The big news today is that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are clubbing together to overthrow the Assad regime.
Actually, this is old news. What happened today is that the news embargo was lifted and the AP’s Desmond Butler got to print the scoop.
It was apparent for a couple weeks that something along these lines was going to drop.
As I put it on Twitter on April 28, “Something is cooking in the kitchen”.
Let me explain, because it’s an interesting illustration of how the “open source” parsing thingamajig works, in kind of a backward way.
All of a sudden, starting around April 20, there were flurries of declarations from pundits and journos that Assad was going down.
Problem was, many of these pundits and journos were not the sort of people one would expect to have knowledge of the inner workings of the Assad regime (notoriously opaque) or the actual conditions on the battlefield (fragmented, confusing, very dangerous to investigate, and best understood by the Assad forces, not the countries blindly arming and funding proxies and grifters inside Syria).
These experts, on the other hand, seemed to be experts at access reporting and consulting with foreign policy decisionmakers in the US and the Gulf Countries. In other words, they’re in the “champagne hopes and caviar dreams” business of reporting elite intentions and aspirations as facts.
Today, when the AP report appeared, I tweeted “and the dish is coming out of the kitchen. Will be interesting to see what pundits/media outlets in US endorse KSA/TK strategy.”
The Tweetgods were smiling on me, or at least sniggering nastily, since a couple minutes later this came over the wire, retweet of a humblebrag from Charles Lister of Brookings Doha:
This – https://twitter.com/AP/status/596325611196526592 … – [the AP report on the Turkey/KSA alliance—ed] was the primary catalyst behind this:https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/595687654303358977 ….[A May 5 article by Lister in Foreign Policy- “Why #Assad is Losing” –ed] Significant shifts taking place re.#Syria.
I had a good time snarking on this—and Lister’s apparent desire to advertise that Brookings Doha is an eager and able mouthpiece for the GCC (“Did you see my piece? FP!”)–because, quite frankly, Assad isn’t losing yet.
But Saudi Arabia and Turkey dearly want to assert that meme (if not the more accurate “once our brilliant scheme is deployed there is absolutely NO WAY Assad can survive BWAHAHAHA!!!”) into the Middle East narrative, especially I would guess in the hope that Iran, for the sake of its precious nuclear deal, reduces its aid to Assad.
So it’s hard to see all of these articles as much more than hopeful stenography (I should say that Josh Landis, a genuine Syria expert, does see genuine problems for Assad mainly, I guess, because he saw the KSA/Turkey alliance coming).
Of course, as anyone should be able to tell you, the overt Turkish assistance to the rebels has been going on for a while, culminating in the capture of Idlib with the assistance of Turkish artillery and advisers and Ankara’s midwifing of an Islamist-heavy rebel alliance. By a funny coincidence, this ostensibly indigenous triumph of rebel arms gives the anti-Assad forces a rest, recuperation, resupply, and remanning haven right on the Turkish border.
The only real question remaining is whether the US has greenlit this escapade, or whether impatient local powers Saudi Arabia and Turkey have “slipped the leash”.
I tend to think the US is on board, but is loath to openly back the effort since it is now almost entirely an Islamist play with very few of our adored secular/democratic/civil society forces in evidence. Apparently, the optics, if not the reality, of the US working with Al Qaeda (or whatever Islamist force has repackaged itself as Al Qaeda) makes Uncle Sam gag.
But Sam Power appeared on Charlie Rose to declare, We gotta take care of Assad first, then IS. I think that’s the tell that the US is good with the current strategy even though democracy is clearly out the window and the anti-Assad struggle is now repackaged not only as a sectarian struggle but, at least according to a commentator on Al Jazeera, one in which wholesale slaughter of Alawite civilians is OK.
Sam might need an extra glass of Chablis to wash that one down.
The other interesting element is the Israeli factor. Israel has begun giving overt assistance to Islamists in Syria’s south, again with the idea of creating a useful haven.
And a couple days ago, a Saudi jetliner landed in Tel Aviv, ostensibly because of mechanical issues. But it’s rumored the Saudi crown prince was on board, and my guess is it was easier to fly a bunch of Saudis to Israel to discuss Syria business than it was to get Israel’s general staff into Saudi Arabia to discuss the nuts and bolts of the upcoming campaign.
Then it’s Everybody on board? Let’s unleash AP!
Even if a formal no-fly zone isn’t declared, maybe Israel will pitch in and degrade Syria’s air defenses and maybe take out the helicopters Assad uses extensively to shuttle troops to and fro and drop barrel bombs.
So, yeah, if all goes as planned, Assad’s in trouble. He loses mobility, he can’t juggle his exhausted troops to block coordinated, simultaneous rebel advances from north and south, the Saudi bribe-o-matic machine is finally able to bag some genuine high level defectors, and Assad gets on–or almost gets on–a plane for Russia.
