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18 September 2015

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David Habakkuk

Patrick Bahzad,

I was just drafting some remarks on your response to the comment by 'Akira' on your post reporting General Gomart's caution about the claims about Russian military involvement in Syria, when you put up this new analysis.

The report from 'AMD News', to which 'Akira' linked, opened:

'Addressing the Russian top brass on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin lambasted U.S. Middle-East policy for being ''disastrous'' as Saudi-backed rebels vowed to purge Syria and Iraq from Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities.

'"We have nearly two million orthodox Christians in the Levant—Syria and Lebanon— and approximately 5 million Christians across Middle-East. Regardless of America's presidential election outcome, White House craves chaos in that oil-rich region by supporting fanatic Islamist organizations, i.e. ISIS and al-Nusra Front," Moskovskaya Pravda cited the Russian president as saying.

'It is morally incumbent upon Russia to change this terrible status quo in the Middle-East , added Mr.Putin , prepare for operation ''Salvation'' and with God almighty's aid , we shall cleanse Syria from Obama's ruthless terrorists.'

(See http://tinyurl.com/nn3wbdw .)

If Putin had indeed made these remarks it would be extremely interesting. However, the report seems to me likely to be precisely the kind of 'information operations' piece about which General Gompart has displayed commendable scepticism, both in regards to Russian policy on Ukraine and Russian policy on Syria.

It contains no link to the 'Moskovskaya Pravda' story on which it is supposedly based. On their own site, what purports to be a link to 'About AMDNEWS' does not work. So far at least, all other reports about this supposed operation 'Salvation' can all be traced back to this single story.

In the light of your very helpful statistical breakdown, what the report suggests is that Putin has included the 'Eastern Catholic' churches – that is, those whose liturgies are related to the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, but are in full communion with the Pope – with the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I much doubt he would do this.

(In passing – not that it is a matter of great significance, if the report is disinformation – it did not actually suggest, as you appeared to believe, that Putin claimed to be 'morally' in charge of Eastern Christian churches – merely that it was 'morally incumbent on Russia to change this terrible status-quo in the Middle East.')

A great deal of evidence, I think, suggests that there is a wide spectrum of opinion among the Russian political élite about how Western policy in the Middle East – and also Chechnya, the Caucasus generally, and Central Asia - is to be interpreted.

In part, this derives from the fact that the Russian political élite continues to be immensely diverse, both in its perceived material interests, and also ideological beliefs, or lack of them. Moreover, the 'whirligig of time', aided and abetted by foolish Western policy, has indeed 'brought in his revenges'.

There is a natural coming together between people who say that Stalin was wrong about religion but right about the West, and people who see Western policy in the Ukraine through a lens shaped by a – certainly selective – reading of old history, in which 1204, 1453, 1812, the Crimean War, and 'Operation Barbarossa' are all part of the same story.

Part of the reason why the claims on 'AMD News' are so interesting is that they identify Putin with this position. But, historically, this is quite wrong. From the time he came to power in 2000 until very recently, he sought to use the vision of jihadist terrorism as a common enemy to create the basis of an entente with the West, and acceptance of Russia as a respected participant in the Western 'system'.

It is Western policy that has driven him further and further into the arms of the anti-Western forces in the Russian élite. However, I very much doubt that he has ceased listening to those elements in that élite who see Western Middle East policy as being as much or more the product of cock-up, rather than conspiracy.

And recent developments – including in a small way, just possibly, both General Gomart's remarks and your own posts on this blog – are likely to have been taken by those elements as indicating that it would be unwise to base policy on the assumption that a radical change of view in the West can be ruled out.

William R. Cumming

Thanks once more for your insights and factual history.

Valissa

Thanks Patrick for another very educational analysis! However, I'm more of a "big picture" person, and was remembering while reading this that in addition to US meddling in Syria, the Brits and French have meddled there as well. Trying to put it all in context in my own mind inspired me to do a bit of searching through my notes supplemented by some online searching to get more historical background on the current Syria situation.

I found two articles of particular relevance in trying to set your piece in the context of a larger historical pattern.

