draw. The one thing everyone should bear in mind, though, is that no matter a man’s ideological leaning, he resents being a pawn. This is a life truism that was demonstrated in the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, that is being played out today in Mali, and that will continue to reverberate so long as the crusaders – for they are widely seen as such – remain in Dar Al-Islam.

(Reprinted from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

As I reported in my post unveiling US-Russia.org, there are going to be weekly discussion panels moderated by Vlad Sobell. This is the first one I participated in. It is on the topic of US-Russia Relations Against the Backdrop of Word-wide Muslim Protests. Is this a clash of civilizations? Should the US patch up ties with Russia and forget about New Cold War in order to free resources for the greater challenge from radical Islamists?

I think I will be reposting my contributions to these Panels on this blog for the foreseeable future, with a time delay of a few days so that US-Russia.org maxes out on traffic. Here is my first contribution:

The American democratization agenda for the Middle East appears to be based around two premises: (1) The Arabs want the strongmen out; (2) They desire a Western-style liberal democracy. Consequently, aggressively supporting the transition should ease the US into the Arabs’ good graces – with all its attendant, oily benefits.

The first point is largely true. The second is not. Although large majorities of Arabs support concepts such as “democracy” and “free speech” in opinion polls, they should not be taken at face value. That is because similar majorities also support stoning for adultery and the death penalty for apostasy. In these circumstances the very idea of a “liberal democracy” is a contradiction in terms. To paraphrase a relevant sentence from the Tsarist-era book Vekhi, “Thank God for the prisons and bayonets, which protect us from the people’s fury!”

This is because the “clash of civilizations” isn’t something that is “fomented” by radical Islamists (or Western Islamophobes, for that matter). It is an actually existing state of affairs and “democratization” will only fully disrobe it, not make it go away.

The Europeanized liberals who were the motor of the protests in Egypt only constitute about 5% of that country’s population. While removing the dictator – be he a relatively benign one like Mubarak, or a bloodthirsty one like Gaddafi – liberates not only the intelligentsia, but also the (far more numerous) Islamist opposition. Of the foreign jihadists fighting in Iraq, it was rumored that Benghazi – focal point of resistance against the Jamahiriya – contributed the most per capita. Now Libya is a chaotic jumble of heavily armed gangs and militias, many of them with Islamist sympathies. Despite promises not to field a Presidential candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did precisely that and won the elections; since then, the old-regime generals have been replaced and the Brotherhood has consolidated its political dominance over the country. In the meantime, the economy has ground to a standstill.

Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad, Ben Ali, etc. may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but they did foster an adequate, if non-stellar pace of development; protected the rights of minorities such as the Coptic Christians; and typically maintained non-hostile, constructive relations with the West, Russia, and even Israel. It is unclear whether any of this will be preserved in the years ahead. They will certainly become more “democratic” – Iran, after all, is far more democratic now that it was under the Shah – but to what extent they will (or can) truly respect freedom of speech or worship is another question entirely. As strikingly shown in the past few days, there are problems even with honoring basic international norms like diplomatic immunity – and these are not without precedent (Chris Stephen’s ancestor by fate is Alexander Griboyedov, the poet diplomat killed and mutilated by a mullah-provoked Tehran mob in 1829).

But you can’t turn the clock back; we will have to learn to live with the new regimes emerging out of the Middle East unrest. One can hope for two things. First, that the West realizes that in terms of civilizational values, Russia and even China (all part of the “Functioning Core”, to borrow from Thomas P.M. Barnett) are far closer to it than most of the Muslim world, and adjusts policy accordingly. Second, that it takes a more balanced and realistic view towards these developments in the Arab world. For instance, it could recognize the Syrian conflict as a civil war, as opposed to a universal uprising against the dark lord Assad (and as such stop making unrealistic demands for him to step down as a precondition for talks).

Realistically, however, I suspect it will be a winter’s day in hell before the West’s infatuation with the Arab Spring is over.

(Reprinted from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

I really can’t figure what this Economist editorial reeks more of: Hypocrisy, mendacity, or pure delusion?

That is as it should be, for since his decision last autumn to return to the Kremlin, Mr Putin has been stridently negative and anti-Western, most recently over Syria (see article)

Being anti-Western is “negative”, even for daring to oppose Western-backed Islamist crazies who will back-stab their handlers as soon as they’re able to.

But the reset was based in part on two misplaced hopes: that Dmitry Medvedev, who had been lent the presidency for one term by Mr Putin in 2008, would genuinely take charge of the country, and that some in his government had sound liberalising, pro-Western instincts.

Note how “liberalizing” and “pro-Western” are conflated, because one can’t possibly liberalize without kowtowing to Western interests too. Furthermore, bear in mind the unspoken assumption that normal relations (“the reset”) are only to be rewarded for said kowtowing to the West. The concept of equality and reciprocity is alien to the minds of Western chauvinists.

