Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

A decision before dinner which Obama would have taken 2 years not to make

April 7, 2017

Risk-filled, reactive, unpredictable, dangerous. No doubt.

But decisive.

In the business and entrepreneurial world it is an axiom that speed of decision is the critical factor but must be accompanied by immense flexibility for course corrections. Few decisions are wholly good or wholly bad. The key is to be “in motion” which allows course corrections – and even U-turns – to be made. Altering any course is impossible if the engine is not running. But the worst case scenario nearly always involves decisions taken too late.

My opinion that Trump has few – if any – ideological hangups but is only a pragmatist is only reinforced by his Syria strikes on the Al Shayrat airfield.

Can business-style decision making work in international politics? That is the question.

But the contrast to Obama’s paralysis by analysis, his unending deliberation and overwhelming risk aversion could not be more stark.

Wall Street Journal:

President Donald Trump’s decision to order military strikes in Syria sets his presidency on a new and unpredictable course that is likely to shape his time in office.

Faced with his first major foreign-policy test—a moment that confronts every new president—Mr. Trump demonstrated a comfort with military action and a flexibility in approach that saw him change course not only on comments he made in the campaign but also on his policy toward Syria in just 48 hours after seeing gruesome photographic evidence from the Asssad regime’s chemical-weapons attack Tuesday.

His decision drew support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have long called for stronger U.S. action in Syria.  

But with his message delivered both in missiles and in a presidential address from behind a podium at his private resort in Florida, Mr. Trump faces the difficult choice his predecessor and other world leaders have grappled with for years: Now what? It’s the question that repeatedly led President Barack Obama to decide against deeper military involvement in Syria.

Just three months into his presidency Mr. Trump will have to find his own answer. He has to confront a litany of risky unknowns.

It is unclear how the Assad regime, or its allies Russia and Iran, will react. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump intends to move the U.S. more forcefully into the Syrian conflict—committing the U.S. military to greater engagement in the Middle East—or whether he plans to hold back beyond sending a signal that the use of chemical weapons won’t be tolerated by the White House.

One message was clear: Mr. Trump is willing to use force and to make decisions swiftly when he is moved to act.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow, brutal death for so many,” Mr. Trump said in a national address. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

It is a dramatic shift from Mr. Obama, who deliberated at length over military decisions and resisted years of calls for a deeper U.S. military involvement in Syria to help bring the conflict to an end. During his own election campaign, Mr. Trump suggested the U.S. should leave conflicts such as the one in Syria for other nations to resolve, including Russia.

The missile strikes mark an early turning point in Mr. Trump’s presidency. It is his first major military order as commander in chief. But it is also the first military decision of consequence that Americans and the world have seen him make after otherwise fitful first weeks as president, which have been marred by controversy and infighting in his own party.

Mr. Trump had in many ways compelled himself to act by vowing on Wednesday to retaliate for the gas attack. He had limited other options given Mr. Obama had cut a deal with the Assad regime, brokered by Russia, to remove its chemical-weapons stockpile instead of launching military action.

Interesting times indeed.


 

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Will the EU fall in line when Trump joins with Russia and Turkey in Syria?

January 22, 2017

In 2011 the US, many EU countries (especially France), Turkey and Saudi Arabia started financing and providing weapons to anti-Assad groups in Syria. Many of these groups were, or were allied to, terrorist groups which have in turn warped to become ISIS or al Qaida or the Al Nusrah front. This support was instrumental in helping ISIS to grow into the monster it became. The focus was entirely one of regime change and the downfall of Assad. The EU countries even “encouraged” some of their more radical Muslim groups to send “freedom fighters” to Syria expecting that Assad would soon disappear. Instead these “freedom fighters” soon became willing recruits for ISIS and other terrorist groups. At that time the Russians and Iranians supported Assad but rather passively and through surrogates rather than directly.

Russian support (along with that from Iran and Hisbollah) kept Assad alive in a shrinking territory. Neither the US nor the EU was willing to put its own troops on the ground. With Obama’s risk aversion (indecision) and shifting red lines Assad was spared any knock-out blow. With the growing ISIS threat the Russians finally intervened directly (2014) and turned the tide for Assad and against ISIS. The beginning of the end for ISIS was when Turkey left the US strategy and joined the Russians (and Iran). Aleppo was retaken. ISIS still holds Mosul in Iraq.

