Tag Archives: Syria

War by Tweet

So yesterday Trump tweeted that he had “new, shiny and smart missiles”, or words to that effect, and he was thinking about answering the Syrian gas attack. The Russian fleet at Tartus scattered, The Iranian and Syrian forces rushed to Russian bases hoping that Trump is not going to start WWIII by hitting those bases.

Today Trump tweeted, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?””

This is fun but it is also a fairly calculated effort to sow disarray in Syria.

The fact is that the Russian fleet is not particularly seaworthy. A lot of deferred maintenance. Floating around in the Med is not their best look and, in a week or two, ships are going to start breaking down. Nor is cowering beside the Russians a good look for either the Syrian regulars or the Iranian mercenaries. They may be safe – although likely not as safe as they think – but they are rendered ineffective.

“Keep’em guessing.” is a rather good tactical move by Trump and his commanders. There is no rush.

Scattering the cockroaches with a bright light is a painless way of making their position very clear indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boom!

syria, donald trumpPresident Trump is rattling the sabres.  Tweeting that missiles, “nice and new and smart”, would be incoming to Syria.

The Russians, not being idiots, take the threat seriously enough that they have put their Syrian fleet – based at Tartus – out to sea. No point in restaging Pearl Harbour.

Hitting Assad and his Iranian allies is certainly something the Americans might want to do in the wake of yet another gas attack. But a missile barrage, even with shiny, new, smart missiles is not likely to do much other than annoy the Russians without defeating them. Is that worthwhile?

I don’t think much of Trump as a tactical thinker, he is more a limited strategic thinker able to identify “bad guys” and “America’s interests” without having any great insight into what to actually do. However, there are plenty of people in and around the White House who can figure out the tactics beginning with Defence Secretary Mathias. Mad Dog is not really a “fire and forget” kinda of guy.

The trouble with a missile barrage is that it really changes nothing. Some targets are obliterated, some low-level bad guys are killed. Its principal advantage is that it poses very little risk to American personnel. Tactically, a missile attack runs a small risk of interception by the Russian made air defences which are presently in Syria and taking out those defences ups the chances of escalation. But strategically, a pure missile attack is not going to move any needles.

Which is why, I suspect, Trump is tweeting about it. Telegraphing an attack is something Trump maintained he would not do. He likes secrecy when American forces are going into harm’s way. Trump haters will say Trump is incapable of keeping quiet but I don’t think they are right. Trump is making characteristically Trumpian noises and I suspect it is misdirection. If you are Secretary Mathias you know that you have a President who likes nothing more than to shake his tweeting fist. Why not use it?

The Americans are perfectly capable of inflicting real damage on the Syrians – and more importantly, the Iranians – but it will not be by means of shock and awe tactics. Special Forces, stealth munitions and precision artillery with down range spotters can have a devastating effect on people expecting an attack from a bunch of missiles. It is a more personal sort of warfare and it puts American troops at risk; but it would send a very clear message to the Syrians, the Iranians and their Russian backers. “We are willing to fight and fight smart.” A much more compelling message than a very expensive fireworks display.

At the same time, a very blunt message needs to be delivered to the Russians. “You need to leave Syria.” That message is only partially military – although silently taking out several of the S-400 air defence sites would underscore the message – its real thrust needs to be diplomatic and economic. As an economy, Russia is not doing very well in a world of inexpensive oil. Sanctions, plus accelerating the pace of LNG deliveries to Europe would hurt. So would leaning on the assorted oligarchs who prefer to live in the West while retaining Russian citizenship. Scouting around for Russian assets to sequester would also add to the pressure. Critically, the US needs to be very clear about what it wants.

I would think the ask would be along the lines of “Get out of Syria and support us in the sanctions we are about to drop on Iran.”

Get all that done and the US and its allies will not have to fire a single, nice and new and smart missile.

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Bully! A Splendid Little War

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So The Donald has sent in the cruise missiles in response to the Syrian sarin gas assault on its own people.

Sending 59 cruise missiles with conventional warheads and then sitting down to dinner with the Chinese President pretty much establishes Trump as a “tough guy”. But will he be smart enough to leave it at that?

In a very real sense, Trump has redrawn the “red line” which Obama and Kerry allowed to fade to palest pink. Served notice that “there is a new Sheriff in town” to quote an awful lot of pro-Trump blogs. Which, I suspect, most international players had already noticed.

The question is whether Trump is able to enjoy an American casualty free battle and move on to the next thing on his agenda. Obama demonstrated in Libya that regime change may, or may not, be for the better. Generally, it seems to be a bad idea in the Middle East simply because the next regime may be worse than the one you “changed”. During the campaign, Trump seemed to get that. Does he now?

Assad needs to go. Murderous barbarian and all. However, he needs to go when there is some idea of a better thing to replace him. That might be a new regime or it might be the carve up of both Syria and Iraq and the end of the Sykes-Picot travesty which has haunted the Middle East for nearly a hundred years.

Regime change could be accomplished with a lot of money, a few Russian Spetsnaz and a dozen bullets. But what then?

