Friday, October 02, 2015

Russian Chess

Russian Airstrikes Defend Assad Stronghold - Sam Dagher

Russia's first airstrikes in Syria showed a meticulously planned effort to eliminate any rebel threat to the coastal Alawite stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, analysts said. The Russian raids hew closely to an arc running on the fringes of this strategic core.

The airstrikes highlighted a tightening military and strategic alliance among Russia and other pro-regime parties, such as Iran and Hizbullah
(Wall Street Journal)

Iran Troops to Join Syria War - Laila Bassam & Andrew Osborn

Hundreds of Iranian troops had reached Syria in the past 10 days with weapons to mount a major ground offensive, two Lebanese sources told Reuters on Thursday. "The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria - soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers...we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more," one source said.

Master the strategy - Caroline Glick

[T]he Obama administration was caught off guard by Russia's rapid rise in Syria.

As the Russians began bombing a US-supported militia along the Damascus-Homs highway, Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with his Russia counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, at the UN. Just hours before their meeting Kerry was insisting that Russia's presence in Syria would likely be a positive development.

Reacting to the administration's humiliation, Republican Sen. John McCain said, "This administration has confused our friends, encouraged our enemies, mistaken an excess of caution for prudence and replaced the risks of action with the perils of inaction."

McCain added that Russian President Vladimir Putin had stepped "into the wreckage of this administration's Middle East policy." While directed at the administration, McCain's general point is universally applicable. Today is no time for an overabundance of caution.

The system of centralized regimes that held sway in the Arab world since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago has unraveled. The shape of the new order has yet to be determined.

The war in Syria and the chaos and instability engulfing the region are part and parcel of the birth pangs of a new regional governing architecture now taking form. Actions taken by regional and global actors today will likely well influence power relations for generations. Putin understands the opportunity of the moment. He views the decomposition of Syria as an opportunity to rebuild Russia's power and influence in the Middle East — at America's expense.

Russia isn't the only strategic player seeking to exploit the war in Syria and the regional chaos. Turkey and Iran are also working assiduously to take advantage of the current absence of order to advance their long term interests.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is exploiting the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq to fight the Kurds in both countries. Erdogan's goal is twofold: to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdistan and to disenfranchise the Kurds in Turkey.

As for Iran, Syria is Iran's bulwark against Sunni power in the Arab world and the logistical base for Tehran's Shi'ite foreign legion Hezbollah. Iranian dictator Ali Khamenei is willing to fight to the bitter end to hold as much of Syrian territory as possible. Broadly speaking, Iran views the breakup of the Arab state system as both a threat and an opportunity. The chaos threatens Iran, because it has radicalized the Sunni world. If Sunni forces unite, their numeric advantage against Shi'ite Iran will imperil it.

The power of Sunni numbers is the reason Bashar Assad now controls a mere sixth of Syrian territory. To prevent his fate from befalling them, the Iranians seek to destabilize neighboring regimes and where possible install proxy governments in their stead.

Iran's cultivation of alliances and proxy relationships with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida, and its phony war against Islamic State all point to an overarching goal of keeping Sunni forces separated and dependent on Tehran.
[Jerusalem Post via Jewish World Review]

Obama's Syria Debacle - Charles Krauthammer, MD

If it had the wit, the Obama administration would be not angered, but appropriately humiliated. President Obama has, once again, been totally outmaneuvered by Vladimir Putin.

Two days earlier at the United Nations, Obama had welcomed the return, in force, of the Russian military to the Middle East — for the first time in decades — in order to help fight the Islamic State.

The ruse was transparent from the beginning. Russia is not in Syria to fight the Islamic State. The Kremlin was sending fighter planes, air-to-air missiles and SA-22 anti-aircraft batteries. Against an Islamic State that has no air force, no planes, no helicopters?

Russia then sent reconnaissance drones over Western Idlib and Hama, where there are no Islamic State fighters. Followed by bombing attacks on Homs and other opposition strongholds that had nothing to do with the Islamic State.

Indeed, some of these bombed fighters were U.S. trained and equipped. Asked if we didn't have an obligation to support our own allies on the ground, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter bumbled that Russia's actions exposed its policy as self-contradictory. Carter made it sound as if the Russian offense was to have perpetrated an oxymoron, rather than a provocation — and a direct challenge to what's left of the U.S. policy of supporting a moderate opposition.

The whole point of Russian intervention is to maintain Assad in power. Putin has no interest in fighting the Islamic State. Indeed, the second round of Russian air attacks was on rival insurgents opposed to the Islamic State.

The Islamic State is nothing but a pretense for Russian intervention. And Obama fell for it.

Just three weeks ago, Obama chided Russia for its military buildup, wagging his finger that it was "doomed to failure." Yet by Monday he was publicly welcoming Russia to join the fight against the Islamic State. He not only acquiesced to the Russian buildup, he held an ostentatious meeting with Putin on the subject, thereby marking the ignominious collapse of Obama's vaunted campaign to isolate Putin diplomatically over Crimea.

Putin then showed his utter contempt for Obama by launching his air campaign against our erstwhile anti-Assad allies not 48 hours after meeting Obama. Which the U.S. found out about when a Russian general knocked on the door of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and delivered a brusque demarche announcing that the attack would begin within an hour and warning the U.S. to get out of the way.

In his subsequent news conference, Carter averred that he found such Russian behavior "unprofessional."

Good grief. Russia, with its inferior military and hemorrhaging economy, had just eaten Carter's lunch, seizing the initiative and exposing American powerlessness — and the secretary of defense deplores what? Russia's lack of professional etiquette.

Makes you want to weep.
[Washington Post via Jewish World Review]

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