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17 October 2015

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David Habakkuk

All,

An 'Andrej I. Schmelzer', or 'A.I. Schmelzer' comments regularly on the 'Irrussianality' blog run by Paul Robinson.

(See https://irrussianality.wordpress.com/ .)

This is, to my mind, one of the most interesting blogs on contemporary Russian affairs. Part of the reason is Robinson's own background. Brought up in Cardiff, after doing an undergraduate degree at Oxford, he spent five years in our Army Intelligence, and then went back to academic life, first at Toronto and then back at Oxford.

His doctoral thesis, which became a book, was on 'The White Army in Exile, 1920-41' – which gives some indication of his instinctive political sympathies.

An ironic consequence of this was that, earlier than anyone else of whom I am aware, Robinson grasped certain central elements of Putin's response to the patent intellectual bankruptcy of the Bolshevik tradition.

In January 2004, he published an article in the 'Spectator' entitled 'Putin's Might is White', in which he remarked:

'While Putin is indeed an autocrat, he is no Red Tsar. He is a typical Soviet radish — red on the outside but white at the core. He is the heir not of Lenin and Trotsky, but of the White officers who fought to save Russia from communism in the civil war of 1917 to 1921. Depending on one's view of the Whites, that may or may not be a good thing. But, to most, White is undoubtedly better than Red, and Putin's authoritarian rule gives Russia comparatively little to fear.'

(See http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/10th-january-2004/18/putins-might-is-white .)

Sadly, to my mind, Paul Robinson has ended up as a professor in Ottawa – we could do with his good counsel closer to home. Partly because his blog is relatively recent, it has not yet attracted the kind of wide-ranging discussions which we have here at SST.

However, I have read Schmelzer's comments on numerous occasions, and although I sometimes wish he could settle on a single transliteration of his name, his points of view are commonly both idiosyncratic and interesting.

FB Ali

It would have helped to get some "provenance" of the author of this piece.

The casual reader will not realise from the piece that the "protests" (that led to the civil war) were in reality an uprising orchestrated by the Brotherhood and their ME backers.

I doubt if the Russians intervened, even "partly", to prevent Assad from becoming an Iranian puppet. They have larger fish to fry. I also doubt very much that Isreali "non-reaction" was due to any Russian "argument" about Iran; Israel can't afford to alienate Russia by stupid interventions in Syria now.

Overall, it seems to me, the article places too much emphasis on the role of Iran in Syria, and Iranian influence as a factor in other parties' calculations.

Babak Makkinejad

All:

Some useful ideas from Lt. General Flynn:

https://medium.com/the-bridge/lieutenant-general-retired-michael-flynn-and-the-iranian-nuclear-agreement-f732535095dc

Babak Makkinejad

All:

Speech by Ambassador Freeman on 10/14/2015

http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/speeches/lessons-americas-continuing-misadventures-middle-east

The Beaver

Colonel

Isn't his brother Maher, leader of the Presidential Guard's 4th Armoured Division who was seen as the driving force behind the violent crackdowns against the protesters in Da'ara?

Maher was the pretender after the death of his eldest brother Basil but it was rumoured that because of his bad temper, Bashar was called and anointed as the chosen one. He is known to be a bad dude even shooting his brother-in-law (he didn't want his sister to marry) in the stomach.

Babak Makkinejad

My understanding has been that Iranian officials had been requesting active Russian help in Syria over a year ago. I suspect that Russia moved only after the introduction of TOW missiles helped the anti-government forces achieve battle field gains.

I also understand that fuel for Syria comes from Iran.

ISL

AJ Schmeltzer,

Interesting post, once I ignore your characterization "puppet." Little in recent middle east history suggests that client states act as puppets, political intrigue seems a natural character of countries in this part of the world and their interactions. Filled with back stabbing and shifting alliances.

I would suggest "strategic alliance," instead of puppet.

