Posts Tagged ‘Bashar al-Assad’

Assad’s gambit but is it Putin’s end-game being played out in Syria?

November 10, 2013

The Hindu carries an interesting editorial on Assad’s Gambit:

In extending his cooperation to the OPCW – which has until June 2014 to oversee the elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpile – President Bashar al-Assad has signalled his indispensability to a diplomatic settlement. Mr. Assad has underlined that not only is he in control but he is also willing to make tactical concessions. The odds are now stacked heavily against the Syrian rebels. After the United States shelved its plan to intervene militarily, opposition groups have had to reconcile themselves to the option of sharing power with Damascus. That al-Qaeda and other terror outfits have infiltrated the rebels’ ranks has also substantially diminished the support they initially received from the West. Not surprisingly, many of the rebel factions have expressed their reluctance to participate in the “Geneva 2” diplomatic conference scheduled for later this year. Mr. Assad, on the other hand, has made the Syrian government’s participation contingent on his being allowed to complete a full term in office.

Paradoxically it is the destruction of his chemical weapons which has made Assad an indispensable part of the solution. If it was one of the rebel groups (Al Qaida or a group supported by Turkey or by Iran or by Saudi Arabia or by the Kurds or by the Muslim Brotherhood) which actually did use the chemical weapons (Sarin gas) in September, then their ploy has misfired spectacularly. If it was Assad’s forces which released the gas (whether with or without his knowledge), it has certainly brought matters to a head and – also spectacularly –  shifted the course of this civil war. Syrian Opposition became “armed rebels” and are now equated with “terrorists”. From being about Assad’s repression and justified opposition the conflict is being transformed to Assad versus the terrorists.

Keeping score in the Great Syria Chess Game is not easy and when the chemical inspectors were called in I wrote

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov are winning. The diplomatic path is now their creation. Suddenly Russia is the peace-maker in the face of US war-mongering! Not only was the US strike on their ally delayed indefinitely, it is now Assad’s Syria – and not the various opposition groups – which is required to engage with the international community. Any opposition forces who seem to be coming in the way of inspecting or securing control of the chemical weapons can now be attacked by Assad with the full support of the international community. Russia can continue supplying Syria with conventional weapons. ….

Bashar al-Assad is winning. He does not really need chemical weapons which cannot effectively be used anyway. Any US strike on his forces is postponed indefinitely. With no prospect of any no-fly zone being declared his air-force could be decisive in the civil war. The supply of conventional weapons from Russia is assured. His claim that rebels and terrorists were responsible for the use of Sarin is backed up by Russia and the UN weapons inspectors have no option but to investigate this (and they are on their way back to Syria).

But I think the Hindu is wrong to think that it is merely the infiltration of rebel groups by Al Qaida which has damaged their support from the West. The point is that the rebel groups supported and supplied by so many surrounding countries are not a home-grown opposition but are essentially a collection of mercenary groups fighting proxy wars for many players. Saudi Arabia and Turkey in particular were and are heavily involved – and may even have been instrumental in starting the armed conflict. Now of course Iran and the Kurds and the Muslim Brotherhood are providing succour and support for their pet groups. Al Qaida has its fighters from all over the region (and from radicalised youth in the West) trying to attain eternal salvation through martyrdom. The EU and the US supply arms through third parties to a variety of the rebel groups – and it often seems they have no idea who the arms are going to. Russia supplies Assad. Israel no doubt stirs the pot whenever it can and using whichever faction is available to maintain the turmoil.

As Aron Lund writes in his report,Divided they Stand” An Overview of Syria’s Political Opposition Factions

The opposition landscape is so fragmented and disconnected, that there is little clarity even among activists themselves about what groups and coalitions are truly effective or enjoy popular support. ….

While it is unlikely that any of today’s political opposition groups will control the future Syria, they are likely to play a significant role in a future transition phase or reconciliation process. Regardless of who rules Syria in the future – the current regime, breakaway elite factions, a government installed with foreign backing, or armed rebels – they will need to connect with the political opposition to legitimize their own position.

