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Syrian Civil War

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I realize everyone is obsessed with North Kora right now, but the Turkish referendum that is set for April 16 may turn out to be even more significant.

Erdogan’s AKP and the MHP nationalists have proposed a set of amendments to the Turkish constitution that would remove the office of the Prime Minister, annul a ban on the President retaining membership of his political party, and vastly increase the Presidency’s power over the legislature and the judiciary. If these proposals are confirmed by the electorate, Turkey becomes an executive Presidency.

In the past week, “Yes” has assumed a lead, though that shouldn’t be weighed too heavily since these polls have been fluctuating widely. However, PredictIt currently gives a 68% chance of “Yes.” This tallies exactly with the odds given by major betting sites.

One curious aspect of Turkish politics is that the AKP is far friendlier towards Turkey’s 3 million Syrian immigrants than the Kemalist CHP, and Erdogan has even gone so far as to moot giving them citizenship – a suggestion that was not well received by most Turks. Another interesting thing I noted is that whereas the constitutional amendment is supported by the MHP leadership, some 65% of its rank and file are prepared to vote “No.”

This might hint at some very curious parallels with Russia. There, for instance, Zhirinovsky’s LDPR slavishly supports the Kremlin, and by extension its Eurasianist (read: Greater Turkestanization) project, even though its base are nationalist xenophobes who refuse to rent out their apartments to people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. I wonder if there is a similar dynamic at play in Turkey, with nationalist MHP voters being mostly opposed to Erdogan’s Ottomanist (read: Islamist-Arabization) project, but nonetheless feeling dutybound to support the Leader out of their authoritarian and neo-imperialist instincts, and hatred of the liberal elites in the cosmopolitan areas.

Anyhow, I suspect that “Yes” will be bad for Syria, and by extension, Russia’s goals in Syria (assuming there’s no convoluted 3D chess involved). Erdogan tilts towards the invade/invite end of the spectrum, and with his power becoming absolute in Turkey, he will have space to resume the “invade” part in Syria with greater vigor. Considering the sharp reversal in US-Russian relations over Syria in the past ten days, and Erdogan’s own unlimited propensity for treachery, I have dark forebodings that Putin might soon come to regret helping him survive the 2016 coup attempt.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Elections, Syrian Civil War, Turkey 
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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.

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

Via Nicholas Nassim Taleb:

nntaleb-assad-vs-moderate-rebels

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Syrian Civil War, Western Hypocrisy 
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Funny thing is, just the other day I was on a podcast where I joked/predicted that Antifa would try to beat up Richard Spencer’s merry band of Alt Right anti-war protesters.

Buzzfeed:

Spencer has long been an outspoken supporter of Trump and his policies, including building a wall on the southern border and banning refugees form entering the country. But his decision to lead a handful of protesters to speak out against the strike has been emblematic of the split between Trump and some of his most ardent and far-right supporters.

“We want walls, not war!” chanted some of the protesters accompanying Spencer in front of the White House. …

At one point, Spencer called the counter-protesters, “storm troopers of the establishment.”

“Commies go home,” Spencer and his supporters chanted while opponents yelled, “Nazis go home.”

As AltLeft noted today, “I never anticipated that we would be organizing and participating in actual anti-war demonstrations, but here we are.”

What a timeline!

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Antifa, Syrian Civil War, United States 
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gnome-syria-reactions

I’ll have a more serious post on this soon enough, but for now, reactions from some of the more important and interesting players.

White House

politicians-behind-syria-strikes

Although they are present, the “anti-globalist” crowd – Steve Bannon and his allies, Stephen Miller and Michael Anton – are relegated to the back, while the likes of Jared Kushner occupy a much more central position. (Isn’t Kremlinology fun?)

This might be relevant since even the NYT has painted this as a battle between Kushner and Bannon, which the former won.

Countries

syria-strike-response

Conveniently summarized in this NYT map.

Russia’s, Syria’s, and Iran’s responses have been tough, while the Western Europeans, Turkey, the Gulf states, Israel, Justin Trudeau, and Ukraine fell in in behind Trump. All of this is predictable.

The strike appears to have been ordered at around the same time that Trump was meeting with Xi Jinping, which would make it a remarkably barefaced power play. Now I know that China is Russia’s friend only by convenience (and vice versa), but still, the lack of a condemnation is rather surprising even by China’s usually milquetoast standards. I would note that even the usually combatatitive Global Times has stayed neutralish.