Just like Libya! Success!
But remember, this is the same crew that is screwing up Yemen and I am not sure that Russia, Iran, and the PRC will respond to the determined public and private signalling from the anti-Assad coalition and decide to pull the plug on him.
Also bear in mind, after a month of bombing that has become pointless to the point that every sortie is a war crime against Yemen’s immiserated civilians, Saudi Arabia has yet to show the stones to send in ground troops and restore some semblance of order. So even if the Syria scheme works and the jihadists can drive Assad out of Syria by themselves, the will and ability of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to go into Syria and slug it out with the victorious Islamist factions to put some kind of effective government in place in Damascus seems pretty dubious.
All in all, I am not confident that the combined wisdom of the world’s most reactionary theocracy and a reckless neo-Ottoman freebooter will deliver anything other than a failed state in Syria.
Like I said, Think Libya!
Maybe President Obama has decided, Let the Middle East go to hell and Hillary. I’m off to Asia!
And meanwhile, world, enjoy this sh*t sandwich, courtesy of Saudi Arabia and Recip Erdogan!
Below in reverse order are my tweets over the last couple weeks. Not just boasting here. It’s useful in retrospect to see how and through what channels these policy decisions emerge prior to the formal unveiling. Also includes some serious & informed reports by Landis, Lund, etc.
May 7, 2015
Kinda interesting. That boomlet of “Assad is losing” articles should have been billed as “KSA/TK leak strategy to friendly thinktanks”.
Charles Lister of Brookings Doha bragging about it. “Stenography? Analysis? We dont draw these artificial distinctions at BI Doha.”
I’d also say Never underestimate KSA/TK ability to f*ck up a regime change conspiracy. And don’t assume Iran/RF will ditch Assad.
as to marginalized US impotently wringing hands on sidelines meme, not quite convinced. Maybe it’s US gives KSA/TK Syria hunting license in return for free hand on Iran. Another good reason for US to pivot to Asia, considering only ME policy instrument is Islamists & region basically screwed. Sorry, hopeful liberal democracy types! Thinking about #ArabSpringUnsprung
Pretty safe assumption that Sam Power had foreknowledge of KSA/TK anti-Assad offensive when she went on Charlie Rose to say “Assad gotta go before we can deal w/ IS”. In other words, US on board w/ whole sh*t show & “oh no TK/KSA slipped leash” is PR BS meant to distance US from fact that US HAS PUT ME POLICY IN HANDS OF AQ & OTHER ISLAMIST MILITANTS. Gotta wonder how Sam reconciles this w/ her HR nobility pose
“Well, sometimes human rights best served by putting unlimited arms, money, and impunity in hands of homicidal fanatics”. Heckuva job Sam
Gonna re-up my piece “July 17, 2012: The Day America Exited the 9/11 Era…By Entering an Alliance with Al Qaeda” http://tinyurl.com/paj2kgq
While we’re at it, don’t forget Israel’s role in backing rebels in south Syria…or that KSA Crown Prince flew to Tel Aviv day before de facto press embargo ended and ap finally ran the story. Attitude in Washington maybe, “It’ll be a bloody sh*t show but maybe Israel can keep the Syria op from becoming another Yemen-style KSA clusterf*ck”.
Charles Lister @Charles_Lister 3h3 hours ago
This – https://twitter.com/AP/status/596325611196526592 … – was the primary catalyst behind this: https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/595687654303358977 …. Check out my latest article – “Why #Assad is Losing” – on @ForeignPolicyhttp://foreignpolicy.com/2015/05/05/why-assad-is-losing-syria-islamists-saudi/ …#Syria Significant shifts taking place re. #Syria.
Chinahand: brag on charles. Ironically I had just tweeted this: “and the dish is coming out of the kitchen. Will be interesting to see what pundits/media outlets in US endorse KSA/TK strategy”
Nice to know Brookings Doha available when Gulf states want to outlets to spin a new initiative.
May 7, 2015
Turkey and Saudi Arabia confirm pact to aid al-Qaida in Syria http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/turkey-saudi-arabia-syria-rebels-pact_n_7232750.html …
Chinahand: and the dish is coming out of the kitchen. Will be interesting to see what pundits/media outlets in US endorse KSA/TK strategy
It’s High Time the U.S. Imposed a No-Fly Zone Over Northern Syria http://thebea.st/1R7TdPb via @jamiewrit
Jamie Dettmer conservative media stalwart, also broadcasts for VOA. Maybe USG ready to roll out the Syria intervention product?
Day after US whacked 50+ civilians in a bombing raid maybe not best time to roll out the humanitarian intervention PR, Jamie
“Washington needs to exercise total control over who gets what from regional powers to the Syrian opposition.”