Those hopes were dashed by Mr Putin’s swatting aside of Mr Medvedev last September to allow his own return to the Kremlin, the rigging of elections, his crackdown on Moscow’s protesters and his new Nyet posture.

Elections in which Putin still got a certain majority, however hard The Economist tries to misrepresent otherwise, and “crackdowns” that are literally baby play compared to the violence meted out to Occupy protesters throughout the Western world (something like 50 journalists arrested to date and counting; preemptive arrests of republican demonstrators in the UK), and for adopting fines and regulations on protests that are actually fairly mild compared to most advanced democracies. Then again, in Economist world of pandering to Anglo-Saxon elites, the Occupy protesters are subhuman scum (because they are anti-elite, ergo “anti-Western”) whereas the liberal Russian protesters should be immune to all prosecution even when filmed throwing cobblestones at the police.

Really, “his Nyet posture” is the critical thing here. Like the mafia, the West won’t take no for an answer.

And why not dangle in front of the bauble-loving Mr Putin the prospect of Russian membership of the OECD rich-country club?

Well in principle, entrance to the OECD is supposed to happen based on objective criteria, most or all of which Russia now fulfills I believe now that it has joined the WTO. The Economist is essentially urging these organizations to politicize themselves, which in turn reflects their own delusion. It might have worked a generation ago but today pulling such stunts will only discredit these Western-dominated institutions all the faster given the rising influence of the BRIC’s and other non-crazy countries that aren’t self-entitled to absurdity.

Western ambassadors should not hesitate to talk to opposition protesters in Moscow just because the Kremlin objects.

I don’t think “hesitation” has been exactly a problem with McFaul. If Western countries insist on following The Economist’s advice, the correct response would be symmetrical: Have Russian ambassadors meet up with Occupy leaders, pirate groups, Muslim rights activists, etc and channel a few million dollars their way to “improve” democracy and civil rights in the West. What sauce is good for the goose is good for the gander after all.

In foreign policy, too, the West should stand firm. Russia cannot be allowed to veto America’s missile-defence plans in Europe. Nor should Mr Putin’s continued blocking of UN Security Council resolutions authorising intervention in Syria be treated as an insurmountable bar to action, any more than it was in Kosovo in 1999. G20 leaders should do their utmost to embarrass Mr Putin over his backing for Mr Assad.

Again, more than anything, it’s delusion that shines through here. (Ample hypocrisy too, however, encapsulated in just one word: Bahrain). But really delusion wins out. The Economist just like various Republican nutjobs like Romney genuinely think that the world works to the following schematic:

Step 1: Aggressively confront Russia.
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Russia comes to support US interests. Profit!

More than anything this really demonstrates far better than I could ever describe myself how The Economist is most definitely NOT a publication you want to read for facts, insights, etc.; instead, it is a barometer of Western elite opinion, or literary soul food for Western chauvinists.

If Western leaders actually insist on going through with The Economist’s recommendations, as opposed to just dreaming about them, their own global influence will dissipate all the faster.

Mr Putin respects toughness, not weakness.

What exactly is wrong with that? It is quite clear that in the past 500 years, being tough (or standing up for oneself) has worked out far better than being weak (which invites bullying and derision in addition to being inherently pitiable). That is because the West itself only ever respects strength, despite its moralistic platitudes to the contrary; something that naive fools like Gorbachev have always ended up finding to their own cost – well, their country’s cost, anyway.

This matters when it comes to his government’s more egregious behaviour, such as the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once boss of the Yukos oil company, the killing of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for William Browder, a foreign investor, or the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former security official.

Predictably, the standard party line is repeated verbatim, as per the best traditions of Pravda, conveniently leaving out the facts that the ECHR itself disagree s that Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner or the mounting pile of evidence that Lugovoi or the FSB had nothing to do with the Litvinenko hit. Or that there are about 500 Magnitsky-like deaths in custody in the US and likewise in Russia every year, the major difference here being that he is a high-profile case who has been propagandized by William Browder, an oligarch money highly hostile to Putin.

In cases like these it is right to try to identify the individuals involved so as to deny them visas and freeze their assets, as a congressional legislative amendment related to the Magnitsky case proposes.

Their country and their right, but then it is incumbent on Russia as a self-respecting country to reciprocate in kind: Identify Western human rights abusers (e.g. those who run Guantanamo), and deny them entry to Russia and attempt to extend the sanctions abroad. As indeed has happened.

Mr Putin cultivates the image of a popular and admired strongman, but the wave of protests since he announced his return to the Kremlin has exposed his weakness and loss of support. His power base is beginning to erode.

More delusion.

Economic engagement with the West, combined with firm criticism of his democratic and human-rights abuses at home and abroad, are the best response.

Not to mention an inescapable sense of schizophrenia.

(Reprinted from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.