The Establishment

Needless to say, the neocons were overjoyed at the return of the prodigal son:

neocons-syria-joy

 

mccain-graham-syria-statement

As neocons-in-all-but-name, so of course were the neoliberal interventionists, with one “innovation” – led by Hillary Clinton herself, they are explicitly tying their support for Trump’s “invade” agenda with the eternal flip side of that coin, “invite.”

spencer-syria-invade-invite

Whether or not this constitutes a true “zrada,” or betrayal, on Trump’s part, I am afraid he has opened a Pandora’s box that will not be closed anytime soon. For instance, bigwig CNN journalist was already posing the question to Ivanka:

cnn-syria-invite-too-plz

The journalists have fallen in line:

journalists-syria

That said, for the most diehard proponents of the ROG conspiracy, such as Louise Mensch, this was just one more ploy by Putler’s puppet to get her off the Russia trail:

mensch-rog-is-everywhere

 

Jeffrey Goldberg and Julia Ioffe:

goldberg-ioffe-syria-puppet

More principled libertarian and nationalist politicians such as Rand Paul, Ron Paul, Nigel Farage, and Marine Le Pen expressed reservations.

le-pen-syria-no

***

Neocons

Rick Wilson:

wilson-syria-deep-state

Bill Kristol:

kristol-syria-happy

Tweets of Note

Sentiment here ranges from deep unease to outright disavowal.

The biggest critic of Donald Trump’s decision was Donald Trump himself, t minus 4 years.

trump-syria-critic

Based Taleb:taleb-on-journos

Ann Coulter’s defection – possibly the most influential figure in the Alt Light-sphere – has been particularly striking:

coulter-syria-wtfcoulter-syria-culmination-of-zrada Richard Spencer, who has long been relatively skeptical on Trump, minced no words:

spencer-syria-alt-right

Paul Joseph Watson has thrown in his MAGA hat:watson-syria-off-the-train

To be sure, some people such as Mike Cernovich had a 4d chess hypothesis ready to go:

cernovich-syria-4d-chess

Partisangirl was more skeptical:partisangirl-chess-wotlul

Mat Forney:

forney-syria-4d-chess

The zrada was strong with Hunter Wallace:

wallace-zrada

And with Peter Brimelow, or whoever runs the VDARE account:

vdare-syria-reverse-crusades

 

The arcanest of the arcane, Runglish #frogtwitter:

eschaton-syria-zog-rules

Nick Land:

land-nrx-was-right

As for myself, I think its time to transition from frogs to Baathism:

karlin-frog-to-saa

 

Though TBF it was always inevitable:

karlin-peremoga-zrada

 
• Category: Humor • Tags: Syrian Civil War, Trolling, Twitter 
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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.

 
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turkey-vs-manbij

Source: SyrianCivilWarMap.com

Several hours ago, the Turkey-supported Euphrates Shield rebel group, fresh from the capture of Al-Bab, has pivoted towards a full out assault on the SDF-held Manbij enclave.

Ahrar Al-Sham units and Turkish spec ops backed up by armor are rumored to be on the outskirts of Arima, which is the stepping stone to Manbij.

Rojava is sponsored by the US, and there are even reports of US troops in Manbij itself. But Turkey is of course also a NATO ally.

The day before, a Turkish newspaper claimed that Turkey threatened the US will lose of access to its Incirlik airbase if it doesn’t stop its support for the YPG.

This seems good for the Syrian govenrment. With the SDF occupied, they will not have to compete with them in a race to the Euphrates, and with the SDF refocusing efforts away from Raqqa, the SAA now even stands a chance of getting there first as well.

The Kurds are, obviously, are the biggest losers. The US aren’t going to be doing air support for them, not least because it would put them in direct confrontration with the Turkish Air Force, so Manbij is most likely doomed. Likewise, the line of communication and potential supply route with Afrin canton that Rojava had acquired a week ago when the SAA linked up with it after cutting across Islamic State seems fated to be very short-lived.

That said, this will be a substantial chunk of land that the Turks are carving out for their surrogates. Should the incipient rebel mini-civil war around Idlib result in the victory of Turkish-sponsored Ahrar Al-Sham and its allies over the JFS, then Syrian-held Aleppo could find itself almost entirely surrounded by a rebel force united by being under Turkish support or influence. And Erdogan doesn’t exactly have a reputation for loyalty.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Syrian Civil War 
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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.

 
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Many recent articles and online discussions have been rife with the idea that the reason for Russia’s “withdrawal” from Syria (which we now know is really nothing of the sort) was due to its mounting economic problems.