Now it looks like the new US administration may very well acquiesce with, if not fully join, the Russian strategy. The US will probably now stop supporting the rebel, anti-Assad factions even though some of them are not allied with the terrorist groups (though many are).

As Trump takes over, a diminished ISIS awaits

ISIS’ caliphate shrinks in 2016 ISIS is losing ground across its self-proclaimed caliphate, according to a new report. Global intelligence and analysis firm IHS Conflict Monitor, which uses open-source intelligence including social media and on-the-ground sources, estimates that ISIS lost 17,600 square kilometers (6,800 square miles) of the land it held in Iraq and Syria over 2016. ISIS’ caliphate in the two countries shrunk by 23% over the course of the year, according to a survey and map released by IHS. The group lost 34% in the same region compared to January 2015. The US-led coalition say ISIS has lost 27% of its territory in Syria — and 61% in Iraq — from its peak. 

In addition to ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, the militant group retains patches of land not far from Homs and around the ancient city of Palmyra — control of which it regained from the Syrian regime late last year. It also has a presence in the countryside around the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. IHS reported spikes in territory lost by ISIS when the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, took control of the strategic city of Ash Shaddadi in March, moved on to Manbij in May, and in mid-October when Euphrates Shield, Turkey’s ground operation against ISIS in Syria, retook the symbolically significant town of Dabiq.

But what will the EU do now?

I expect that the UK will align itself behind Trump (and that alignment in other areas has already started as Teresa May starts implementing Brexit). With elections coming up in France, Hollande may not have much room to continue with his misguided support of his favourite rebel groups. Merkel is also facing elections and her open door policy has allowed – or is perceived to have allowed – many of the European Muslim, ISIS murderers to return to Europe. Nice and Berlin can be connected to that. My guess is that a splintered and fractured EU will do little and just gradually allow its once strong support of rebel groups to wither away.

Mohamad Bazzi has an insightful commentary in Reuters:

Islamic State lashes out as Turkey flirts with Russia

…. Islamic State is also lashing out at a new and burgeoning Turkish-Russian alliance, which is one of the main factors reshaping the Syrian war today. In late 2016, Turkey backed away from supporting Syrian rebels in Aleppo, which helped the Assad regime and its allies – including Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias from Lebanon and Iraq – to force rebels from their strongholds in eastern Aleppo and regain full control of the city. In mid-December, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he was working with Turkish leaders to negotiate a new ceasefire between Assad and rebel groups, and to organize a fresh round of Syrian peace talks without Washington’s involvement. The talks are scheduled to start on Jan. 23 in Kazakhstan.

The Syrian conflict has turned into a proxy war that involves regional and world powers – including the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – whose interests sometimes overlap, but at other times lead to multiple conflicts. Soon after the war began in 2011, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States started sending weapons and funds to rebel groups trying to topple Assad’s regime. Some of these rebels were forced into battlefield or tactical alliances with al Qaeda affiliated groups and other jihadists. More recently, Washington has shifted its focus to fighting Islamic State rather than ousting the Syrian regime. Assad’s two main backers, Russia and Iran, are mainly targeting rebel factions opposed to the regime, rather than trying to defeat Islamic State. ……..

…….. Turkish troops and allied rebels are trying to push Islamic State fighters from Al-Bab, a town north of Aleppo, and one of the jihadists’ last holdouts near the Turkish border. But Turkish forces are bogged down in an unexpectedly grueling battle: About 50 soldiers have been killed since Ankara sent its forces into Syria in August, including 16 killed in a single day during an Islamic State counter-attack in Al-Bab.

The battle for Al-Bab is causing other complications and setting up a potential battle between Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and American-supported Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (known by its Kurdish acronym, YPG). The YPG is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of rebel groups, which is leading a ground offensive of 30,000 fighters to oust Islamic State from the city of Raqqa, capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate. The campaign is supported by U.S. air strikes and more than 500 special forces who are helping the rebels gain ground.

