Aleppo has fallen. This is a step forward for the Ba’athists. This is more of a psychological gain than a strategic one. ISIS, the FSA and others will fight on in the countryside.
The Ba’athists have slaughtered many civilians since they took over as attested to by the UN. Russia is blocking a French proposal to send UN observers to Aleppo. WHy? It can only be because Moscow does not want even more incontrovertible evidence that their client Assad is presiding over the mass murder of civilians.
I have said this for over 5 years. The Ba’athists will prevail. They now control the largest city in Syria. It may be years before they run the whole country. ISIS will be master of some of the eastern desert. Turcoman militias may run certain enclaves. The Kurdish separatists may rule their bailiwick.
The Russian ambassador to Turkey has been shot dead. The murder of a diplomat is never acceptable. International law has forbade it for centuries. Diplomats are there to negotiate and we cannot do this if diplomats are not safe to parley. Putin will go ape and send more men to Syria. No doubt he will accuse some on the Turkish Government of being in cahoots with the terrorists. This makes no sense since Turkey is being bombed by ISIS and Ankara;s policy towards Russia is one of rapprochement. But logic is never part of Putin’s explanation for things.
Russia, China, Iraq and Iran are all deeply committed to the Ba’athists. They do not give a damn about international law or human rights. They will back Dr Al Assad to the hilt. Western countries care about international law and human rights somewhat. They sometimes downplay wrongdoing by their allies. They are discomfited because they people they would like to win find themselves co operating with ISIS. This conflict will continue as long as outside forces fund and arm the belligerents. The protagonists on the rebel side receive succour from Saudi Arabia and other SUnni governments such as Qatar.
The Lebanese Civil War lasted 15 years. This conflict could rage on for that long too. The country could empty out more. Israel may back one side or other. I reckon this war will drag on for a further two years but not have a definite end. It will fizzle out rather than end with a formal agreement or surrender.
This blog would like to see a free Syria. That means on where every man and woman has the right to free expression, to vote in fair elections and to live free from fear. THE problem is all this is very unlikely to come about. It would be better if neither the Ba’athists nor ISIS existed. That being so the Ba’athists are the lesser of two evils. The word evil here is not used in a metaphorical sense or unthinkingly as part of a figure of speech. The Ba’ath Party really is hugely evil. I detest Assad bigly. His regime is so foul that it drove people of moderate opinion into the arms of ISIS. There are decent people on both sides. If they could negotiate a settlement that would be ideal. That shall not occur. Even if an agreement were reached ISIS would never accept it. Assad is forked tongued. He has broken every promise he ever made. There were countless vows to provide real reform. There were many broken ceasefires. His government lies endlessly about holding political prisoners, about holding free elections, about using torture on an industrial scale about the murder of civilians. Therefore he cannot be trusted. It is lugubrious to reflect that this thoroughly wicked and disingenuous man represents the better of the options open to Syria.
Conflict weariness is setting in.
Russia and the USA are closer to each other’s position than before. Ironically Russia is lest insistent that Assad stay as the USA is now less insistent that he go. Russia can no longer financially afford to prop up its chum. The Saudis can no longer afford to bankroll their proxies. As the sanctions have been lifted on Iran an importan ally of the Ba’athists has suddenly got more lolly.
The Kurds have been virtually independent in northern Iraq for 25 years. The also control north-est Syria. The US has built an airbase to assist them. The Kurdish militias will not be easily crushed. The US has assisted the Kurdish independence movement to the chargin of Ankara. The smartest things the Kurds could do is to strike a deal with the Ba’athists in Damascus. They will fight against ISIS in return for semi-independence in the north-eastern zone of Syria. At the moment the Kurds have an uneasy truce with ISIS. The Turkish Government dislikes there being an autonomous Kurdish state and may crush it. If the Kurds help smash Daesh the Ba’athists may well renege on their deal and them move to repress the Kurdish statelet.
However, for the Turkish Government Daesh is the gravest threat. They can live with the Ba’athists as they did till 5 years ago. It is hard to remember they once had a cordial relationship. They can also tolerate an autonomous Kurdish region as they have doen in Iraq since 1991.
This is the war of all against all.
No one will get an ideal outcome. As I have always said the Ba’athists will likely survive. Daesh will be largely defeated but perhaps set off bombs from time to time. The Free Syrian Army shall flee abroad. The Kurds will extend their homeland.
The Syrian Government will have its relationship with Moscow and Teheran cemented. It make give Russia more bases and give Iran bases. The relationship with Iraq will also be copper fastened.
The EU will be keen to end this conflict because of the spate of refugees it is producing.
Russian foreign policy has been expansionist for the past two decades. Prior to that there was no such thing as Russian foreign policy since it was Soviet policy before 1991.
