domingo, 11 de octubre de 2015

Siria como tumba del Imperio

Bajo el título general de:  “Drásticos cambios en el paisaje estratégico de Medio Oriente”,  Dmitry Minin publicó un larga nota estos días en el sitio Strrategic Culture Foundation. Material de meditación para los lectores de Astroboy, qué duda cabe. Acá va:

Parte 1:

Título: Washington dug its own grave in Syria

Texto: With all the existing diversity of views on the Russian operation in Syria, essentially everyone agrees that it testifies to the failure of West’s Syria policy. The Russian action will have a far-reaching effect on the whole situation in the Middle East. Some people predict a failure, but an impartial assessment shows it was the right moment for active interference into the procrastinated Syria’s conflict. The choice of time was a great success.

The Russian Aerospace Forces are capable of drastically changing the balance of forces in the region. The intervention effectively excludes the possibility of the Syrian war sliding towards an international conflict of broader scale.

It is obvious that when The United States provoked an acute crisis in Ukraine – an area where Russia has vital interests – roughly two years ago, it was aimed at diverting Moscow’s attention from Syria and its support of President Assad. The White House believed those days that the total failure of its Middle East strategy was not its fault – there was somebody else to blame. It still appears to be subject to this blissful delusion. In the heat of the Ukrainian crisis the United States enjoyed relative freedom of action. Meanwhile, the situation in Syria got worse, including the spread of terrorist activities.

Unexpectedly, Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine’s crisis made its position in the Middle East even stronger.

One reason is the Crimean Peninsula. It’s an open secret that if the peninsula did not become part of Russia, its military activities in the eastern Mediterranean would be greatly restricted. Crimea has crucial strategic importance for providing logistical support for the Russian Aerospace Forces. The peninsula allows to create a «bubble» protecting military operations in the Black Sea and in the eastern part of Mediterranean. Foreign experts were rather surprised to see how rapidly Russia boosted its military capabilities in Crimea.

The fact that the peninsula became part of Russia made irrelevant alarmist «doomsday» scenarios predicted for Syria. Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander of US European Command four star General Philip Breedlove said, that with Crimea becoming its part «Russia has developed a very strong anti-access/ant-denial/aid defense (A2/AD) capability in the Black Sea». «Essentially, their [anti-ship] cruise missiles range the entire Black Sea, and their air defense missiles range about 40 to 50 percent of the Black Sea,» the General noted. «We’re a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the Eastern Mediterranean», Breedlove added.

Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist and political scholar, a special advisor to the United Nations Secretary General, believes that «the United States’ current approach – a two-front war against the Islamic State and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime – has failed miserably». A strange union of two sources of American foreign policy lies at the root of US strategy in Syria. One comprises the US security establishment, including the military, the intelligence agencies, and their supporters in Congress. The other source emerges from the human-rights community. Their peculiar merger has been evident in many recent US wars in the Middle East and Africa. The results have been consistently devastating.

The problem, as human-rights advocates should have learned long ago, is that the US security establishment’s regime-change model does not work. It often devolves into chaos, anarchy, civil war, and burgeoning humanitarian crises, as it happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria. Jeffrey Sachs writes, «If the US wants better results, it should stop doing it alone. The US cannot impose its will unilaterally, and trying to do so has merely arrayed other powerful countries, including China and Russia, against it. Like the US, Russia has a strong interest in stability in Syria and in defeating the Islamic State; but it has no interest in allowing the US to install its choice of regimes in Syria or elsewhere in the region».

The US and its allies launched the operation against the Islamic State (IS) a year ago. The results are stunning. With 7 thousand strikes delivered the effort has gone down the drain. The outcome is quite the opposite of what was expected. Since the anti-Islamic State coalition was formed, the group has made new gains, seizing Al Anbar and Ramadi provinces of Iraq, the Syrian cities of Deir ez-Zor, and Palmyra (the city that has been in the public limelight so much recently), as well as other territories. The military are not the only ones to blame. The main responsibility lies with politicians.

The US did not bomb the Islamic State near the line of engagement with government forces, where the targets could be easily detected by aerial reconnaissance, thinking that it would help Assad. Instead they attacked IS-controlled territories and urban areas where the militants mix with civilians. It has resulted in significant civilian casualties. Even more often the US aviation raided infrastructure, roads, bridges etc., bombing Syria back into the Stone Age. It’s clear that, the Syrian government forces equipped with hardware need roads more than light and highly mobile IS formations.

The operation launched by the Russian Aerospace Forces gave the US military a kind of impetus to review the situation. The command started to ponder a scenario which would envisage establishing control over the eastern part of Syria, including Al-Raqqah, the capital of Islamic State, «to keep one step ahead of Russians», preparing on the Euphrates an inverted version of the meeting on the Elbe River. The prospects, however, are bleak.