FB Ali: I too doubt the Russian's care about "Iranian influence in Syria" the Russia-Iran power relationship is too dis-equal for Russia to care. Where exactly is either going to get weapons (or a UN veto) if they were to bite back?

FB Ali

I presume you meant "useful", ie, ironically.

With apologies to anyone who has a high opinion of Lt Gen Flynn, what he says in the link is arrant nonsense. Quite apart from his views on the nuclear deal with Iran, it appears he swallows whole everything he is fed by his contacts in the "traditionally American-leaning nations". Or, he is working for some commercial enterprise that would profit by the US following the policies he is now advocating, eg, "Open the entire region to nuclear energy..."

Full of the usual good sense and wisdom, Chas Freeman's views, in the other link you have provided, are like bright day to Flynn's night.

PaulR

Thank you, David, for your kind words about my blog. I hope that you and others from 'Sic Semper Tyrannis' can join A.J. Schmeltzer in commenting on Irrussianality. I have just posted a new piece, which you can read at: https://irrussianality.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/lifestyle-and-identity/

Kooshy

Unfortunately the Author of this earlier comment, doesn’t show any evidence to back his opinions much of what he says don't make any geopolitical sense to Russia China' interests. Now in my opinion geopolitically speaking all along this has been an exercise to limit / block the access to the Mediterranean Sea. It's about who is allowed and can have access to this sea, a sea that connects two oceans 2, 3 seas and three major continents. Basically Iraq and Syria are the last leg of any hope for NATO to control all the access to Mediterranean by China, Russia and Iran through Iran and Iraq. After US' failure to close the access in Iraq the last NATO hope to block such an access remains to be Syria. Fortunately I don't see any chance NATO can ever archive this in Syria, Iraq or Ukraine. It's a costly wishful exercise This is the reason from get go Russia, China and Iran stood by Assad and proposed a free democratic transition.

Babak Makkinejad

I think he is saying that the security-centric, militarily robust policies and responses of the United States, since 2001, are not constructive to the interests of the United States. He acknowledges that US has been in war with a portion of Islam for 14 years with no end in sight.

He understands and accepts that much.

Furthermore, he is suggesting a strategic approach towards MENA region that is initiated by the United States - since no one else could do it - that would redirect and refocus the attention of those countries towards the arena of development and modernization and away from the pursuit of a Muslim Utopia or Sunni-inspired violence against any and all - including the Shia.

While I understand that he has a beef with Iran, I chose to concentrate on the positive content of his views - the need for the articulation of a different and positive future for Islamdom away from the current situation.

In regards to Iran, one of his observations is not that different than Ambassador Freeman or Lt. General Odom; that the United States does not have a strategic approach towards her.

Ambassador Freeman, speaking of Iranian sphere, is alluding to the public Iranian offer last year, made by the Secretary of Iranian National Security Council, General Shamkhani (an ethnic Arab), for the United States to recognize the Iranian Sphere (and by implication there being an American sphere) so that "we do not work at cross-purposes of each other.).

Since the United States has accepted all the Iranian activities within NPT, the foremost obstacle between Iran and the United States for reaching an strategic understanding, in the opinion of Lt. General Odom, has been removed.

It is interesting for me that these 3 sane forces are all retired.

Does one have to be retired in the United States to suggest sane policies?

Abu Sinan

A good example of the sectarianism and hate that filled the anti-Assad protests from day one: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TUu-yGTQW00

Pirouz

4) This view doesn’t appear to take into consideration IRGC-QF success with NDF among Alawite and non-muslim segments of Syrian society.

6) The Iranian military presence has always been far too small for this notion of “fiefdom” to take effect. On military matters against the forces arrayed against them, yes the Syrians have proven themselves less than capable and have to rely on the Iranians (and now Russians). But this sort of reliance shouldn’t be interpreted as encompassing that of being imperial in nature.