Russia had sponsored breakaways such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. She declared war on Georgia and despite winning has very little to show for it. There has been the same situation in Transdnistria. Russia has annexed Crimea and occupied the east of the Ukraine. She has constantly violated the air space of other countries such as the Baltic republics. This aggressive policy was feasible because high oil prices enabled Russia to splurge on military hardware she did not need. Russia is already Brobdingnagians and is not in urgent need of yet more land. Only a megalomaniac would be desperate to acquire more versts.
There is a glut of energy on the market. The United States now sells crude oil abroad for the first time in 40 years. This shall cause the world price to plummet further. Russia’s demographic death spiral means that her pension system is unsustainable. There will be more immigration from former Soviet countries and even China to keep her economy functioning.
The Kremlin has squandered billions on causing a civil war in the Ukraine. This has persisted for almost three years without a clear victory. Russia still only controls a small section of the east of the country. She has also wasted billions of dollars propping up a tyrant in Syria who has committed several atrocities against his own people. This is not to imply that all of Russia’s foes are saintly.
Syria is run by a clique of spooks which perpetuates a demented and infantile personality cult around a man who is hyper sensitive to witticisms. It is small wonder that Putin has fellow feeling for Dr Assad.
Putin is singularly malapert. His attitude and demeanour speak of someone who suffers from a profound sense of worthlessness. He is obliged to always seek validation by being the most muscular, by having the most weapons, by conquering more land, by being the most threatening, by being the most indifferent to civilian suffering by being the touchiest about criticism. He does public homage to Stalin.
The way to make Putin and his coeterie change course is by making these conflicts more costly. If Putin can see that his country is suffering considerably and not making any progress then he shall seek a face saving compromise. As wikileaks revealed Putin is not the almighty figure that his image makers pretend. He acts in consensus with others in his camarilla. The Russian deep state is composed of other honchoes from the FSB. The espionage-hydrocarbon complex is what rules Russia. This venal cabal may indulge in extreme nationalist discourse but it prefers to bank in Switzerland. These flights of rhetoric are for the masses. They can be fobbed off with such oratory. The oilygarchs want to distract the lumpenproletariat from what is really happening. You may say this seems like the United States. There is some verity in that. This reminds me or Orwell’s barb – you could not tell man from pig and pig from man. The country that once claimed to be the sworn enemy of American capitalism and militarism has come to ape it. The country that prided itself on egalitarianism has become outright inegalitarian.
The Russian budget deficit is already huge. It is about to become frightening. Western countries will not bail Russia out. The IMF and the World Bank will be unsympathetic. Russia has not developed transparent institutions. Russians rightly mistrust their own institutions such as the police, the courts and the banks. Those who can put their capital abroad. Who will assist Russian in her hour of fiscal need? There is a possibility that the Chinese shall ride to the rescue. But they will not do so out of compassion. They will drive a hard bargain. They may wish to save Russia so that they have another partner against the United States. The other BRICS are unlikely to that friendly or indeed affluent enough to offer much.
Putin shall then be compelled to decide – does he prefer to fight in Syria or the Ukraine? He will not be able to fund both conflicts. Ukraine is adjacent to Russia. Syria is unimportant to Russia beyond being a place for naval bases which could be located elsewhere. Assad is going to survive in some form so in that sense mission is accomplished. However, Russia will have stirred the hornet’s nest in terms of ISIS. ISIS will doubtless launch attacks in Russia as they have in France.
It is possible that Russia is compelled to withdraw from both conflicts. If air strikes by other countries such as the US, France and the UK are heavy enough they may make Russian air support superfluous. Russian can pull out of Syria saying – I told you so all along, we needed to save the Ba’athists.
Russia deserves better than the war mongering dunderhead who is chief of state. However, dissent is clamped down on. The Russian media is pliant. There is little sign of a credible opposition. The parties in the Duma are all shades of the same hardline nationalist chauvinist trope. A post vinicular Khodorkovsky is now abroad to fund the opposition. The problem is that the genuine opposition parties are tiny and they are infiltrated with government informers. The government will use every trick in the book to prevent real opposition parties from participating in elections. The opposition are widely seen as mimsies in Russia. There is much animosity against these liberal voices rather than the kleptoctats who caused the current fiasco. The real opposition will be eviscerated in the popular press as American agents. This fusillades are much the same as would have been said in the Soviet era.