Assad’s Gambit may be paying off but it is just a few moves within the Putin initiated defence. Whether the Putin defence also has an end-game in mind is as yet difficult to discern. It may just lead to a stalemate and a long drawn-out conflict. It may lead – in the best scenario – to a gradual political transition where Assad has an “honourable” discharge and exile waiting for him sometime late next year.

There are no longer any outright victories in sight in this multi-dimensional chess game where the rules keep changing. But if there is any overall direction to this end-game it is probably coming from Putin and Lavrov. Whether Obama and Kerry are playing the game, or are just bystanders providing infrastructure for the playing of the game remains to be seen. The EU is almost as divided as the Syrian opposition and are very good at mouthing platitudes. The dilemma that the US and the EU face is that support for secular forces in Syria is inevitably support for Assad. Support for any armed rebel group is also support for Islamist jihadists.

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Keeping score in the great Syria chess game

September 24, 2013

It is not possible to say who won or who lost. The Great “Game” will take a long time to reach a conclusion. All that can be done is to see who’s winning and who’s losing.

David Cameron is losing and may have lost. He took a slap in the face from the House of Commons. If he had managed the vote in his favour, the US strike on Syria would have taken place almost immediately. Whether the strike would have achieved much will never be known but Obama would have “walked” his “talk”. Milliband seemed to be winning since he had defeated Cameron but it is becoming clear that he had played his trump far too soon and allowed Putin to make his play. And Milliband can be credited for letting down the US and the special relationship. Tony Blair lost. He showed up as a “rabid dog” revelling in going to war (to try and justify his bad judgements during the Iraq war). And nobody took him very seriously.

Barack Obama is losing. He has confirmed his reputation as a ditherer and that he is risk-averse to the point of being  seen as being ruled by his fears. He has effectively shifted the balance of power in going to war from the Presidency towards Congress. This power given up will be difficult to regain. Without the backing of the UK he was forced to look for ways to extricate himself from his “red line” box.

John Kerry was point-man for Obama and was – for a time – the potential scape-goat. But he has repositioned himself and may even take away some credit for the Russian play. His throw-away line about “no strike if Syria gave up their chemical weapons” is now being spun as an intentional statement.

Francois Hollande is losing. His support for Obama was not enough to allow the US to carry out a strike on Syria. The value of French support – compared to the UK support which was not forthcoming – was diminished. And then to make matters worse his Parliamentarians made it quite clear that they did not support his position even though they were not required to vote. Having supported a strike he was not quite adroit enough to claim any credit for the alternate diplomatic path that resulted. Getting Freedom Fries reverting to be French Fries was his only consolation.

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov are winning. The diplomatic path is now their creation. Suddenly Russia is the peace-maker in the face of US war-mongering! Not only was the US strike on their ally delayed indefinitely, it is now Assad’s Syria – and not the various opposition groups – which is required to engage with the international community. Any opposition forces who seem to be coming in the way of inspecting or securing control of the chemical weapons can now be attacked by Assad with the full support of the international community. Russia can continue supplying Syria with conventional weapons.

The Syrian Opposition groups (including Al Qaida) are losing the civil war. Assad can now get more weapons replacements than they can. Al Qaida need a weakened Assad to create a winning position and they need a prolonged civil war to achieve dominance among the opposition groups. Both objectives would have been assisted by a US strike.

Bashar al-Assad is winning. He does not really need chemical weapons which cannot effectively be used anyway. Any US strike on his forces is postponed indefinitely. With no prospect of any no-fly zone being declared his air-force could be decisive in the civil war. The supply of conventional weapons from Russia is assured. His claim that rebels and terrorists were responsible for the use of Sarin is backed up by Russia and the UN weapons inspectors have no option but to investigate this (and they are on their way back to Syria).