In late December, Turkish leaders complained that Washington was not providing similar air support to help Turkish troops advance in Al-Bab. Within days, Russia began coordinating with the Turkish military and carrying out air strikes in the area.

In flirting with Russia, Erdogan’s government is sending a message to the incoming Donald Trump administration that Ankara has other options if the United States continues its support of Syrian Kurdish factions. But as it gets closer to Russia and more deeply involved in fighting Islamic State, Turkey risks incurring the group’s wrath.

Left wing and socialist governments in Europe have been particularly supportive of Palestine and anti-Israel to the verge of being anti-Semitic. (All European socialist parties have a strong anti-Semitic thread which has been hiding under a pro-Palestine, anti-Israel cloak). This support has not only been political but has also provided money for would-be terrorists from Europe. If Trump now moves the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the balance will shift away from the two-state solution, which cannot work, and the EU will face another dilemma.

A US / Russia alliance in the Middle East is a game changer and the EU is too slow, too fractured, too smug and too self-righteous to even realise when the game has changed.


 

Saudi Arabia undermines Vienna peace process by holding conference of Sunni, anti-Assad groups

December 8, 2015

It is called a “Peace Conference”. It is being hosted and held by Saudi Arabia and only Sunni groups are invited. The Kurds are not invited and, of course, there isn’t a Shia in sight. The Sunni groups include those who are allied with Al Qaida and members of the Fee Syrian Army and including groups within the FSA which do channel funds and weapons to ISIS. The theory that ISIS and Al Qaida are not present is a fantasy. The intention is to unify the anti-Assad, Sunni forces.

Suadi is just stirring the waters to ensure that no Russian/Assad/Iran end-game can easily succeed.

Iran is not amused.

David Cameron is gratified because if he counts all these disparate groups together, and adds in the Kurds and maybe a few hundred Turkmen also, he might get to a number which is the same order of magnitude as 70,000 “boots on the ground”. (i.e. >7,000 and < 700,000).

NewsweekA Syrian opposition meeting due to begin in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday marks the most serious effort yet to unify President Bashar al-Assad’s fragmented enemies, a step seen as vital to peace talks sought by world powers but which has riled Iran.

While the outlook for the political track recently launched in Vienna appears bleak – international divisions over Assad persist and the war in Syria has escalated – the Riyadh meeting offers the prospect of forging a more united opposition better able to negotiate with the government. …….. 

The participants invited to Riyadh include powerful Islamist factions Islam Army and Ahrar al-Sham – a group whose founders had links to al Qaeda. Ahrar al-Sham still fights alongside the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, while espousing a nationalist agenda.

Islam Army said in a statement that its commander, Zahran Alloush, would not attend because the group had lost control of the road he had been planning to use to exit the area in the Damascus suburbs where the group is based. Members of Islam Army’s political office will attend instead, it said.

A dozen Free Syrian Army rebel groups will also attend, including groups vetted by the United States that have received foreign military aid. They include recipients of U.S.-made anti-tank missiles supplied to rebels in larger quantities since Russia intervened militarily on Assad’s side on Sept. 30.

A Saudi end-game which has all these Sunni groups assuming power can only lead to the dissolution of Syria (and maybe that is a good thing). But it will also lead to a break up of Iraq. It will establish a Kurdistan, a Shia- ruled territory and a desperately fractured Sunni area with a bunch of squabbling groups.

And ISIS will still be around.

UN Resolution 2249 (2015) has implicitly invoked Chapter 7 and sanctions military action against ISIL in Iraq and Syria

November 21, 2015

UN SC Res 2249

UN Resolution 2249 which was passed yesterday at the initiative of France actually does invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and goes very much further than some are arguing. The resolution does not just sanction action against ISIL (ISIS) but calls on member states which can act, to do so:

”  Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, …….  on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts….”

Any member nation is therefore fully authorised  – in international law – by this resolution to attack ISIL (ISIS) (or any other of the named terrorist groups) in Syria or in Iraq. 

I have heard arguments from the left in the UK that this is not the explicit UN sanction for military action under Chapter 7 that they are looking for before agreeing to any attacks on ISIS in Syria, but this is just wishful and incorrect thinking. The UN itself explains in its Research Report No. 1 that the Security Council can exercise its Chapter 7 powers without explicitly invoking Chapter 7 in the text of a Security Council resolution.