Unwinding Sykes-Picot is a much larger and, strategically, more intelligent enterprise. Defeat ISIS and then carve out the Sunni, Kurd and Shia enclaves being sensitive to the worries of the Turks and the position of the minorities. That is the work of a negotiator and a statesman. And it is something which will involve Putin as well as Trump. No bad thing that.

Right at the moment, Russia is hanging on by a thread. Demographically, economically it is in huge trouble. For Putin to survive he needs to seem indispensable. Trump can give him that. Putin can give Trump essentially nothing. Other than his nukes and his special forces, he is the Tsar of a gradually dying nation and only massive help from America can really save him. Monkeys can climb a very long way up trees, it is the getting down part which is tricky.

Syria offers Putin the opportunity to act as and be seen as a statesman.  With Trump’s help, he can open the book on Sykes-Picot and facilitate the reformation of Syria and Iraq into a loose confederation of ethnically and religiously homogenous statelets. Between the Americans and the Russians, all of the factions can be brought to the table and, with luck, disarmed and sent on their way. None of the resulting states will be heard of again for generations.

Trump has played the first card of a strategy which will likely take a few years to play out. By being willing to punish actions which are against all agreed-upon international norms Trump makes it clear that hard power is a real thing for America again.

Trump knew the world was watching and he gave them a show. Now we’ll see what he does with the attention.

 

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Peace through Strength

Our Russian friends have a funny idea about how to conduct a war: they go and bomb and then dig out the people who are their declared enemies. They support their friends. They are not so much winning in Syria as not losing.

America has a rather vast response capacity. Tomorrow morning President Obama could let lose his heavy bombers and flatten, with a week, every known rallying point of ISIS, all of its oil resources and it’s so called capital.

Obama could send in the attack helios and the AC-130s and kill every formation of ISIS on the ground.

Obama could deploy the several thousand special forces personel at his command and shoot up ISIS at a granular level.

Russia does a lot with, relatively speaking, very little. But what Russia has is a strategic vision. It may be brutal. It may accept civilian casualties. But it gets the job done for Russia.

Tolstoy wrote a little less than a dozen chapters at the end of War and Peace on the philosophy of war. He made the point that the will of an Army and it’s commanders turns destiny in its direction. But without that will nothing occurs. All is chaos.

Pugin, outgunned, knows this. He cannot defeat America, but he can defeat America’s pathetic proxies. Hell, he has them shooting each other. Putin understood Tolstoy… I suspect Obama skipped the last few chapters.

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IS to ISN’T

If ever there was an opportunity to set Islamic terror back a couple of decades that opportunity is now in the wastelands of Syria and Iraq. 

The Islamic State is estimated to have 15,000 fighters out there beheading and crucifying and raping assorted minorities and lots of other Muslims.  They have a few ranks and APCs plus a fair bit of heavy weaponry and lots of cash. (Though given the intelligence failures of the current American regime it would be wise to double those estimates.) 

A division of Marines and serious air strikes – think cluster bomb more than precision munitions  get will stop IS and then Saudi financed Egyptians and Pakistani infantry can go in and kill them.  Not capture,  not take as prisoners,  kill. The actual killing needs to be done by their fellow Muslims and it needs to be done pretty much immediately. 

Soft power has been proven bullshit.  Time to let Is know what happens to bullies. 

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Crunch

The crunch and clangs you are hearing is the sound of the car wreck which passes for American foreign policy at the moment.

Russia is not keen at this stage for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution that would provide a framework to control Syria’s chemical weapons’ stocks, France’s foreign minister said after talks with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday. reuters

There was never much chance that Syria and Russia would actually act to sequester the chemical weapons. In the middle of a civil war it is not all that terrifically easy to deal with the logistics leave aside the politics.

However, faced with certain defeat in the House and a good chance of defeat in the Senate and the American people 3 or 4 to 1 against the idy, biddy, no really, really small, attack on Syria, Obama needed a way out. Putin threw a lead life buoy and the very dim Obama and the even dumber Kerry grabbed it. (The laughter echoing through the halls of the Kremlin can be heard in Damascus.)

Hitting Syria, or, more accurately blowing a raspberry in its general direction, was not the credibility piece here. Everyone knows that the US has awesome raspberry blowing capacity. The credibility was all about the President’s ability to deal with a complicated international situation. While the Court Press will hail the Russian “deal” as proof Obama can wield the power of his office for a peaceful outcome, anyone paying attention will know just how badly he and his team have done.

The audience here is not the Washington tounge bathing media nor, in fact, the American people: rather it is the Iranian, North Korean, Syrian, Russian, Israeli, Egyptian and world strategic elite. People whose job it is to assess the resolve of the American President.

I rather suspect that, no matter what the Big Zero and his spinners say tonight, the universal verdict will be:

Pwned

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Someone is playing checkers

Syria to give up control of chemical weapons.

Do they even play checkers in Russia?

Do the Big 0 and Big, Dumb, John even know how to play checkers?