Iran is winning. President Hassan Rohani is on a roll. First Hizbollah – at Iran’s bidding – helped to keep the Syrian opposition groups at bay when they seemed to be gaining ground. Then he supported the Russian diplomatic initiative. That was followed by an interview  on NBC  and an op-ed in the Washington Post to assure the US and the world that Iran had no intention of developing WMD of any kind including nuclear weapons. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, sent Rosh Hashanah greetings to Jews worldwide via Twitter and caught the Israelis off-guard. Now Rohani is on his way to address the UN General Assembly. Willy-nilly they are now a part of the diplomatic path for Syria and cannot just be ignored. That engagement allows the Iranian charm offensive to proceed as well on other fronts.

Israel is both winning and losing. It was Israeli intelligence intercepts – not US  – which led to Obama’s threatened strike. A strike by the US was definitely preferred by the Israelis though their objective was to maximise turbulence for as long as possible in Syria.  To be able to get the US to threaten a strike as they wished based on selective intelligence was a coup. Not to have the strike consummated was a setback. If the Iran/Russia influence grows and Assad is more secure than before, then these are also setbacks.

Turkey is losing. The Islamic government was perhaps the strongest supporter of a strike on Assad. Their dislike of Assad is so strong that they would even have supported a strike by Israel. But Turkey’s subservience to and support for all groups Islamic ( Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) is now becoming an embarrassment for Europe. Their application to join the EU is – I think – already lost.

The Great Game has a long way to run. It has been running for a thousand years and there are many more twists and turns to come. Many pieces will be lost and won by all the parties and there may never be a check-mate and a clear winner in this game. Having a clear winner always requires having a clear loser. Having a clear loser in the Middle East is not always a good thing.

And so a stalemate is probably the closest there is to a win-win.

Putin’s Nobel among other things

September 10, 2013

Vladimir Putin is arranging to be nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize by a “neutral” 3rd party. The nomination will be on the grounds that since he is demonstrably more “peaceful” than a previous laureate (Obama) then his “case” stands proven beyond all reasonable doubt. 

(It has also been suggested that since Global Warming is now over, Al Gore could be asked to return his prize – voluntarily).

Senator John Kerry has been nominated to the Vatican as a “miracle worker” and for consideration for Sainthood. His miracle being that his offhand remark was seized upon by Divine Forces and Vladimir Putin to create the Syrian miracle. A Devil’s Advocate is being sought by the Vatican even though his canonisation can only be carried out posthumously. 

(It has been noted by Kerry’s team that Nobel Prizes are only awarded to the living while Catholic canonisation only applies to the departed and therefore Kerry could be eligible for both).

Bashar-al-Assad is now considering how under the pretext of protecting UN weapons inspectors and “verifiers”, the US could be inveigled into carrying out drone attacks on Al Qaida (and other rebel groups).

Barrack Obama is putting out the story that it was all his very devious idea and that it was he who had first suggested the solution to Putin during their frosty 20 minutes alone at the G20 meeting in Saint Petersburg.

David Cameron is competing with Francois Hollande to see who can produce the toughest draft resolution for the United Nations.

Cameron also claims that it was he who suggested the diplomatic route to Barrack Obama when he lost the vote in the UK House of Commons.

Al Qaida and The Arab League have gone into mourning.

Are Obama / Kerry preparing a face-saving exit?

September 9, 2013

UPDATE!

Looks like my speculations  this morning may not be so far off the mark:

Washington Post: 

Syria ‘welcomes’ Russia proposal on chemical arms

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It might just be wishful thinking on my part or it could be that Obama and Kerry are preparing a face-saving path to abandoning their strike on Syria rather than suffer a humiliating rejection in the the US House of Representatives.

For the first time that I have noticed, Kerry is now “offering” Assad a way to avoid a strike – by giving up all his chemical weapons. I could be mistaken but I perceive the beginnings of a change in Kerry’s strident tone. The rhetoric for a strike from Kerry and Obama is not letting up – but it’s the first time that a possibility of a strike not happening has been mentioned. Of course if Congress and the Senate back Obama then there will be no need to back down and the exit path will become unnecessary. I also noted some US voices suggesting that Obama could postpone any vote in Congress until after some – so far – undefined moves in the UN as being advocated by the EU and other countries (including Russia). Putin for his part has also indicated that if the UN were shown the evidence and concurred then he would also support some – as yet unspecified – UN action against Syria.