Hof sounds like “expert on wishful thinking about Syria” rather than “Syria expert”. Note assumption that Iran will write off eastern Syria I take this as “I’m sure Iran will ditch Assad in return for nuke deal” Lite
interesting. According to Reuters, Syrian weakening because instead of 250k SAA soldiers, now they’ve got 125 K SAA + 125 shabiha/Hezbollah
not saying it ain’t true, but it ain’t axiomatic
by the way, the KSA incursion into Yemen apparently in the sh*tter. Time to crank up the distracto machine, maybe.
Liz Sly @LizSly
Saudi, Turkey & Qatar are ramping up support for Syria rebels, leaving US policy behind. By @karendeyoung1 & me http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-allies-in-middle-east-ramping-up-support-for-rebel-forces-in-syria/2015/04/29/07b1d82c-edc8-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?tid=hpModule_04941f10-8a79-11e2-98d9-3012c1cd8d1e&hpid=z11 …
“Some find it hard to believe the United States is not involved in the new push.”https://twitter.com/LizSly/status/593572920863129600 …
“I’m confused. Are we doing this stenography for USG, or for KSA/Qatar? Who’m I talkin’ to here?”
Aron Lund @aron_ld
#Syria‘s Political & Armed Opposition Agree on Five Points http://syrianobserver.com/EN/News/29099/Syria_Political_Armed_Opposition_Agree_Five_Points … on Khoja’s meeting with Islamists & FSA, via @observesyria
“This time it will REALLY work”. Dinner about to come out of the kitchen.
Salman Shaikh @Salman_Shaikh1
In 3months, King Salman is proving to be most consequential Saudi leader since Founder.He’s setting course for #KSA & region for yrs to come
Whole Lotta Strokin’ Going Ooooooooooooooon
Saudi’s Prince Turki: Obama’s pivot towards Iran “contributed to the collapse of the regional system of the MidEast” http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/saudi-arabia/prince-turki-calls-on-us-to-rethink-middle-east-policies-1.1501337 …
always had a suspicion Obama didn’t want to leave office w/ Assad still in power.
Maybe now he’s in his “I dont have to GAF about the consequences, let’s crater Syria, Hilary can handle it” Legacybuilder mood.
Unmistakable US message via punditstan & journoland that Assad’s supposed to go down. IMO this is the dealio: we got our Iran deal, so KSA gets Assad’s head on a dish. Works the other way, too: KSA fusses on Iran too hard, US gets less active in the anti-Assad effort.
Paris was worth a mass to Henry IV. Guess Iran rapprochement is worth a GCC clusterf*ck in Syria. Country’s already in ruins after all.
And, if Iran fusses overmuch about Assad’s fate, then maybe the wheels come off the precious deal. All stitches together nicely
“An Eroding Syrian Army Points to Strain.” by @ABarnardNYT et al http://nyti.ms/1P4qE1s
Wonder if Obama sold Iran nuke deal to ME crowd w/ promise “If you let us make deal, Iran’s gonna throw Assad under bus.” Getting that vibe
Huge if true. South Syria rebels reportedly promised Arab air cover.https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/565200-south-syria-rebels-reportedly-promised-air-cover ….
Syrian FM: Attacks on Idlib city and Jisr al-Shughour were carried out by logistical and fire support from the Turkish army.
We’re about to see how invested Iran & Russia are in propping up the Assad regime.
@johnnallan hmmm. What’s cookin’ in the kitchen, Max? & who invited you in for a taste?
seeing lot of “assad on the ropes”. Wonder how much is real, how much channeling pre-emptive crowing of TK/KSA/Qatar.
Airstrikes in Yemen show Saudi Arabia can lead a complicated military campaign http://on.wsj.com/1PnEmyt by @yarotrof
WSJ wins an Attaboy! biscuit for this one. USG backgrounding Yemen op fiasco but
KSA trying to sell idea it’s ready for prime time as enforcer of ME security agenda. WSJ doing best but Saud better fund another think tank
more interesting & dark times ahead for ME as US steps back & KSA claims role of local bossman. Seems US going along w KSA stomp thru Yemen & upcoming Syria campaign as consolation prize for US-Iran rapprochement. Do I think an insecure incompetent theocracy w/ more money than sense will succeed. Uh…& I wudn’t be surprised if KSA faces a lot more blowback now that it’s trying to drive the regional agenda instead of identifying itself as US ally
@chinahand Do you think Assad will survive?
not if ksa & tk can help it. & judging by Landis, they’ll ignore US qualms & go full spectrum. If KSA starts bombing
Damascus like it’s bombing Sanaa & TK does something on the ground, Assad might finally be ready for his Moscow apartment.
Assad’s Western Media Campaign Reveals His Weakness, Not Strength: by @freddydeknatel http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/15574/assad-s-western-media-campaign-reveals-his-weakness-not-strength#.VTW4Pg62gFB.twitter …
We’re Saudi Arabia and we’re here to fix this!”
quotes Landis extensively. Apparently he’s deeply bearish on Assad now