In reality that could not be farther from the truth. Here’s why:

(1) As of March 2016, half a year since the start of military operations in Syria, it had cost a total of $464 million – that’s just about 1% of Russia’s annual military budget.

And most of that came out of the Defense Ministry’s 2015 funds earmarked for training.

(2) Which is quite appropriate, since functionally Russia’s Syria campaign has been one huge, ongoing, live-action training exercise. A sort of desert Salusa Secundus for the Russian Air Force and special forces.

The average age of Russia’s pilots in Syria is 27 years. The youngest are closer to 25 – that is, almost straight out of flight school. Many pilots share the same plane, and there are frequent rotations, so a huge percentage of Russian Air Force personnel gets this training relative to the modest scale of Russia’s investment into Khmeimim.

(3) Equipment also gets tested. For instance, the recently withdrawn Su-25′s have been replaced with attack helicopters armed with the new President-S system of countermeasures against MANPADs. It has worked in controlled environments; will it work in a real war environment? So far the answer has been “yes.”

(4) Like the US during the Gulf War, it is also an excellent opportunity for getting rid of the old munitions that Russia has absolutely no shortage of.

Meanwhile, the SVP-24 technology addon allows old Russian fighter planes to drop old Soviet bombs with the near accuracy of a JDAM delivered by a modern American bomber.

(5) This is only to be expected, but yes, the actual use of Khmeimim – a pretty useful strategic asset in its own right – is completely free.

(6) Finally, the good performance of Russian weaponry in Syria has led to an additional $6-7 billion increase in foreign orders, which translates to a more than 10% increase in Rosoboronexport’s total portfolio of foreign orders.

(7) Paradoxical as it might seem, there are grounds to believe that Russia’s intervention in Syria has also improved its image in the world. Neocon blowhards shilling for a no-fly zone in the Washington Post to protect ISIS from Russia ultimately only represent a certain fraction of the American elites. They do not speak for the world or even most Americans. Most normal people appreciate the sight of Islamist fanatics getting lit up along with their Turkey-bound oil truck convoys and Western MSM propaganda to the contrary has had very little effect on these healthy sentiments if the comments sections are anything to go by.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Military, Russia, Syrian Civil War 
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This is as hardcore cyberpunk as it gets.pol-vs-isis

Target painting via dank memes!

(1) Moderate Rebels (TM) make YouTube video that includes their dispositions.

(2) Russian journalist Ivan Sidorenko who has good SAA contacts sends a geolocation request to the fine gentlemen of /pol/ (a 4chan “forum”).

(3) /pol/ rises up to the task and geolocates the Al Nusra base.

(4)

https://twitter.com/IvanSidorenko1/status/717021390176722944

(5) BOOM

Incidentally, this is not the first time target acquisition has been “crowdsourced.”

sidorenko-meme-powered-missiles

In other Syria news: Al Nusra attack in South Aleppo (later repelled).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mueLni5ltbk

One has to admit this was an impressively well coordinated attack that betrays good training, for this region anyway. Well above ISIS quality or for that matter most of the SAA rank and file.

And of course there’s the issue of the tanks as well as the body armor and shiny new helmets. Looks like Turkey has been putting the ceasefire to good use. :|

Anyhow it increasingly looks like the ceasefire will fully unravel any day now.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Military, Syrian Civil War 
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https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/713876456703660036

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 
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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

https://twitter.com/UnkawaiiPigDog/status/709505183252942848

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 
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The Influence of Air Power upon Syrian History

Here are some recent videos of Russian bombings of Islamic state oil infrastructure (LOL at the guy getting out of Dodge at 0:25).

And a bombing of a nicely arraigned line of oil tankers:

All of which raises a rather obvious question: If this is easy as easy as shooting fish in a barrel – and it sure looks like it – why are there still any such installations and orderly truck columns in the empty desert to bomb in the first place?

The US military claims that such attacks were “minimally effective.” Considering that this was not the case even in 1944, when Allied (primarily US) bombing crippled German mobility despite Germany’s formidable IADS and the much more primitive surveillance and targetting technology of the time, this is implausible. At least the US has since started doing the same thing, after getting named and shamed into doing so at the UN by Putin. (And attempting to attribute Russian strikes on ISIS oil infrastructure to themselves. I wonder if in two generations’ time most Westerners will come to believe the US played the most important role in defeating ISIS, as happened with WW2).

The Daily Beast's coverage of Russia's Syria intervention by neocon Michael Weiss.