The United States excludes the option of boots on the ground, especially during the pre-election campaign. Voices are heard advocating the use of some local forces as infantry units to launch an offensive, for instance, the formations of Syrian Kurds. If only the White House could see things as they are at least for a minute without the imaginary picture imposed by its own propaganda. Then it would realize that Kurds will never leave the territory under their control. The only «infantry» capable of fighting the Islamic State on all fronts in the country Syria is the regular government army. No surprise, Washington has failed to respond when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeatedly asked to share the information on the positions of the Free Syrian Army.

The United States drove itself into a strategic trap. No matter what step it takes, the things will only get worse. Throwing its support behind Russia in its fight against terrorism would correspond to common sense and become the best solution for all. But Washington rejects this option as threatening to its credibility in the Middle East and strengthening the position of Moscow in the region. Hot heads in the United States and Saudi Arabia call for getting together and arming all groups of Syria opposition. But whom will they fight for? The Islamic State, the group which shocked the world by ominous pictures of mass executions, extermination of Christians and destruction of historical sites? Even seasoned US propaganda masterminds cannot make such an ally to be favorable.

Reacting to the events in Syria and Russian active intervention, the White House still has to take public opinion into consideration. According to the polls, public would hardly welcome the steps supporting international terrorism. That is exactly how the attempts to obstruct Russian military operation would look like.

In this sense, it’s worth to mention the stance of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. On September 29 he told NBC's «Today» program: «I side with the group that says 'if Russia wants to go and fight ISIS, you should let them', as opposed to saying 'we're jealous, we don't want you to do that'».

Asked about his attitude towards Syrian government, Trump said in his interview with CNN on October 6, it is not clear who can take the place of Assad: «I would certainly like to see what's going on. I'd like to find out who these people are that we want to give billions of dollars to. We have no idea. And sure, Assad is a bad guy, but you can have worse. And maybe these people are worse. We have no idea».

Emma Ashford of Cato Institute writes in a Newsweek article: «U.S. officials must avoid increased intervention in Syria, where a knee-jerk reaction to Russia’s actions could be disastrous». It would be foolish to increase the support of for extremist groups just because Russia sees them as targets – an enemy of my enemy is not always my friend. The author offers a simple solution – not to stand in the way of Russians.

Perhaps, this is the best thing the United States can do under the circumstances. No doubt, Washington will seize any opportunity to say Russian pilots lack professional training, the strikes are «indiscriminate» and the strikes are delivered at wrong targets… The right way to react has already been chosen. Priority should be given to maximum accuracy and transparency. It’s hard to distort anything when the events are highlighted in real time. Crimea provides valuable experience. The accession of Crimea has become a turning point in regard to its influence on Russian strategic thinking.


Parte 2:

Título: Events in and around Syria: geopolitical perspective

Texto: The attitude of international actors and the correlation of forces in general create favorable conditions for Russian military operation into the Syrian conflict.

President Obama has made clear that the situation in Syria will not escalate into a so-called “indirect” war between the United States and Russia. A clash between Russia and the European Union is out of the question. In case of the European Union, an attempt to exert pressure on Russia will only help the victory of the Islamic State and create millions of refugees, not hundreds of thousands as we see today. A number of European states face upcoming elections. It’s hard to believe that their leaders would like to give the voters such a “pleasant surprise”. Some people try to make Russia responsible for the migration crisis in Europe, although evidently, the crisis is the price to pay for the absence of European coherent Middle East strategy and its adherence to the usual policy of following in the United States footsteps.

Beijing has clearly shown its support of Russia’s actions. China is a leading consumer of Middle East hydrocarbons. Some Israeli sources rushed to report that Chinese air force and navy are going to join the Russian operation. It was reported that that China is going to send out to Syria J-15 Flying Shark fighters and Z-18F anti-submarine helicopters and Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters. According to the reports, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning-CV-16 (former Varyag) has docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, accompanied by a guided missile cruiser. The Chinese air force is ready to provide some protection of the transit air routes in Iranian and Iraqi space. This information has not been confirmed so far. It’s worth to mention that Hong Kong-based media outlets have also reported about these plans citing their own military sources in Beijing. There is something in the air.

The position of Tel Aviv is critically important for the success of Russian operation. Israel is the only state in the region which possesses a military potential to greatly complicate things. And it is located close to the battlefield in Syria.

Until recently, Israel had taken an ambivalent stance. It had neither supported, nor opposed Assad. Israeli strategists had thought the fragmentation of Syria was the best outcome for Israel. According to them, the Islamic State was a guerilla movement that posed no threat to the Israel’s defense forces (Tsahal). It looks like Moscow has successfully used its contacts with Tel Aviv, including at the highest level, to convince Israelis that the Islamic State effectively uses cutting edge technology and is able to spread its control beyond the territory of just one state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated this position clear: “We don't want to go back to the days when, you know, Russia and Israel were in an adversarial position. I think we've changed the relationship. And it's, on the whole, good.” He refused to comment on potential consequences of Russian operation in Syria. According to him, he does not know if it will degenerate into a further escalation of tension. Time will tell. It is important to note that Israeli Defense Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan met with his Russian counterpart, Col.-Gen. Nikolai Bogdanovski, at General Staff Headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 6 to launch talks on regional security and the Russian military presence in Syria.