The first one has been noted at SST before. It's a long historical overview of Syria by William Polk. My excerpt here highlights French meddling in Syria starting almost 100 years ago.

Understanding Syria: From Pre-Civil War to Post-Assad
How drought, foreign meddling, and long-festering religious tensions created the tragically splintered Syria we know today. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/12/understanding-syria-from-pre-civil-war-to-post-assad/281989/
Most of what became Syria is shown as “Zone A” on the map, which the French gave to the British at the peace conference to remind them of the deal. During the latter part of the war, the leaders of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire established a kingdom at Damascus and at the Paris Peace Conference sought recognition of their independence. France was determined, however, to effect its deal with Britain, so in 1920 it invaded and “regime-changed” the Damascus government, making Syria a de facto colony of France but legally, under the League of Nations, a “mandate.” The terms of the League mandate required France to prepare it for independence, but the French showed little intention to do that. They spent the next three years actually conquering the country and reformulating the territory. …

When French policies did not work and nationalism began to offer an alternate vision of political life, the French colonial administration fell back on violence. Indeed throughout the French period—in contrast to the relatively laissez-faire rule of the Ottoman Empire—violence was never far below the outward face of French rule. The French bombarded Damascus, which they had regime-changed in 1920, in 1925, 1926, and 1945, and they pacified the city with martial law during most of the “peaceful” intervals. Constitutions were proclaimed periodically, only to be revoked, and independence was promised time after time until it was finally gained—not by the Syrians nor given by the French but bestowed on Syria by the British army. Because the French administration was under the control of the Vichy government and had abetted German activities, the British invaded in 1941 and overthrew Vichy France’s administration. However, they left behind the “Free French” who continued essentially the Vichy regime. The last French soldier did not leave until April 17, 1946, which became Syria’s national day.
--------------------------

Of course, once the French gov't turned it's energies elsewhere, the Brits and Americans took advantage to their chance to meddle. I found this excellent article by historian Douglas Little that covers a time period and covert actions in Syria somewhat skipped over in the Polk article. The excerpts I have chosen show actions that took place almost 60 years ago are not so different from today.

1949-1958 Syria: Early Experiments in Covert Action http://coat.ncf.ca/our_magazine/links/issue51/articles/51_12-13.pdf
The CIA secretly encouraged a right-wing military coup in 1949. Repeated CIA covert action during the following decade stimulated Arab antiAmericanism, drove the Syrian left closer to the Kremlin, and made overt military involvement more likely. …

During an unprecedented New Year’s Day meeting with key legislative leaders, Eisenhower requested congressional authorization to use U.S. troops to counter Soviet subversion in the Middle East. He “cited Syrian developments as evidence of Russian intent.” The House approved, 355 to 61 on January 30, 1957, and the Eisenhower Doctrine went into effect. In August, Washington apparently gave authorization for Operation Wappen, the code name for the new U.S. covert operation against Syria. Howard Stone, a CIA political action specialist with experience in Iran and Sudan, had been planning a coup with dissidents inside the Syrian army for three months. Meanwhile, Shishakli assured Kermit Roosevelt that he was ready to reassume power in Syria. According to Charles Yost, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Wappen was “a particularly clumsy CIA plot” and was “penetrated by Syrian intelligence.”

… Syrian counterintelligence chief Sarraj reacted swiftly on August 12, expelling Stone and other CIA agents, arresting their accomplices and placing the U.S. embassy under surveillance. … The U.S. encouraged Turkey and Iraq to mass troops along their borders with Syria; and “if Syrian aggression should provoke a military reaction,” Washington would “expedite shipments of arms to the Middle East and would replace losses as quickly as possible.” “The Sixth Fleet was ordered again to the eastern end of the Mediterranean,” U.S. jets were sent to a NATO base in Turkey, and U.S. “‘ready’ forces, particularly the Strategic Air Command, were alerted.” For the second time in a year, an abortive CIA operation in Syria nearly triggered a superpower confrontation. Eisenhower gradually edged away from the provocative scheme but the Turks refused to demobilize the 50,000 troops they had massed along the Syrian frontier.
---------------

Looking at this larger historical picture reminds me a bit of the movie Groundhog's Day. Not only is current US policy toward Syria laughable (in the tragic sense of that word) but it always has been. The French and Brits have also consistently f***ed things up in that area as well. In fact, the entire history of US and foreign powers meddling in Syria is just one tragic story after another. This Great Game in the ME is not new, and I expect it will continue for a long, long time. The names of the groups may change but the underlying power dynamics, and the ego contests between Great powers remain the same.