The Daily Beast’s coverage of Russia’s Syria intervention by neocon Michael Weiss.

The reason is that the strategy has always been not to decimate Islamic State, but to “funnel” it away from “moderate” rebels towards the SAA. Had that not been the case, ISIS would have never been able to travel across the hundreds of kilometers of open desert to take Palmyra. To add insult to injury, neocon propagandists continually claim (actually: Project) that Assad is in a functional alliance with ISIS, a characterization that was extended to Russia when it waded in.

To be sure there were plenty of Whac-a-Mole type of strikes, but these by themselves are militarily meaningless. Offing individual scumbags such as “Jihadi John” makes for good propaganda, but those guys are a dime a dozen in ISIS. Ultimately, victory lies in regaining ground from the terrorists, and on that front the tide seems to have turned decisively in favor of the SAA.

As I wrote three weeks ago:

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.

That is pretty much exactly what seems to have happened at Kweiris Airbase, finally relieved after a 2.5 year siege by an SAA armored thrust supported by Russian air power.

Click to enlarge.

The Aleppo-Raqqa Route. Click to enlarge.

And the doubling of the Russian air contingent in Syria proper – together with the introduction of strategic bombers (the Tu-160 Blackjack has been used in anger for the first time ever) – has now for all intents and purposes amplified the air power available to the SAA relative to before the Russian intervention by an order of magnitude.

The pace of ground operations is likewise only going to pick up from here. With ISIS shattered around Kweiris, a further thrust through Deir Hafir to Jirah Airbase (captured by ISIS last August) would cut off the northern part of the organization from its capital at Raqqa; the last remaining connection, via Tishrin Dam, could be easily plugged with the air power now at the SAA’s disposal.

Palmyra would be the other obvious target, and indeed activity seems to be heating up there as well. That said, it would probably be worthwhile to wait for a few months before starting any assault. With air control, and the vast expanses of open desert between Palmyra and the Islamic State heartlands, it would make sense to starve the Palmyra defenders of supplies first.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skp3tzgNTIA

In the meantime, ISIS is beginning to bleed dry. Not helped by its flashy policy of mass POW executions, which has predictably resulted in their opponents starting to fight to the death, they wasted a bunch of fighters in a last ditch attempt to capture Kweiris before its relief, and have continued to mount extremely costly frontal assaults against Deir ez-Zor (DEZ).

issam-zahreddineWith ISIS now getting rolled back in both Syria and even more spectacularly in Iraq, it makes sense that it would want to focus on consolidating its internal communications lines, which the heavily fortified DEZ bisects. But that outpost is guarded by some of the SAA’s most elite units and commanded by the legendary Issam Zahreddine (see right). Having held out for years, the chances of it falling now with the arrival of Russian air power are much reduced.

So it will continue serving as a meatgrinder, admittedly largely for the hapless and judging from the rate of executions for desertion not overly enthusiastic conscripts that Islamic State increasingly has to rely upon.

A Geopolitical Coup?

From a geopolitical perspetive, Russia’s involvement is beginning to look like a coup of the first order.

Three weeks ago, in Syria and the Three Wars, I identified a few possible pitfalls as well as advantages that could accrue from this. To date, Russia hasn’t fall into any of the pitfalls, and lapped up all the advantages.

Possible pitfalls

Afghanistan-like quagmire – Nope. Still no ground intervention on the horizon. One suicide, zero direct military casualties. (Though the Saker does identify incipient mission creep).

Will enable “Putinsliv” (abandonment) of Novorossiya – Contra Prosvirnin & Co.’s fears, there is no indication that this is happening either. (At the moment tensions are beginning to heat up again there. Considering the multitude of false war scares we’ve had there, however, chances are it will continue to remain frozen for the foreseeable future).

Advantages

Provide RL training – Is happening.

“Politely” demonstrate Russian military power – This plan was not just fulfilled but overfulfilled, with many second-rate Western analysts apparently shocked – shocked! – that Russia with its decades-old Orc Tech built a functional air base from scratch within a few month from which it maintains extremely high fighter sortie rates that put the USAF to shame, and flings cruise missiles from thousands of miles away with pinpoint precision. Even observers otherwise familiar with Russian military capitabilities were impressed by the magnitude of the improvements since the South Ossetian War. Incidentally, and exactly as I suggested, this also makes a mockery – in the most graphic and explicit terms possible – of the Ukrainian junta’s tall tales that it was “at war” with Russia and beat back Pskov paratrooper brigades and Buryat divisons by the dozen.

