Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Have Fun Storming the Castle

Russia holds the reins of the UN Security Council this month. Don't trust the Russians to resolve the civil war in Syria. Let them enjoy intervention. Don't save them.

Russia will use their ability to set the agenda to bolster their efforts in Syria:

"There are new initiatives related to our presidency of the Security Council in September," RIA quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying. "(The special meeting) .. will be devoted to discussion of the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa in the context of a terrorism threat."

We must not trust the Russians:

On Sept. 4, Mr. Putin announced that Russia had been providing military aid to Damascus against the Islamic State — support that has recently been ramped up. He also called for “some kind of an international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism.” This is in keeping with Moscow’s Syria policy, which has been consistent since 2010: Block any American-backed move to remove Mr. Assad from power and instead force the West to embrace him as a partner. ...

In promoting a rapprochement between Russia and the West over the Islamic State, Mr. Putin hopes to rehabilitate himself, just as he did after Sept. 11. Back then, Mr. Putin convinced the West that the threat it faced in Afghanistan and elsewhere was the same as Russia faced in Chechnya. By doing so, Russia’s president was able to tamp down Western criticism of Russia’s brutality in Chechnya.

The Kremlin saw the West’s enthusiasm for cooperation as weakness. It led Mr. Putin to believe that he could act however he liked in Russia, and get away with it. That belief still prevails — but no longer applies only to Russia.

Of course, notwithstanding reports that the Obama administration missed an opportunity to work with the Russians back in 2012 to end the conflict, I don't believe that is true given Putin's track record:

Finnish diplomat and Nobel laureate Martti Ahtisaari suggested that there was a moment early on during Syria's hideous war when a political solution could have been thrashed out. Ahtisaari claims that in February 2012, when the conflict had claimed under 10,000 lives, Russia's envoy to the United Nations outlined a peace plan that could have led to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's exit from power.

Nonsense. If Putin was proposing it, he saw an angle to preserve Russian interests while getting the West to back it.

Putin bought time for Assad to become our anti-jihadi partner with the chemical weapons deal which derailed momentum leading to Western air strikes against Assad and cripppled the morale of the still-viable non-jihadi rebels while allowing Assad to use non-covered chemical weapons against civilians.

And Putin helped get the Iran nuclear deal which has freed up money for Iran to help pay for the Iran-Russia effort to save Assad that is ongoing right now.

So any deal on Assad back then was intended by Putin to save the pro-Russian Assad clan even if Assad lost the big desk and official stationery.

President Obama surely believed Assad was doomed back then and so he could get a cheap foreign victory by declaring "the time has come for President Assad to step aside" without doing anything, but I'll accept the right decision on Russia's proposal even if it was for a bizarrely wrong reason--nothing is inevitable. Assad had options to survive even when it looked bleak:

At some point, Assad will need to focus his limited troops on holding the key areas of Syria and letting the other areas go. He needs the capital region, ports, oil export infrastructure, and areas linking them. We had to do much the same in Iraq.

The difference is that we backed the majority in Iraq and could look forward to the day when we'd have enough Iraqi security forces to expand the areas of control. Assad can't grow his forces unless Iran sends significant forces. So retreating to the core area buys time for the center to hold and not much else.

Iran has sent advisors, Hezbollah, and a Shia foreign legion, but that hasn't been enough. And I sincerely doubt Russia can send many troops even if Putin wants to open up an active front in Syria. Assad has struggled to keep sufficient troops in the field in the face of staggering losses as he has been forced back to even less territory than I figured he could hold back then if he pulled back, let alone expand his ground forces to retake all of Syria.

So don't panic that Russians are in Syria. If Russia gets a deal to save an Alawite state in the west or to regain control of Syria, Russia will get their bases near the coast. So any worries that Russian troops will get Russia a base if we don't cooperate with Putin are nonsense. Cooperating with Russia will just get Russia the bases without forcing Russia to pay a price for intervention.

Russia does not want to fight for Assad. Putin wants to save Assad as cheaply as possible so he can get back to picking apart eastern Ukraine while consolidating the conquest of Crimea (and then Belarus will be in Putin's crosshairs, prior to focusing on the Baltic states). Our cooperation is key to letting Russia win in Syria on the cheap.

Don't fall for Putin's ploy. Bid him good luck and tell him to have fun storming the castle.

Or is President Obama still in the business of providing post-election "flexibility" to Putin?

UPDATE: Russia is speculating in a house organ that America is pushing refugees/migrants to Germany. Apparently, it's a plot to take over Europe. Really.

Which means we seriously have consider whether Russia is trying to facilitate this mass movement of people to punish Germany and Europe over Ukraine sanctions.

If Russia is balancing a number of inter-related foreign policy initiatives from Syria to Iran to Ukraine, including pushing people to Europe, I imagine we will see Russia offering to solve the migration problem by helping settle the Syrian problem in exchange for Western concessions on Ukraine.

So rather than trying to defeat Russian initiatives and aggression, we could cooperate and see Russia secure their position in both Syria and Ukraine while getting Europe to end sanctions to stop the refugee/migration problem.

And our nuance-infused so-called leaders will think we struck a great deal. Remember, we thanked Russia for their help on the Iran deal which is financing the whole Iran-Russia mission to save Assad.