Patrick Bahzad

DH,

Thx for putting Akira's comment into context. I was merely objecting to the underlying data, which doesn't add up.

Agree with your point about the Russians' and Putin's stance on all of this. There seems to be some serious questions marks regarding the whole statement.

However, Putin definitely knows which lines to pick, in order to make a point. Parading as the Lord protector of Eastern Christians would probably suit him very well and be a good reason not to address the "national interests" he is defending with his move.

There is also a strong connection with anything happening in Syria and Ukraine, as both theatres are part of the same game. Putting the heat on in either one of them has consequences on the other.

Patrick Bahzad

Valissa,

I'm not disputing the facts and "long term" history you're mentioning in your post. It would be too long to get into it in a comment.

I have addressed the French responsibility in the current Syrian mess 'in extenso' in some pieces devoted to Syria. The main responsibility of the French though was to rely on minorities, very much like the British did, in order to "divide and rule". In Syria that minority was the Alawites. In Lebanon, it was the Maronite Christians.

This piece however, is about the current situation with regard to the Syrian insurgency and as much as I appreciate your eargerness for the "big picture", that big picture is rather simple: the West on the one hand as I mentioned (France included), pairing up with the Gulf States, Turkey and Jordan, in order to enforce "regime change" in Syria.

Each player had a specific role in that overall strategy. The French have been mostly posturing, encouraged by their Qatari allies. Unlike Libya, French involvement on the ground in Syria has been minimal.

Babak Makkinejad

Posturing as the Protector of Eastern Christians was a consistent element of how Tsars dealt with the Ottoman Empire.

Valissa

Patrick, we all have our own ways of making sense of the chaos that is the ME. As I mentioned I very much appreciate your detailed analysis, but I have no military or intelligence background, and I have to place that information in some context or my brain won't remember it. Since my own interest and area of research is "long history" that's how I try and understand the knowledge you are sharing. My long history approach also helps me to be realistic in my expectations of what is possible in the ME, and tempers my expectations of US policy. Realism helps me maintain acceptable blood pressure levels :)

Since I have your attention, I am curious on your thoughts on these recent article regarding potential French actions in Syria...

France to launch air strikes in Syria ‘in coming weeks’ http://www.france24.com/en/20150916-france-launch-airstrikes-syria-islamic-state-jihadists-group-iraq-military-assad

Majority of French people favour sending troops to Syria: poll http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/majority-of-french-people-favour-sending-troops-to-syria--poll/41658330
French President Francois Hollande last week ruled out any ground intervention in Syria, saying that it was up to Syrians and regional states to do the work on the ground. Buy senior government minister Segolene Royal, who is charge of the energy and environment portfolios, refused to entirely close the door to sending ground troops. "The question of sending ground troops is not yet on the table... but obviously nothing is taboo," Royal said on RTL radio.

Germany May Be Leaving the US Anti-Syria Coalition http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/germany-may-be-leaving-us-anti-syria-coalition/ri9704
A speaker of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs added, Germany would welcome additional efforts of Russia in the fight against IS. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even announced the starting of a joint venture between him, Russian foreign minister Lavrov and their French colleague Laurent Fabius with the aim of bringing the Syrian civil war to an end. Lavrov and Fabius are expected to arrive in Berlin this Saturday.
----------------

From your point of view, how are French relations with Russia these days? What do you think of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his reaching out to Russia regarding Syria?