Further Advantages

That I hadn’t spelled out in detail, but which are becoming increasingly evident.

Very good PR both for the Russia Stronk! crowd and beyond – To be fair, at least until the Paris Attacks, this was limited to Putin’s usual Western fans – i.e., those not under the spell of neocon “Assad killing his own people” propaganda (i.e. a decided minority). But nice to have nonetheless. The world defender of Christian civilization, and not just in word, as was the case before, but in deed.

And the “only one” such, according to a remarkable recent statement by Assad (this does make one wonder if there is anything to the rumors that Alawites are actually crypto-Christians).

The Russians are now getting called crusaders by Islamists, an honor previously reserved for just the US and its allies (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that). Here is an inspirational video on this “Holy Crusader Order” theme by a Russian “patriotic trolling” group:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4dPBfJrYg0

Western narrative shift after Paris? – It was clear that Russia was going to be at loggerheads with the US and its allies/satraps once it waded into Syria. Indeed, some of the crazier neocons and US Republicans were calling for the US to establish a no fly zone (which would have been a direct act of military aggression against Russia), though I never expected anything to come out of that since it was inevitable that the hotheads would be set straight by the hard realists at the Pentagon if things ever went that far south. Nor was I expecting anything particularly game changing in the wake of the Paris Attacks (in the bleakest version, if anything, the Western elites would merely use them as a cynical ploy to double down on their anti-Assad stance).

But in the event, things appear to be surprising to the upside, and in a very major and unexpected way. Hawkish Hollande, more American than the (post-Bush) Americans in his zeal for intervention, has finally admitted that ISIS is France’s prime enemy, not Assad. Not perfect, but good enough. The Russian military in the Levant has been told to treat the French soldiers incoming on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier as allies. Although speaking of any wider rapprochment in West-Russia relations is very clearly premature, the worst outcomes now appear to be ruled out and things are looking up. Obama has even called Putin a “constructive partner” in the Syria talks, which would have been unimaginable just a year ago when he was the butt of Western opprobrium at the Brisbane G20 summit. Considering that Putin remains constant to his position – the same as that proposed by Kofi Annan at the 2012 Geneva Conference – that Assad must be included in any negotiations between the regime and (truly) moderate factions about political transition, the apparent dropping of the removal of Assad as the West’s Number One priority in Syria basically implies that the Western political elites have been forced come round to the point of view of their worst international bugbear.

These political developments are getting reflected in the Western media. Even the neocon rag The Daily Beast has gone from “Russia’s Giving ISIS an Air Force” to “Russia Pounds ISIS with Biggest Bomber Raid in Decades.”

Irish journalist Danielle Ryan has a very good article on the diplomatic aspects of this development at The BRICS Post:

Before the Paris attacks, some analysts had been worriedly warning that Putin was winning the “PR war” in Syria. In the aftermath, Moscow’s articulation of its position looks less like PR and more like an appeal to common sense.

To risk an understatement, it’s depressing that 132 innocent people had to die in Paris before Obama, Cameron et al realized that Russia could be an indispensable partner in the fight against ISIS, and that disagreements over the fate of Assad should not be “the altar on which the country of Syria is slaughtered”.

If only this realization could have been made in 2010, when the Syrian government offered Western powers a chance to join up and fight ISIS together. Or in 2012, when Russia is rumoured to have offered the West a proposal which would have seen Assad step down as part of a broad peace deal.

is-isis-buying-ukrainian-arms Shady actors hurrying to tidy themselves up – So very conveniently soon after the Paris Attacks, Qatar arrested 6 men who had been supplying arms, including MANPADS, to Islamic State.

Their provider? Ukraine.

Perhaps the Ukrainians took Interior Ministry bigwig Anton Geraschenko’s injunction to “help ISIS take revenge on Russia by the canons of sharia” a bit too literally. So pathological is Maidanist village hatred for Russia that many of them lack the self-awareness to comprehend that ISIS and their own Western sponsors don’t exactly see eye to eye. (Ironically, it is not altogether impossible that this was because they took conspiracy theories from the more unhinged elements of the Russian nationalist scene about how the Americans control ISIS at face value). Certainly the Maidanist types have never had any compunctions about allying with people who ultimately despised them just to spit in Russia’s soup, from the Nazis in WW2 to Islamist fanatics today.

The alternative, less exciting but admittedly far more realistic possibility, is that this is a mere consequence of Ukraine’s failed state status.

 
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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.

 
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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.

 
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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.

 
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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.