UN Research Report No 1 Chapter VII 23 June 08

There can be no doubt that Chapter 7 is being implicitly invoked.

UN Charter

The beginning of Chapter 7 (Article 39) is specifically addressed to “any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” and yesterday’s resolution “determines …….  the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security”.

The United States Deputy Ambassador to the UN provides this explanation to the US President of yesterday’s resolution:

Mr. President, in recent weeks barbaric terrorist attacks have startled the world’s conscience. From Europe to Africa to the Middle East, innocent men and women have been slaughtered. Families destroyed in Beirut. Concertgoers slain in Paris. Air passengers bombed in the sky. Tourists killed on the beach in Tunisia. ……

For this reason, we welcome and applaud this resolution’s resolute call on states to take all necessary measures in compliance with international law to counter ISIL and the al-Nusrah Front. We must also choke off funding, arms, recruitment, and other kinds of support to ISIL and the al-Nusrah Front.

As the resolution recognizes, Iraq has made it clear that it is facing a serious threat of continuing attacks from ISIL, in particular coming out of safe havens in Syria; and the Assad regime in Syria has shown that it cannot and will not suppress this threat, even as it undertakes actions that benefit the extremists’ recruiting. In this regard, working with Iraq, the United States has been leading international efforts to provide assistance to combat the threat that ISIL poses to the security of its people and territory, and we are taking, in accordance with the UN Charter and its recognition of the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, necessary and proportionate military action to deny ISIL safe haven. …….

Any government of a member state in general, and the UK government in particular, needs no further UN sanction if they wish to act against ISIS in Iraq or in Syria. In fact with this resolution in place it is quite unlikely that the UN Security Council will produce another resolution to cover ground already covered.

David Cameron now has all the UN sanction that he could ever desire to extend military strikes on ISIS in Syria. He can even, with justification, go to his parliament at any time and explain that all member states with the capacity to attack ISIL (ISIS) in Syria have a duty to do so under Resolution 2249 (2015). St Jeremy really has no leg to stand on – Chapter 7 has already been invoked.

Preventing extremism: Why stop European jihadists from going to Syria?

June 8, 2014

The Financial Times (paywalled) reports that “Western intelligence agencies have handed Turkish authorities the names of nearly 5,000 people they fear are attempting to travel to Syria to join al-Qaeda linked groups, in a stark illustration of the escalating terror threat posed by homegrown jihadis”.

Turkey has already deported between 1,000 and 2,000 “jihadists” back to their home countries in Europe where they then become a virulent threat.

DailyBeast: It is a scenario that counter-terrorism experts have been warning about for the past two years: a European citizen who travelled to Syria in order to join up with jihadist groups returns to Europe in order to carry out a terrorist attack. It is something we all knew eventually would become a reality and, more worryingly, knew we could not prevent.

“Moderate Islam” in European countries is conspicuous by its complete absence in holding back the extremists and the idiot fanatics. I have no doubt that most Muslims are moderate. But they have been too passive for far too long against their own extremists.  In Europe, in Africa and even in China. They have – for example – allowed the extremists to take over parts of the school system in Birmingham in the UK. But it is not just “moderate Islam” which has abdicated its responsibilities. The political establishment in Europe (mainly) has to take its share of the blame. Political correctness in Europe involves allowing all fanatics and extremists – whether from the neo-Nazis as in Ukraine or Greece or from the religious Islamic fanatics in France and the UK or from the ecofascism of the hard-left green activists – to flourish unchecked.

But I wonder why the intelligence agencies don’t just let these jihadists reach Syria? Why warn Turkey and then have them all deported back to carry out their mayhem? If the US could revoke Snowden’s passport while he was travelling, surely it would be most effective for the US and EU countries to merely revoke those of the 5,000 known to be on their way to Syria? And concentrate on preventing their return? Like it or not, in the current situation Bashar al-Assad could be best equipped to handle these fanatics.

