Tag Archives: Russians in Syria

Obama’s Mideast muddle


The U.S.’ strategic position in the Middle East is becoming increasingly muddled by internal conflicts in the Obama Administration’s strategy.
For one thing, Washington finds itself engaged in a conflict with the Russians through surrogates in the complex Syrian civil war. Moscow supports the regime of Basher al Assad whose ruthlessness against its internal enemies now seven years ago turned popular peaceful demonstrations into an escalating armed conflict.
Obama gave tepid support, if from time to time withdrawing behind red lines he had drawn. to a small democratic position to al Assad. But it has been virtually annihilated in the growing conflict against the regime led by various terrorist groups, including Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] and al Qaeda. The most recent episode has been a devastating attack by Russian aircraft on a splinter of the democratic moderates ostensibly supported by Washington. The growing success of Daesh in Syria, of course, becomes a problem on the larger screen for Washington who is still pondering how to curtail its growing worldwide influence, including on so=called American “lone wolf” terrorists.
A minor crisis ensued when the Russians a few days ago bombed a group of anti-al Assad rebels backed by Washington. Moscow, apparently attempting to avoid a more open conflict with the U.S., claims its bombers were not informed adequately about the nature of the largely civilian population it attacked. But that seems a lame excuse given the access of the Russians not only to al Assad’s intelligence but the increasingly active participation of the Tehran mullahs, now cozying up to the Russians.
The U.S. position, too, is becoming less transparent and more committed with its alliance to the Saudis who support rebel Syrian groups. Inferentially, the U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry’s solution, a negotiated settlement which would see the departure of al Assad, seems further away than ever. Negotiations among all the parties in Geneva have achieved little more than a further definition of their varying positions.
The American position has become even more confused with the denunciation of the earlier aspects of the problem by a memorandum signed by 51 career foreign service officers. Leaked to the mainstream media, it blames the Obama Administration for refusing to pursue a policy of destruction of the al Assad regime. Aside from a violation of the unspoken code of ethics among career appointees to contain their opposition to policy within official channels, the memo seems tries to shut the barn door after the horse had long been stolen. That may have been a solution early on in the Syrian Civil War, but with al Assad at least temporarily improving his position with growing Russian and Iranian assistance, it hardly seems an answer to the present difficulties.
Critics of the American diplomats’ position point out it offers no solution to the current military impasse. The danger, of course, is that Vladimir Putin, up against European and American opposition in his seizure of Crime, and efforts to dominate Ukraine, and his threats to the Baltic States, may overplay his hand. A further escalation by Russian forces in Syria, with the likelihood they could defeat al Assad’s internal opposition, would help solve the growing problem of Islamic terrorism, a threat to Moscow as it its to other powers. But it would likely require an American response rather than see the Russians – with their new Tehran mullahs’ assistance – reestablish a strategic hold in one of the Mideast’s most important states.
The Russian threat, in part, has already forced the Israelis – on not very good terms with the Obama Administration – into a series of personal negotiating trips to Moscow by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How far Netanyahu is coordinating these negotiations with the Obama Administration isn’t altogether clear. Nor is the Chinese position, although of lesser importance, apparent.
One thing does seem obvious. The Obama Administration is rapidly losing any ability to influence the outcome of the Syrian civil war. With so many players – and such enormous potential impact on its Arab neighbors – that becomes another major defeat for Obama’s foreign policy and another hot potato he is leaving for his successor next year, whoever he may be and however qualified to deal with the situation.
sws-06-26-16

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Russians facing up to a Syrian climax?


With Pres. Obama’s self admission that the U.S. has no Syria strategy and a destabilizing flood of millions of refugees piling into neighboring countries and now Europe, Vladimir Putin who usually plays it by ear seems to be betting on a climax to the barbarous five-year civil war.
U.S. sources report that Moscow is expanding its base at Latakia, Syria’s chief port and the traditional home of Pres. Basher al-Assad’s Alawite minority. The Alawites, a Shia offspring and therefore culturally linked to Iran’s mullahs, despite their inferior numbers have dominated recent Syrian regimes. Their hold on the Syrian Air Force, long time client of the Soviets/Russians, was a fulcrum to power in the multi-ethnic, always unstable caricature of a state the French created in the post –World War Ottoman empire implosion.
But when peaceful demands for reform of the Syrian regime were brutally repressed by al-Assad and loosed the whole gamut of conflicting religious and ethnic forces, al-Basher reacted with unrestrained violence. That hasn’t been enough, despite the fragmentation of the opposition and no help from the U.S. – after an initial Obama statement of support and then withdrawal – to restore his rule. The Damascus regime, despite the conflict among its opponents, appears to be on its last legs.
Furthermore, Obama’s flirtation with the Tehran mullahs, ostensibly to end their immediate pursuit of nuclear weapons, has realigned Mideast forces. Fear and opposition to Tehran’s bid to become the hegemonic power in the region – now seemingly with U.S. acquiescence — has created a new and tacit alliance among the Gulf states, Egypt, and even Israel, against the American-Iranian modus operandi – if indeed one has been successfully negotiated.
In order to reassure America’s traditional allies in the region that his deal with Iran would not jeopardize their security, Obama has made repeated promises to increase U.S. assistance. This past week in Washington, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz publicly accepted Obama’s assurances – even though Saudi spokesman privately leaked their unassuaged andd growing concern with the U.S.-Iran deal.
Encouraged by their beating off, at least temporarily, a takeover by pro-Iranian forces in neighboring Yemen which the Saudis consider vital to their security, the Saudis are privately announcing their continued effort to topple al-Basher in Syria. The aggressive nature of what is traditionally accommodating Saudi policy obviously has to do with al-Basher’s Iranian alliance, anathema to Jeddah and its Sunni Arab following.
The Saudis are buying billions worth of arms, from the U.S. and Western Europeans, in what their friends in the Western media call their attempt to turn themselves into a major military power. Ironically, Obama has had to go along with what now is the seemingly inevitable unstable arms race in the region between Iran and its allies and the Gulf states and Egypt, which critics of his Iranian deal promised would be its dangerous outcome.
Although it has been trumpeted as Putin’s renewed effort to bolster the besieged al-Assad regime – with its main support coming from Iran and the mullahs’ Levantine ally, the Lebanese Hezbollah – something else may be afoot.
Putin just told a Vladivostok audience – at the other end of a Russian empire suffering economic devastation with a halving of the oil and gas price and U.S. and European sanctions over his Ukraine aggression – that al-Assad was ready for a compromise. But what the reinforcement of the Russian installations in Latakia may mean is that Putin anticipates a Syrian breakup and he is grabbing onto a piece of the carcass dominated by his Alawite allies. That would give even Moscow’s sagging international stature a continuing spoon in the continuing boiling Mideast pot.
But it puts the catch-up incremental U.S. strategy for peace and stability in the area in that much more jeopardy.
sws-09-05-15