Turkey is concerned over the new development in Syria. It has condemned Moscow and overreacted when a Russian aircraft accidently violated its air space. There are many reasons why Erdogan could not go farther, even if he wanted to. The November 1 parliamentary election will be an acid test for his Justice and Development Party. Last time it lost the majority in parliament and failed to form a coalition government. This time polls do not predict great success for the party of Erdogan. It would be suicidal to get embroiled in a new adventure in Syria. Turkish voters fully realize how heavy the burden of refugee problem is. No doubt, they have little desire to see asylum seekers flows grow. Large-scale economic projects and trade with Russia are important for Turkey’s economy.

The United States is frustrated with the forces it has supported so far and Turkey is very much concerned over the Washington’s intent to reorient its efforts and bank on Syrian Kurds. The Kurdish Democratic Unity Party, the leading political force, is affiliated with the radical Kurdistan Workers' Party. From Turkey’s perspective, an electoral success of Kurdish Democratic Unity Party is much worse than the prospect of Bashar Assad remaining at the helm. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Dovutoglu has stated, “We keep all the communication channels open with Russia. I don’t think it will take steps that will arouse our concerns." He admitted that Russia had given an advance warning to Turkey before it started its military operation in Syria. The Prime Minister did not elaborate.

Jordan also has made no statements on the plans to obstruct Russia. Along with Turkey it has done a lot to deteriorate the Syria crisis. Jordan hosts the operational headquarters of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State. The opposition operating in the south of Syria gets reinforcements from Jordan. Its activities have become much less intensive recently. As soon as the Russian Aerospace Forces launched their strikes, 700 militants in the south surrendered to the government, over three thousand left the battlefield to cross the Jordanian border. Jordan may become the next victim of the Islamic State. It is interested in all kinds of cooperation to rout the group.

In Beirut the majority of people welcomed the news about the Russian military operation with no lesser enthusiasm than in Damascus. Lebanon has failed to put an end to the activities of armed jihadists on its soil. With Russian help Lebanon wants to rearm and finally do away with this problem. Thus, not Hezbollah only, but regular Lebanese army may be indirectly involved in the combat actions in Syria if one takes a broader look at the problem. Addressing the Lebanon Support Group at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that Russia had “recently signed supplementary agreements on the supplies of specialized equipment to Lebanon.”

The coalition of Russia-Syria-Iran-Iraq starts to take practical steps. For instance, on October 7, Russia launched cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea to strike the positions of the Islamic State. The missiles flew over the territories of Iran and Iraq to prove that the coalition partners boast a high level of mutual trust.

The attempts to separate Iraq from the anti-jihadist coalition will hardly produce any results, no matter the country still greatly depends on the United States. They are likely to widen the gap between Baghdad and Washington. Iraq is frustrated with the US actions in recent years, including the fight against the Islamic State. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi has already rebutted the criticism of the intelligence information exchange agreement signed between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Russia on September 28. He believes that without such an agreement the Islamic State cannot be defeated.

Saudi Arabia is the only regional actor firm in its desire to oppose Russia’s activities in Syria. Under the circumstances, it has limited resources. Its main weapon is oil. It has used it to address different situations and to serve the interests of other countries. This weapon is not effective anymore. The Saudi army got bogged down in the south of the country fighting poorly equipped Yemeni insurgents without major success. Open cooperation between Saudi Kingdom and the Islamic State is impossible. Al Baghdadi, an alleged descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, believes that the Saudi kings are nobody else but rootless usurpers. His cherished dream is the liberation of Mecca and Medina. He even wanted to destroy the Black Stone, the eastern cornerstone of Kaaba, the ancient stone building located in the center of Grand Mosque in Mecca. He believes that its veneration is a pagan superstition. There is an opinion that, no matter the kingdom’s hostile rhetoric, to some degree, the Russia’s emergence in the Middle East serves the interests of the Saudi Arabia. It reduces the dependence of Syria on Shia Iran, something that scares Riyadh much more than the Russia’s military presence.

The prediction that the pattern of Russia’s intervention in Afghanistan will repeat itself in Syria is based on a superficial comparison. It is totally unfounded. All major actors deeply involved in the activities to obstruct the Soviet operation there, have no intent to get seriously involved in the current Syria conflict. Some of them, China and Iran in particular, side with Russia. The operation of the newly created coalition will block the routes by which the Islamic State gets its supplies. As a result, the IS gangs will not be able to hold out for a long time.

As experience shows, sometimes the window of opportunity opens only for a brief moment in time. The art of strategic thinking presupposes the ability to see a rare chance presented by history and seize the opportunity. In Syria Moscow made absolutely precise calculations to estimate the time for action. Some people may predict failure. More perspicacious analysts in the West think about other things. What if the Russians are right? What if the whole world will see how Russia and its coalition partners eliminate the common terrorist threat in Syria and the whole Middle East in general? The West has failed to do the job and will owe Russia if it accomplishes the mission against the background of the West’s failure.

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