Sadly, America has been completely outplayed. Kerry should resign citing his own inability to do the job of Secretary of State.

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Credibility

The Big Zero is rolling out a few Generals and the Senate Intelligence Committee released some awful video about what gas does to people.

At the Childrens Table, Andrew Coyne asks “If not now, when?” and the Lying Jackal has found a moral crusade.

As Conrad Black points out,

Until recently, it would have been unimaginable to conceive of John Kerry as the strongman of the National Security Council. This is the man who attended political catechism classes from the North Vietnamese to memorize and repeat their accusations against his country of war crimes in Indochina, and, inter alia, ran for president in 2004 asserting that while he had voted to invade Iraq in 2003, he was not implicated in that decision because he did not vote to fund the invasion once underway. the new york sun

The rationale for a “strike” on Syria has gone from “punishing” Assad for his use of chemical weapons to propping up an incredibly lame President because he is the only President the poor Americans have. At least the latter makes some strategic sense.

Realists recognize Syria for the murderous sideshow it really is.

It is also a potential opportunity to brush back Iran and, more or less, destroy Hezbollah.

Michael Ledeen pointed out some time ago that the road to Damascus starts in Tehran. And that may very well be where a strategically effective strike should take place.

There is hard evidence that Hezbollah is aiding Assad. There is evidence that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are aiding Assad. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the intelligence agencies of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and all the rest, have a pretty good idea as to where Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guards are headquartered.

Rather than a pointless exercise in Tomahawk throwing at empty buildings, it might be a good idea to send a few special forces people and some drones to clear these vipers’ nests. But, for God’s sake, don’t announce it. (And, for good measure, the same death from above could do the elements of Al Quada and the Chetcheyns no end of good. I am sure Mr. Putin would be delighted to help with the Chetcheyns.)

A good rule here is that you can’t go wrong killing thugs on either side. And you keep killing them. And you shut up about it.

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A Serious America

Mr. Putin is making fun of Obama at the G-20. Which is pretty rich for the leader of a has been superpower but, hey, it is a target rich environment.

The problem America faces goes well beyond the Big Zero and the clowns in his Cabinet and on his National Security Council; it is that America does not understand the Machiavellian view that a Prince is better feared than loved.

Most of the time there is no particular reason for the US to become embroiled in minor overseas disputes no matter how morally repellent the participants. So long as no critical American interest is at stake, and there almost never is, America can sit on the sidelines. However, when intervention is in the American interest, there is little point in pussyfooting around.

A limited, invariably “surgical”, no boots on the ground, no collateral damage, shot across the bow is as useless as it is cliched. Nuance and proportionality are the legacy of losers. Worse, they are a strategically boneheaded waste of time.

If America is going to engage its enemies need to know that the force will be overwhelming and utterly disproportionate. The head of the offending state needs to know that he will be hunted down and killed. The leading generals and regime supporters should know that they will suffer the same fate unless they immediately disavow the regime. Outside forces need to know that they will be accountable for their actions and that interference will be regime lethal.

There should be no question of international legitimacy. No UN sanctimony. Just raw, deadly power applied for as long as it takes to accomplish the American objective.

The point being that the use of American power should shock and awe and appall – and the American President and Congress should accept the consequences of its use.

As long as America is unwilling to “go Roman” in defence of its interests it is actually encouraging the rest of the world to believe that America is an overarmed push over.

No nation, particularly America, should ever go to war lightly. War is, and should be, terrible. But no leader should ever ask his nation to go to war half heartedly. No leader should ever ask his people to fight for vague purpose. And no leader should ever go to war unless the full range of his nations’ power can and will be concentrated on securing clear war objectives.

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Er, American Spring II

As Sir Nigel Sheinwald, our former ambassador to the US, told me: “Globalisation makes governments look small because they are incapable of controlling huge global processes. And the vast amounts of online information mean that people are sceptical of what governments tell them and check up on it instantly. Social media allows campaigns to be mounted at the drop of a hat. Traditional means of political organisation and mobilisation of opinion have been overtaken.” telegraph

If this blog has a theme it is a profound scepticism about government and politicians. At the moment, the Big Zero is being embarrassed at the G-20. Soon he will fly back to the US and, apparently, address a sceptical nation on why they should follow him into a “not a war” about “not a red line” for which neither he nor the dimwits in his administration can make a convincing case. His leadership is of so little consequence that there is a good chance a Syria resolution will not be brought in the House of Representatives because it would almost certainly lose.

And that is because Congressmen are hearing from their electors and those electors are not in favour of this “not a war” over this “not a red line” lead by this dismal failure of a President.

While this is being spun as a repudiation of Bush, the fact is he was able to gain the support of Congress for both Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama can’t.

This inability to lead now matters. Massive, instant, electronic response from individual citizens changes how politicians can do business. Gone are the days where agreements could be stitched up before the citizens had time to find out what was going on.

If Obama is defeated on his bully little war there is every chance that an empowered citizenry will begin to look sceptically at the other cozy deals the “leadership” in Washington is hatching.

The political class (in every country) should be afraid, very afraid.

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