7) Actually inside Iran, there is a “fricture” of sorts but it isn’t as depicted correctly here. It is between a minority of elites termed “pro-minimal engagement” that seeks to scale back intervention in neighboring states to a “bare minimum,” and the majority “pro-stabilization” camp that advocates continued robust intervention, the latter of which remains dominant.

Hopefully the Russian depictions cast here by Mr. Schmeltzer are more accurate than the Iranian.

VietnamVet

Babak

Around 9/11 there was unrecorded change over. Ambassador Freeman represents last century’s realists who are now retired, waiting oblivion.

Carter started deregulation. Reagan ignited the revolution. Clinton/Gore reinvented government by privatizing it. In the new century during the younger Bush presidency, the federal government stopped serving the people. It is run for the big campaign contributors; i.e. Military Contractors and Wall Street. Barrack Obama followed his predecessors lead and introduced Drone Assassination (90% of the causalities are collateral damage) and routine regime change. But, most importantly, if the crazies and crooks had money, they could make the government do what they wanted. No one had to worry about being fired for incompetence, let alone being jailed for their crimes.

This is how the USA ended up opposing Russia in the Syrian Civil War and on the side of the head choppers. And, as a byproduct this turned Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey and Greece into failed states that allowed almost a million refugees to flood into Europe with more coming.

oofda

Here is a related article by Anatol Lieven, a noted Russian security affairs academic. He is now at Georgetown University in Qatar.

Money Quote: The US' inability to block Russia's new strategy is also because, in private, considerable parts of the security and intelligence communities in Washington and other Western capitals essentially agree with Russian analyses: that the moderate Syrian opposition is not developing as a serious military force.

Hope that is taking root.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/10/putin-shows-realism-syria-151013102705917.html

Thomas

"Does one have to be retired in the United States to suggest sane policies?"

Yes, Borg Brother does not tolerate dissent.

Seamus Padraig

"In particular, Iranian opened Islamic schools, imposition of Iranian social norms etc. all could backfire, and alienate secular and currently loyal Sunnis away from Assad."

Is this true? Are the Iranians really now trying to run social policy in Syria? I've never heard of it.

LeaNder

"although I sometimes wish he could settle on a single transliteration of his name"

David, no doubt highly interesting rhetorical maneuvers to the extend I followed your hint.

A.I.Schmelzer

Concerning the nature of the uprising:

Well, this got rather more attention then I expected, and I apologize for poor formatting and some grammar errors.

Short biography: My major is in Biophysics, mostly in mathematical modelling.
I do view this essay in the same view as a view mathematical models. All mathematical models are wrong (all the time as a matter of fact), the question is: Are they usefull?

Please do not take me overly seriously, I am a bog standart chairborne guy in Germany with absolutly no access to any privileged information, and am completely surprised that this became an article rather then a comment.
And yes, I am the same A.I.Schmelzer as on irrussianality, which is a blog I can not recommend enough.

Concerning the initial protests against Assad, I think there were several distinct interplaying mechanics around there:

1: A second attempt at a power seizure by the Muslim brotherhood. As is the norm for such second tries, the Muslim brotherhood doubled down on violence and terrorism.
Emboldened by the Muslim Brotherhoods success in Egypt, and after extensive preperation including consultations with interested foreign powers, the Muslim brotherhood made its own play for power.
As this is the Syrian Muslim brotherhood we are talking about, scant regard was given concerning casulties, laws or methods.

2: Drought induced economic crisis in Syria:
A series of record breaking droughts in Syria led to a large amount of rural to Urban migration, the instutional resources of the Syrian goverment were not capable of dealing with this influx.
The migration of mainly conservative and impoverished Sunnis into secular Sunni/Non Sunni cities increased religious and ethnic polarization (this is a general feature, ethnic and sectarian polarization nearly always increases in times of scant resources). The muslim brotherhood and other islamists benefited immensely from the large pool of dissatisfied and marginalized Sunnis. That these potential Islamlists were not congregated (geographically) close to positions of power as opposed to being scattered in random villagers was, from the Islamist pov., even better.