Toivos

BAHZAD thanks for this. I cannot add any insights because the whole thing is way too complicated for me to digest. But it brings to mind something from America's involvement in Lebanon in 1982. If memory serves it was a statement by a Marine CO who suggested that the US should not enter into a civil war that has five sides -- best to step aside and let events develop on their own. It is time for the US to step aside and if Russia wants to try to solve this mess then more power to them.

VietnamVet

PB

Thanks for your concise explanation of the gigantic SNAFU in Syria. Graham Greene novels keep repeating themselves for the past 60 years. This is beyond innocence and incompetence. It is intentional. There is money to be siphoned off of arms sales, reconstruction and military contracting. Refugees are marketing opportunities for Coyotes.

The driving forces are human greed, tribal conflict, and the rape and pillage of the enemy. The West codified warfare but rules disappear in religious conflicts.

Russia is correct. What is ongoing is a repeat of the periodic invasions from the West. This time the cheerleaders are Anne-Marie Slaughter, Anne Applebaum and Victoria Nuland. Syria and Ukraine are battlefields in the attempt to destabilize Russia and force a Kremlin regime change. They are the first salvoes of World War III unless sanity prevails and the combat zones partitioned, peace treaties signed, and refugees returned home.

user1234

Patrick Bahzad,

Thanks for the detailed article!

In 2013 there was a minor media theme, when Pres. Obama requested Congressional approval for strikes against Syria, and he faced serious public opposition, including the capaign with US servicemen holding up signs on twitter.

Do you know anything about how that fit into the official strategy during time period you're talking about?

Thanks again! Looking forward to part 3.

Patrick Bahzad

I'll get into the eastern ghouta chemical attack in part 3, as this could have been one of those game changers, just as the no fly zone could be.

I think the chemical scenario was slowly built up all over the first half of 2013, because it was clear the syrian army was gaming the upper hand.

I'll try and gve you some answers in part 3, which will deal with the division 30 disaster, as well as the way forward, with the Russians now getting involved and the option of the no fly zone becoming an more dangerous option, just as obama's red line was.

Ishmael Zechariah

PB,
"anything happening in Syria and Ukraine, ... are part of the same game".
IMO you are spot on. Would you also say all strife in MENA, Yemen and Turkey included, is part of the same game? Feels as if an existential bout is about to start.

KSA delenda est!

Ishmael Zechariah

user1234

Thanks!

Will

from "Cartago delenda est?" But Carthage ultimately prevailed upon Rome in a roundabout way. Septimius Severus, Imperator Romanus

"Born on 11 April 145 at Leptis Magna (in present-day Libya) as the son of Publius Septimius Geta and Fulvia Pia,[2] Septimius Severus came from a wealthy and distinguished family of equestrian rank. He had Italian Roman ancestry on his mother's side and descended from Punic - and perhaps also Libyan - forebears on his father's side."

Some say he had Punic blood from his father's side also. He spoke Latin with a Punic accent and tellingly "While campaigning against Byzantium he ordered the covering of the tomb of his fellow Carthaginian Hannibal with fine marble." wiki

Van

Patrick
There seems to be a more complex relationship between the US, its allies and Nusra. The US Patriots in Turkey helped Nusra take Idlib. The IAF has repeatedly intervened to help Nusra move along the Golan. The CIA expected its trainees to work with Nusra around Aleppo. Lister of Brookings Institute revealed that the CIA in Turkey had supported the coordination efforts between jihadist factions in Idlib, including Nusra. And there are obviously factions in the US state that want to support Nusra. How does all of this factor into your analysis.

Patrick Bahzad

There certainly is circumstantial evidence to back up such claims, however I think this is more perception than reality, a side effect if you will of what the US startegy has been over the past year. The expected cooperation between CIA trainees and groups allied with JaN in Aleppo and Idlib certainly is a trend most specific to the year 2015. This is the period I want to get into in the next part.

Just to gve you an idea of what may have been going on, it is possible that having exhausted all the possibilities of turning the FSA into an effective fighting force, some people came up with the brilliant idea of backing part of the Islamic insurgents and JaN allies in the hope that this might break up the Salafi/Jihadi insurgency into a purely Sunni syrian branch that might be accommodated with a state of their own, while the international Jihadis would be left out in the cold and targeted just like ISIS.