In the long run of course the alienated youth who are then radicalised have to be addressed at home. And the best bet is if “moderate Islam” is encouraged to defuse and neutralise their idiot fanatics. The position of the political centre defines the extremes. A passive centre allows the political spectrum to be skewed towards one extreme or the other or even to reach a bifurcation. The way to prevent unacceptable extremism lies then, I think, not in trying to prevent the extreme views from forming (which is futile) but in having a sufficiently pro-active centre which effectively starves the extremists of recruits.

Muddled EU and an indecisive US help Russia emerge from the Cold War doldrums

March 9, 2014

The Soviet Union was dissolved 23 years ago. The experiment of exporting and imposing the Russian vision of socialism on 14 other countries had collapsed in spectacular fashion. It was a resounding victory for Ronald Reagan, Rambo, Capitalism, Democracy and “Western” values – in that order. The 15 post Soviet countries were then Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Countries within their influence but not part of the Soviet Union broke free and looked to find a new place in the growing and expansionist European Union. Czechoslavakia split. Yugoslavia fractured into many pieces. And Europe picked up the pieces. On the back of their economic problems and the dissolution of their Empire, Russia had no diplomatic clout left to speak of. They did inherit the Soviet seat on the Security Council along with its veto and that kept them at the big table if rather ineffective.

But all that is beginning to change. There is a long way to go but with its wealth of resources the Russian economy is beginning to recover. There is a resurgence of Russian diplomacy. Russian diplomats are beginning to have opinions on all matters of substance. They are aided and abeted by a muddled and meddlesome EU together with an indecisive and risk-averse President in the US.

In foreign as with economic policy the EU is a place of very many voices. Some members are looking to create a successor to the Holy Roman Empire with a Holy European Empire. Others are looking to create the United States of Europe. Some want in for the benefits but want out of the costs. But rather than being a place for the dissemination of best practices it has become a hodge-podge where the lowest common denominator applies. They claim to share the same “values” of equality and freedom but none of them like dirty gypsies from Romania. The European Parliament and the European commission add layers of fairly useless politicians and bureaucrats. If only there had been a rule that every sinecure created at the European level would have been accompanied by a reduction at a country level! Radicalised youth in the EU now provide cannon fodder for many conflicts around the world. On all possible sides. The UK and France provide psychopathic young muslims to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. French and German and Swedish skinheads travel to the Ukraine to support the neo-nazi Right Sector.

With so many countries in the EU it is not too surprising that they get confused. A referendum in the Crimea is illegal but a referendum in Scotland is OK. They have been fooled into supporting miltant islamists in Syria and have handed the opposition into the control of Al Qaida. They have tried to meddle in the Ukraine and only succeeded in building up the neo-nazi Right Sector and in provoking Russia to enter the Crimea ostensibly to support the Russian origin population. One Swedish politician today suggested implementing a fast track entry for the Ukraine into the EU “as a signal to the Russians”. Little people trying to be politicians on the world stage. With 28 member states and 8 more in the wings, with a full range of political opinions in each country, it is hardly surprising that what emerges as policy, from the attempt to be balanced, borders on idiocy. Meanwhile the US is tired of its expensive adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan which have achieved very little. President Obama is looking to disengage wherever he can. To take on new risk is anathema. In Syria, Obama kept re-drawing red lines, and kept retreating behind them. That proxy war is being won by the Assad regime supported by Russia. The US and the EU no longer know who they support – or should support –  in Syria.

Syria and the Ukraine are just examples. A confused EU together with an indecisive US are providing the Russians with opportunities to test their diplomatic skills and to test the resolve of the EU and the US.

And judging by the results so far, neither the US nor the EU has a sticking point. There is not a leader in sight.

Ban Ki-Moon: Puppet without a string ….

January 22, 2014

The UN Secretary General is a puppet on many strings. And when the puppet tries to write the screen-play or to manipulate the puppeteers, the play usually suffers.

Ban Ki-Moon seemed to have forgotten that when he issued his invitation to Iran to the Geneva II talks about Syria last week and tried to write his own script for the talks. It didn’t take long before he had to backtrack.

Iran has insisted all along that it would only attend if it was without conditions. The US has long held that Iran could attend only if they accepted the results of Geneva I (where Iran was not present). So why Ban Ki-Moon tried act independently is not very clear. Presumably he was persuaded to by his staff who believe that the UN has some legitimacy beyond what is provided by the puppeteers.