3: US regime change:
The generalized "regime change Associated", did its magic by promising certain vocal but military and demographically marginal strata of the Syrian population everything they want, while also ruling out traditional ways of conflict resolution.
One should be aware that US regime change runs on an autopilot (Lieven), and actually has some pretty beurocratic structures which are immensely interested in extending and expanding their reach.
For me it would appear that US foreign policy, and US regime change operations, are perhaps more driven by beurocratic inertia, individual career promotion, sheer randomness and sentiments best summarized by "it seemed like a good idea at that time", and less by coherant long term strategies, but that is just my opinion.

The prospect of a future US intervention also served to reinforce maximalist positions on the side of the respective opposition factions, and also provided the strongest possible incentives for the Syrian goverment to basically crush the opposition so hard that the US could no longer "salvage", let alone "save" them.
Arguably, both of these things have already happened.

@ Pirouz

The Iranian impact is certainly decisive, which counts for more then simply tabulating Iranian numbers in Syria. Secondly, the conditions in Syria will likely lead to a considerable exodus amongst decently educated loyalist Syrians. These fleeing engineers/physicians/teachers etc. will leave holes in the Syrian fabric and the only possible replacements for these people would come from Iran. The impact, in an non western country, that a single teacher or preacher/iman can have on an entire village is pretty astounding. If Iran sends the right people, and supports them, they will have a lot more influence down the line then their numbers would suggest.

We may also be losing each other in translation concerning the possible "faultlines" inside Iran, for example, among those who favor a lesser (not "minimal") degree of engagement in Syria, sometimes a case is made that the Elite of the Quds forces serves Iran better when they are available as a reserve to counter blows by adversaries elsewhere (like, in f.e. Afghanistan) particularly since such blows are more likely if those adversaries perceive Iran to be overextended in Syria, or those who would prefer to "stabilize Iraq" first, as opposed to going for both Iraq and Syria or going for Syria first. I would expect that there are considerable discussion between various Iranian factions behind the scenes, partly along these lines.

"Scaling things back to a bare minimum" is something I have not really heard out of Iran so far, and is most certainly a minority position.


Concerning a source:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/syria-leader-assad-seeks-russian-protection-from-ally-iran-a-1056263.html

Spiegel is very mainstream media though, and the article of course pays tribute to the neccessary MSM soundbites. It does however list named sources, and from my experience with that author, he is unlikely to directly lie (as in stating that Iran builds hosseiniehs in Syria when it does not), unless it is a "neccessary party line lie" (such as that Russia isnt targetting IS at all).


Irans successes with training NDF forces do not rule out some degree of resentment over possible imposition of Iranian cultural mores.

From some actual experience with Ossetians, the Ossetians grumble quite a lot about the Russians behaving like a mixture of Landlords and "bigger brothers", and would the situation would likely improve if the Russians were a bit less arrogant in their interactions with ossetines, but they still vastly prefer the Russians over the Georgians, and will fight hard for their land.

Of course, the relationship between Russian and Ossetia is vastly different from the one between Iran and Syria, but I hope you get my drift now.

Thomas

"Secondly, the conditions in Syria will likely lead to a considerable exodus amongst decently educated loyalist Syrians. These fleeing engineers/physicians/teachers etc. will leave holes in the Syrian fabric and the only possible replacements for these people would come from Iran."

And why wouldn't a large percent return home once the conflict is closed and the situation is stabilized?

A.I.Schmelzer

The situation is exceedingly unlikely to stabilize as long as various global and regional powers in that region work to prevent such a stabilization. This is excarbated by Syrias difficult to defend borders, and by the fact that Syrias peculiarities endow it with a plethora of destabilizing fault lines.

Destabilizing a nation is far easier then stabilizing it, just as destruction is by far easier then construction.

Secondly, returning home may would often be another journey into considerable uncertainity. This of course depends on where exactly they fled too, but do not be too optimistic of great return movements.

Historically, those are the exception not the rule.

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