Of course Assad would not/could not just give up his chemical weapons and certainly not to the US. But it is not unthinkable that he may be willing to put them under the control of his Russian allies. So if a suitable “formula” is evolved where the Russians perhaps “take charge” of Assad’s chemical weapons or in some other way secure their “safe-keeping” then Kerry and Obama could claim that their objective of preventing any further such attacks has been achieved. And if in addition the Russians are acting – or seen to be acting – on behalf of the UN in arranging such a scenario it would not only give Assad a way of saving face but also give the US the possibility to claim that Assad has conceded the supremacy of the UN. More importantly if such a scenario were being arranged it would give Obama and Kerry a “reason” for waiting with the vote in the House and for waiting with the strike.

If , in spite of the “red line having been crossed”, a US strike can be avoided by Assad ceding control of his chemical weapons then it seems to me to be something within the realm of negotiation. Especially when the benefits to the US of a very limited strike are not very evident. The benefits of such a strike  may mainly accrue to Al Qaida.

The key remains the US Congress. All “face saving” only becomes necessary and only comes into play if Obama expects to lose a vote in the House even after (and if) he has won a vote in the Senate. The next few days will tell if Obama’s rhetoric is holding sway in the House or whether he will need to use his exit strategy.

What do Obama, Blair and Al Qaida have in common?

September 6, 2013

They all want a  US strike on Syria – each for his own reasons.

Al Qaida has the most to gain by a weakening – rather than an elimination – of Assad’s regime. That would give them time to consolidate their dominance among the opposition groups while ensuring the eventual demise of Assad.

Tony Blair is desperate to show that all attacks by Western interests which help regime-change in the area are justified in themselves. His duplicity about WMD and Iraq will always dominate his place in History and that rankles. He is still looking for the argument which can support his fantasy that the intervention in Iraq – even without any WMD – was a good thing. He has just been interviewed by the BBC and this is to be aired on Monday. The excerpts released so far clearly reveal how utterly self-centred and self-serving he is.

What exactly Obama hopes to accomplish is quite unclear. It could be for intellectual satisfaction for having – recklessly – made his red-line box for himself. It could be to demonstrate his “moral superiority” and by extension that of the US. He (through Kerry) says 1429 people were killed by sarin gas. The French put the number at 281. The British said it was about 350. How will Obama measure success? By the number of fresh bodies on the ground? Score 1 for every Assad soldier killed! An “eye for an eye” or will he need to multply by ten to ensure that his actions are a deterrent? It is the gassing of children that must be addressed he says.  Is it only the manner of their deaths he wants to react to? How many children have died in US drone attacks so far?

Israel will be very satisfied if Syria remains in internal turbulence for as long as possible. Turkey’s Islamists will be very happy to see Assad go. Will Obama be satisfied for having strengthened Al Qaida and other Islamist groups?

Perhaps Obama with his drones and his “limited and targeted strike on Syria” is just one of the wannabe soldier(s who remain enamored of the lure of bloodless machine warfare”.

I think war is deplorable but unfortunately necessary. Human behaviour has not yet evolved to be able to avoid it. But war without any objective and primarily to demonstrate “moral superiority”?

Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general, is a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College and writes in the Washington Post:

A war the Pentagon doesn’t want

…. After personal exchanges with dozens of active and retired soldiers in recent days, I feel confident that what follows represents the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war.

They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.

They are repelled by the hypocrisy of a media blitz that warns against the return of Hitlerism but privately acknowledges that the motive for risking American lives is our “responsibility to protect” the world’s innocents. Prospective U.S. action in Syria is not about threats to American security. 