(Also inviting Australia and Mexico and Korea and Luxembourg leaves me mystified.)

I have decided to issue some additional invitations to the one-day gathering in Montreux. They are: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, the Holy See, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and Iran. I believe the expanded international presence on that day will be an important and useful show of solidarity in advance of the hard work that the Syrian Government and opposition delegations will begin two days later in Geneva.

As I have said repeatedly, I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis.

I have spoken at length in recent days with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Javad Zarif.  He has assured me that, like all the other countries invited to the opening day discussions in Montreux, Iran understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communique, including the Action Plan.

Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers.  It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux.

Therefore, as convenor and host of the conference, I have decided to issue an invitation to Iran to participate.

It didn’t take very long before the US made it impossible for his invitation to remain valid:

NY TimesMr. Ban announced the Iran invitation on Sunday a little before 6 p.m. Eastern time. By that time, it was the middle of the night in Tehran — way too late for government officials to respond, but early enough for Washington to do so. …. 

Less than two hours after Mr. Ban’s briefing, the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said in a statement: “The United States views the U.N. secretary general’s invitation to Iran to attend the upcoming Geneva conference as conditioned on Iran’s explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities.”

As the New York Times puts it “But in diplomacy, there are no dress rehearsals. Mr. Ban’s choreography went awry, forcing him into a corner. Less than a day after issuing the invitation, the secretary general reversed course. Iran could not attend the talks, he said, because it had not affirmed the ground rules as he said he had been assured.”

It could be that even Ban Ki-Moon’s perception of his own independence was manipulated. Whether the invitation and its withdrawal were orchestrated by the US State Department, and whether the US was reacting to the fears of the Sunnis in the Middle East is unclear. (The report published with great fanfare yesterday about the human rights violations, detentions and executions by the Assad Government yesterday was apparently commissioned by the Government of Qatar. The timing of the publication of this report was also dictated by Sunni interests). I believe that the invitation and its withdrawal – paradoxically – strengthens Iran’s hand since they are conspicuous by not being present – and through no fault of their own.

The barbarism in Syria continues. I have no great expectations of Geneva II but it is part of a necessary process. If Al Qaida is to be kept in check, I think the involvement of Iran is both necessary and unavoidable. Without Iran not all of the Syrian opposition groups will be represented. And without Iran the Al Qaida factions could dominate the opposition.

A puppet with a broken string does not gain an extra degree of freedom. The UN Secretary General cannot entertain any delusions of grandeur or any thought that he can act independently of his puppeteers.

Comments by limerick (2)

December 23, 2013

A family function led to some “scandalous” limericks being written about other family members (who were not present of course). It soon became obvious that putting together the rhymes – even with very free rhyming – and keeping the overall theme intact was not as easy as it seemed.

Finishing a limerick is eminently satisfying and these are written entirely for myself with no particular audience in mind.

1.

Vladimir Putin the Tsar of all Russia,

Fancied himself the Peacemaker of Syria,

But he had not anticipated,

That European policy was constipated,

And the winner of all Syria is now Al Qaida

2

Marks and Spencer, the epitomy of Britishness,

Decided to cow down to political correctness,

“Sensitive” muslims employed to work,

Need no longer serve customers with alcohol and pork,

Leading to ridicule for the iconic M’en’ess.

3.

George Walker Bush, he of Iraq in-fame,

In 2003 claimed the end of the game,

But as has now become bloody obvious,

He achieved nothing to any purpose,

And then in Afghanistan, Cameron did the same

4.

Barack Obama – he of questionable birth,

Pushed insurance for all, for all he was worth,

But incompetence and foolishness were rife,

As his web site caused confusion and strife

And his poster policy became an object of mirth.

5.

Francois Hollande, a rabid die-hard socialist,

Was chosen by the French to replace Sarkozy the chauvinist,

But he had no money for the war,

He waged in Mali and now in CAR.

And is now begging for a fund from capitalists.

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.

