Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Getting Serious About Syria

The bleeding orifice known as Syria has once again erupted, due to a chemical weapons attack in Douma that took a number of civilian lives, or so it seems.I say this because media has become a weapon in modern warfare, the Sunni Syrian rebels are more than capable of rigging something up and as the self inspecting Iranians would tell you about the pictures and videos they send to the IAEA as 'compliance,' such things are very easy to stage.

President Trump has promised 'a high price' for the attack, referred to Syria's dictator as 'that animal Assad,' (why slander animals?) and actually took the opportunity to cite Putin as responsible. I suppose that was just for domestic politics.

To date there was one very successful air raid on a Syrian regime airbase east of Homs which was crawling with Iranians. Putin reportedly says it was the work of the always effective Israeli air force, but my Lil' Birdies in Israel just gave a wry chuckle when I tried to confirm this. My guess is that it very well might have been, given the Iranian connection, but if it was, the IDF likely had other reasons rather than retaliating for the gas attack. One of them was probably to send a direct message to Iranian President Rouhani, who's been doing some chest pounding lately that Israel is not prepared to let them turn Syria into another Gaza or Lebanon.

Meanwhile, a second guided missile U.S. destroyer, the USS Porter has been sent to the Syrian coast to join the USS Donald Cook, a similar ship already there.

What happens next is anyone's guess.

Needless to say, the whole assortment of isolationist paleo cons, pro-Iran leftists and Israel haters in general are screaming bloody murder. They want us out of Syria yesterday. John Bolton being named National Security Advisor made them particularly insane.

But no matter matter what happened or didn't happen in Douma, pulling out of Syria would be a huge strategic error and a bad mistake. Here's why.

Syria was where ISIS got its start emerging from a group of 'moderate' Sunni rebels who were mostly al-Qaeda, its affiliates like al-Nusrah or other Islamists and salafists. Obama, along with his BFF Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Qatar armed, trained and financed these people, bypassing congress in the process.

As he was leaving, our now ex-president was careful to drop the mess into other hands, stating that it would take years to defeat ISIS and take back the territories they help in Syria and Iraq. President Trump said it could be done in a matter of months and did exactly that. Our allies in that effort were the Kurds. The Iraqi army that dropped their weapons and ran from ISIS before were mostly useful in mopping up afterwards.

When Obama was president, he gave the Kurds just enough ammo and supplies to barely hold their own. The Israelis, with long time close connections with the Kurds were able to supply some more. And When Donald Trump came in and put US air, naval and ground forces into the equation, the Kurdish Persh Merga played a key role in destroying ISIS on the ground and driving them out of their Iraqi and Syrian strongholds.

Their reward was to have the Shi'ite Iraqi government steal the oil rich city of Kirkuk, violating the original Iraqi federation agreement and making a Kurdish state even within the federation financially impossible. And for the Turks to attack them and seize Kurdish territory in Syria's northern border region.

Here's the present situation. The Turks have retreated after being 'urged to do so' by Iran's President Rouhani. The U.S. still has about 2,000 ground troops in Syria, mostly embedded with Kurdish forces, which also include Yazedi and Christians as well as civilians.

Aside from the certain bloodbath, if we leave we hand Iran a major victory, a land passage between their colony in Iraq and their colony in Lebanon. And we give them access to the Mediterranean. Also, we would give Iran yet another reason to consider the US an easy foe who is afraid of them.

Finally, it would mean that the Kurds, our true allies would be destroyed.

History gives us numerous examples of what happens to world powers who allow their allies to be neutralized and liquidated. Or even worse, co-opted to fighting on the other side.

Czechoslovakia in 1938 had a strong, well trained and well armed military, excellent border fortifications and protective terrain in the mountain passes and dense forests bordering Germany. They even had a major arms manufacturer in Skoda, comparable to Krup. Hitler could never have attacked the west successfully with that on his borders, because it would have meant a two front war, something he and the Germans dreaded and weren't ready for.

When Britain and France sold out the Czechs, not only did they ensure that Hitler would attack them when he was ready, but that Britain and France were so frightened of war that they would do anything to prevent it. And it also sent a message to Stalin, who had been talking earnestly to Britain and France about an alliance or mutual defense pact to keep the Germans at bay that a non-aggression pact with Hitler was a far better bet.

At the start of the Punic Wars, Carthage allowed its allies in Sicily to be destroyed simply because a war might cost two much money. Sicily's resources and manpower were denied to them, as were its ports, shipyards and its strategic position within easy sailing range of Carthage heading south and close to Rome heading Northeast. While the Carthaginians won (or tied, depending on how you see it) the first Punic War, they lost the others once Rome had a navy. Had they backed their Sicilian allies, Hannibal might have invaded from the south in easy distance to Rome instead of having to leave from Spain, travel the Alps and lose a portion of his men and war elephants in the process before he ever was able to fight in Italy.

There are numerous other examples.

But what about the Russians?

Putin's main interest in Syria is twofold. The main thing for him is the warm water ports at Tarshish and Latakia. Secondary is appeasing his Iranian allies. And when it comes to Iran, Putin's position is by necessity somewhat ambivalent. The U.S. pulling out of Syria is not really in Russia's best interest.

He understands that the Israelis will simply not allow Iran to put missile or air bases in Syria. If a hot war breaks out, Russian personnel will be caught in the middle of it, and if Russia intervenes and is involved in a proxy war on Iran's side, the U.S. will do the same with Israel, and Russia can't afford a war just now. Or really, to alienate Israel, with whom Russia still has relatively cordial relations.

As I pointed out previously, during the Obama years Russia and Israel put together an actual hotline between the Kremlin and it's equivalent in Tel Aviv. The idea was to avoid conflicts and any casualties for Russian personnel. And part of it involved Russia agreeing to turn a blind eye to Israeli attacks on Hezbollah or Iranians or weapons shipments going to these parties as long as no Russians got killed. The agreement has worked well so far. Even though Putin claims the Israelis bombed that air base and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called it “a very dangerous development” Putin hasn't done anything about it, nor would it serve him or Russia to do so.

Even less to Russia's liking, President Trump is not Obama and might just decide to fix America's Iran problem once and for all.

So given some access to the ports and actual negotiations with the president on settling the Syria question, Putin would likely be willing to cut a deal...given the alternatives.

As for Syria's ultimate destiny, I'm ambivalent as long as Iran is kept out of the picture, which is vital for U.S. interests. Just rebuilding its infrastructure after the war is going to take billions, which I see no reason for the American taxpayer to shell out...no nation building, please. If anything, Syria should become the new Kurdistan, at least a decent piece of it. They're owed at least that much, at least.

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