 The U.S. military’s civilian masters privately are proud that they are motivated by guilt over slaughters in Rwanda, Sudan and Kosovo and not by any systemic threat to our country.

They are outraged by the fact that what may happen is an act of war and a willingness to risk American lives to make up for a slip of the tongue about “red lines.” These acts would be for retribution and to restore the reputation of a president. Our serving professionals make the point that killing more Syrians won’t deter Iranian resolve to confront us. The Iranians have already gotten the message.

Our people lament our loneliness. Our senior soldiers take pride in their past commitments to fight alongside allies and within coalitions that shared our strategic goals. This war, however, will be ours alone.

They are tired of wannabe soldiers who remain enamored of the lure of bloodless machine warfare. …. 

…. Soon the military will salute respectfully and loose the hell of hundreds of cruise missiles in an effort that will, inevitably, kill a few of those we wish to protect. They will do it with all the professionalism and skill we expect from the world’s most proficient military. I wish Kerry would take a moment to look at the images from this week’s hearings before we go to war again.

Read the whole article.

US now has no option but to attack Syria – but to what end other than “feeling good”?

August 31, 2013

A “feel-good” strike?

After Kerry’s speech yesterday, it is no longer possible for the US not to carry out a strike (else Kerry will have no option but to resign). The UN inspectors left Syria today. Their analyses will take at least two weeks and the US cannot – after Kerry’s assertions yesterday – wait for that. President Obama is due in Sweden next Wednesday on his way to the G20 meeting in Saint Petersburg.

So an attack will surely take place between now and then. Probably tonight. It will be “limited” and targeted according to Obama. It will be in retaliation against those who killed 1429 people by using a nerve agent. The strike will certainly bring comfort to the Syrian rebels (including Al Qaida) and raise their hopes of a deepening intervention. If the strike is limited it is unlikely to be decisive in toppling Assad. It may weaken him. Right now Assad’s forces seem to have the upper hand. So a weakened Assad is likely to lead to the civil war being prolonged – whoever comes out on top.

So what would the objectives of the strike be? And how would success be measured?

It will not get rid of all chemical weapons. It may give pause for thought to future users of chemical weapons but it will only be a limited deterrent to future users (since previous users have not faced any repercussions). If the strike kills more than 1429 people or a significant number of “innocent civilians”, it will be difficult to claim any success.  if the numbers killed are small and the material destruction is limited, it will also provide – paradoxically – succour to Assad in that he has weathered the US-led storm. The only real success would be if the numbers killed are very small but the material destruction is so high that it may prevent Assad or his officers from being so quick to use such weapons again.

Certainly the US and its allies will “feel better”. Anybody killed in the strike will not. Assad will not but his opposition will.

But the risk with a “feel-good” strike is that it will not make the war any shorter and will only lead to further intervention and the risk of strengthening Al Qaida.

“The enemy of my enemy …” makes for strange bedfellows in Syria as AL-Qaeda joins with the US

February 12, 2012

Al-Qaeda has come out in strong support of the Syrian opposition and becomes a strange bedfellow for the US and Western European nations who have aligned themselves more against President Assad than for anybody in particular.

Just how the US and France and UK and others will now be reconciled with Al-Qaeda jumping into bed with them remains to be seen. But it seems that Al-Qaeda has been fostering the rebellion in Syria for well over a year. Perhaps they have always been in that Syrian bed and have only recently been joined by the others?

Last week the Russians and Chinese exercised their vetoes in the UN to stop a resolution against the Syrian regime and which called for President Assad to step down. Initially I felt that the Russians and Chinese had balked at the idea of supporting any resolution supporting regime-change since this could someday be turned against them. They claimed that their vetoes were primarily because the resolution was unbalanced since it did not condemn opposition groups for the use of violence and for causing some of the bloodshed. Now with the Al-Qaeda support for the opposition “giving” them the right to use whatever means they saw fit to get rid of a “cancerous regime”, it begins to look as if the picture in Syria is not as one-sided as it has appeared.

(more…)


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