How the map of the Middle East could develop

October 5, 2013

Once upon a time maps were dawn primarily as symbolic and pictorial descriptions of physical geography. Then came the nation states and “Nations of the Mind” became nations on the ground. With their dark under-belly of nationalism and jingoism, maps have become – nearly always – political, religious or ideological maps superimposed on and tied to physical geography. Some day humans will outgrow the limitations of nation-states and nationalism. “Nations” tied to a geography will eventually become obsolete but it will not be in my lifetime.

The dynamics in the Middle East are particularly volatile and give rise to much speculation about how new nations could form and how the map of the region could develop. But much of the new formations – which are already ongoing – are not by design but by the realities on the ground. Many forces are engaged and much blood is being shed as the various parties try to impose their own designs.

A few years ago Ralph Peters imagined a “better Middle East” in  “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look” and was heavily criticised for his provocative work.

The map was prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters. It was published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006, Peters is a retired colonel of the U.S. National War Academy. (Map Copyright Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters 2006). The map is included in Peters’ book Never Quit the Fight.

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

As Geo Currents remarked in 2010:

For all of Peters’s miscues, many of his core ideas are sound. His initial assertion – that misplaced boundaries often generate injustice and strife – is spot on. And he is right to point out that the foreign policy establishment refuses to acknowledge the violence engendered by geopolitical misalignment for fear of opening a Pandora’s Box of separatist demands. Because of that fear, any suggestions for alternative arrangements tend to be dismissed out of hand. Such a stance, Peters argues, is intellectually dishonest. New countries sometimes do appear on the map without ruffling the international order. Think of Montenegro, 2006. Such neophyte states must, however, come into being through the channels of global diplomacy if they want international recognition. Should they emerge on their own, their existence will be denied by the powers that be. In this way the system of international diplomacy that Peters mocks can indeed become a masquerade. Grant diplomatic recognition to Somaliland, the only effectively administered territory in the bedlam called Somalia? Impossibly destabilizing: surely anarchy would be loosed across the Horn of Africa!

The New York Times has just carried an article by Robin Wright returning to the same subject

Imagining a Remapped Middle East

Robin-Wrights-Remapped-Middle-East

Robin-Wrights-Remapped-Middle-East – NYT

THE map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria’s ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities — empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring — are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

…………

Saudi-Arabia-Remapped-by-Robin-Wright

Saudi-Arabia-Remapped-by-Robin-Wright

GeoCurrents reviews the NYT article:

Wright’s article, however, shows that her purpose is different from that of Peters. Whereas Peters sought to depict a more rationally constituted political map, Wright rather speculates about a map that might be developing on its own, regardless of her personal preferences, much less her country’s geo-strategic designs. In this regard, the map has much to recommend it. Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq could well be in the process of disintegration, splitting into de facto states or state-like entities that might bear some resemblance to the territories depicted by Wright’s map. The likelihood of Iraq and Syria regaining stability as effective states within their internationally recognized boundaries seems remote, given the viciousness of the conflicts currently being waged. As things already stand, the non-country of Iraqi Kurdistan is almost as much of a state as Iraq itself, and arguable more of a nation. Whether Libya and Yemen can politically reintegrate is also an open matter. Mapping how the Middle East appears today, rather than how the international political community thinks it should be configured, is thus an essential task. Thinking about where such processes might lead is equally important. Wright’s thoughts on the subject are generally insightful, and her map has many pertinent and intriguing features. I commend the New York Times for publishing such a provocative piece. ……

…….. My serious misgivings concern Wright’s  treatment of Saudi Arabia. She realizes that she goes out on a limb here, noting that “The most fantastical ideas involve the Balkanization of Saudi Arabia…” Unlike the other countries that she remaps, Saudi Arabia is a relatively stable state, with no serious challenges to its territorial integrity. Imagining the division of this country thus does not involve speculating about the possible end-points of processes already in motion, as is the case in the other countries considered. It is not at all clear, moreover, why Wright has divided Saudi Arabia as she has, as her article is largely silent here. Presumably, her division is based on the idea that the non-Wahhabi peripheries of the country could detach themselves from the Wahhabi core, potentially resulting in the emergence of the new states of North Arabia, Eastern Arabia, South Arabia, and Western Arabia.

Fascinating stuff.


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