Certain Israeli interests wishing to break up Syria into small sectarian entities might also encourage such a development. But it is like playing with fire ...

Van

This is a late Friday afternoon back tracking by the White House. Potentially significant. And as predicted by PL.
This is Putin's second gift to Obama on Syria. It just took some hard balancing to drill in the point.
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/world/europe/us-to-begin-military-talks-with-russia-on-syria.html

Ishmael Zechariah

Will,
Were he able to respond, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus would have probably disagreed with you.
Ishmael Zechariah

alba etie

Van
Any thoughts on whether or not the US military will be actively helping the Russian military go after Daesh ?

Poul

The mobilisation of the disgruntled ordinary Sunni Syrians is in my view where the Islamist groups had an advantage. They could offer a political vision of a future Syria with more meat on it and better grounded in local culture than "Democracy!".

And when people start to die in large numbers the desire for revenge becomes a powerful factor in mobilising more supporters. Revenge is rarely guided by moderation which gives groups like Jabhat al-Nusra & Ahrar al-Sham political tailwind.

rjj

question WRT Akira linked material: "undulant rhetoric"??? or pseudo-undulant rhetoric ????

"The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire... focuses on the debasement of language in political rhetoric.... it is propaganda that keeps the fragile empires afloat, and when language becomes too distorted, [people] succumb to a condition called "undulant rhetoric" and are placed in a Hospital for Rhetorical Diseases."

rjj

IOW is the poster A. a fake true believer?

CarlD

Patrick,

Could there be a Russian interest in obliterating the Chechens operating in Syria?

Johnny Reims

PB
Thanks for this essay. Looks like you, perhaps, are creating a strategic version of the tactically focused VN Primer by Col. Hackworth.

If you were to recommend one book (in English, por favor) on the Foreign Legion, what would it be?

An assignat for your thoughts (I may be foreshadowing the plight of the USD with that reference).

Valissa of the Back Bay Fens

If I recall, back during your biker days and thereafter, you became a fen fan of Murrel’s Inlet, probably sans golf courses.

Just to let you know… on US 17 is a place called Harrelson’s. It has better fish than the shrimp dock in Georgetown (SC, of course). Shrimp is still better at the shrimp dock.

Those salt marshes all up and down the East Coast are mighty pretty this time of year.

Globus Pallidus XI

A detailed and intelligent commentary. Indeed, I think a lot of the problem is that the American elites have been so coddled and so spoiled that failure no longer means anything to them. No matter how bad their military, foreign policy, or economic blunders, they will continue to draw big salaries and be treated as serious people etc. Lose a billion dollars? Well, then they just get bailed out by the public treasury. An engineer would say that their feedback systems are broken - they are operating 'open loop.' They live in a bubble surrounded by an entire culture of sycophants - is it any wonder that American policy makes no sense?

On another topic, I remain astonished at the censorship of the root cause of the current Syrian crisis, which was the Baathist policy of deliberately igniting a population explosion by outlawing the sale and possession of any kind of contraceptives, and propagandizing that it was every woman's patriotic duty to have six kids. So in 1970 the population was 5 million, and by 2010 it was 22 million, food started to run out, there were all these angry unemployed young men, and that never works out well.

No this was not 'climate change' - the water table was dropping precipitously even when rainfall was normal or above normal.

You can chant 'people are the ultimate resource' until you are blue in the face, but no society without an open frontier has ever prospered with this kind of growth rate.

Ah, but it is dogma that rapid population growth simply cannot ever be anything more than an unalloyed good, therefore any consideration of demographics cannot be allowed. The only possible explanation for opposition to established dogma must be racism. Or Nazism. Or socialism. Or whatever other boogyman is trending current.

"The great events of history are often due to secular changes in the growth of population and other fundamental economic causes, which, escaping by their gradual character the notice of contemporary observers, are attributed to the follies of statesmen or the fanaticism of atheists." - John Maynard Keynes

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