The aggressive foreign policy will be seen to have been expensive and to yield little. Lugubriously the Russian public will probably not learn. They will be goaded into war again. Russia will be simply unable to afford to attack another country for a few years. The ineptitude of these wars will be overlooked. People will be tricked into believing the next conflict is an existential one. Oil prices will climb again but not to the high levels of the mid noughties. It is unedifying to reflect that Russia will likely still be ruled by the uncouth land grabber who is currently at the apex of the FSB state whilst he still has his marbles. That will be another 20 years then. Through all this the working class shall suffer. To be sure some are bigots as one would find in every country. But many are decent sorts who are hoodwinked by carefully crafted propaganda. The hawkish propensities of the ruling class has impoverished ordinary folk.
The stultifying ultra nationalist rhetoric that sustain the Putin cult will not play so well in future. More and more Russian citizens will be of Caucasian and Central Asian origin. A less powerful Russia shall be compelled to end its relative estrangement form the West.
It is folly for the United Kingdom to become involved in Syria. She should not have been bombing ISIS in Iraq. There is no doubt that these air strikes are legal. Even the most prejudiced peacenik does not claim so.
ISIS and the Ba’ath regime are both loathsome. ISIS is worse. People rebelled against the corrupt Ba’athist dictatorship with its demented personality cult. There was no means of achieving peaceful change. Mild dissent was an imprisonable offence. Protestors were shot dead. The government then called these people terrorists. The Ba’athists permitted people liberty in the personal sphere and that is commendable. This is what makes them less hideous than ISIS’s reactionary, theocratic ultra puritan iconoclastic oppression.
The Free Syria Army seem to be decent rebels. The same goes for the Kurdish separarists and maybe the Turcomans. However, they are all bit players. Either the Ba’athists or ISIS will win. The minor groups seemed to have a truce with ISIS. The Ba’athists were foolish not to cut a deal with the moderate insurgents. They were reconcilable. Dr Al Assad retiring would be item 1 on the list.
The reason the UK should stay out is it will make ISIS more likely to attacked the United Kingdom. It may seem cowardly. Perhaps it is. Cowardice is often wisdom. Valour is usually foolhardiness. People say that ISIS shot dead lots of British tourists in Tunisia. I doubt they targeted them for being British probably for being Western and thus probably infidels. Kenneth Clarke in 2003 voted against freeing Iraq. He did so because he said next time a bomb goes off in the UK one must ask how far this contributed to that terrorist attack. It may seme pusillanimous. Moreover, one ought not allow ISIS to determine one’s policies. Furthermore, even if it does make the bomb going off more probable then that does not make it wrong to fight ISIS. The trouble is the pro-war case is built on the claim that hammering ISIS will enhance British security. I suspect this claim is bogus and ISIS will attack the United Kingdom to prove that this assertion is false.
There ethical case is mixed. It is murky because countries that the United Kingdom claims as allies have been assisting ISIS. Saudi Arabia has released death row prisoners in return for them going to fight on the side of Daesh. Individuals in Saudi Arabia have donated generously to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The same goes for Qatar. It is not necessarily the state doing it – it could be private individuals. However, the state has been at least slack about preventing this.
Inevitably civilians will be killed in aerial attacks. How many civilians will be saved by air strikes? That is imponderable. One can never calculate hypotheticals. It then becomes difficult to decide if one has killed more than one has saved.
It is not difficult to become embroiled in this imbroglio. It may become very tricky to extricate oneself. What would victory resemble? Most likely Assad will be confirmed in power. Peace talks are already underway between the Ba’athists and the rebels. Perhaps some of the middle of the road rebels will make an agreement. There may be cosmetic changes.
ISIS has certainly carried out several large scale atrocities. The trouble is so has the Syrian Army. Which is worse? It is hard to say. There is never a war in which one side completely abides by the Geneva Convention and the other breaches it all the time. In this conflict standards of conduct have been especially low.. How is it ethical to punish ISIS for its massacres and let the Ba’athists off the hook? International Human RIghts law says that it is wrong to collude in human rights abuses in order to stop other human rights abuses. There is a total lack of moral clarity.
The objectives have not been elucidated. Defeat ISIS. Then what? Terrorists organisations are only defeated after decades. It can be significantly enfeebled. In several years it will probably still launch the occasional attack.
By smashing ISIS one hands victory to Dr Al Assad and his mob. The Free Syria Army will be annihilated. ANy hope of a democratic Syria will die. Building a model democracy in Syria was always going to be a tall order.
I ponder the repercussions of inaction. The ISIS oil spot may continue to expand. As it grabs more territory it will have more oil, more people to extort and more slaves. If ISIS was not pummeled from the air what then? They might take over Syria. They could seize more of Iraq. They would never be able to conquer the whole of Iraq seeing as only 20% of Iraqis are Arabic speaking SUnnis. Of course not all Arabic speaking SUnnis back this group. My point is that ISIS only draws succour from this demographic.