Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Syria is for Syrians

You could be excused for thinking the world has taken a madness pill, and jumped off the deep end. Whether it is the schizophrenic American political scene, the deep and divisive European internal political battles, the Middle East in turmoil, or the fact that the stock markets continue on as if nothing is happening, the place has lost the plot. Speaking of lost the plot, this post focuses on the almost unbelievable actions of foreign nations in Syria, and what may well come next.

Let's start with the rules. The Laws of Wars encompassed within the Convention of the Hague, 1907, specifically defines how a war amongst nations must be declared:

"Article 1

The Contracting Powers recognize that hostilities between themselves must not commence without previous and explicit warning, in the form either of reasoned declaration of war or of an ultimatum with conditional declaration of war."

The United States and Turkey signed this Convention. Ironically, Syria did not. Now Syria is the victim of hostilities perpetuated upon it by two countries who have solemnly sworn not to do so. All the rest flows from this. When the Syrian "uprising" began it was people on the streets - unarmed people. They didn't have small arms, artillery, tanks, or anti-aircraft weapons. Where did all that come from? They didn't have bank accounts with hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a 4 year long conventional war against their own government. Where did that come from? It came from the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia - that's where.

Having abandoned the very basic convention of declaring a war on Syria, there was no reason to believe that the rest of the war would be any different. No rules. No holds barred. The law of the jungle where might is right seeped into the country of Syria. Hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered in the name of ... regime change. That's really what it boils down to. The Russians and Iranians want to keep a strategic ally in the region, and the Americans, Turks and Saudis want them gone. Let's not disgrace the name of democracy and liberty by suggesting the war in Syria has a thing to do with those tenants of freedom.

So where are we going from here in Syria? The map below will tell you where we are now:

As you can see, the blue area in the top to middle part of this picture is the area of Northern Syria controlled by Turkey after it invaded with armed militia supporters. The yellow areas are controlled by essentially the Kurds (backed with armed Americans). The green areas are controlled by the Syrian, Russian, and Iranian forces. Several things come to mind. Firstly, the Kurds are quite divided in the territories they hold. To the west they hold large parts of northern Aleppo. To the east they hold the areas around Manbij. In between them the Turks hold the area around Al-Bab. What makes things tricky for the Kurds is they cannot unite their territories in the east and west without engaging Turkish forces, which would give Turkish President Erdogan the excuse he needs to go full in with large military forces. So, realistically, the Kurds have no hope of holding the area of Northern Aleppo.

They also have no realistic hope of holding their territories on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River centered on Manbij. As I write this, Syrian and Russian forces are making big advances shown as pink on the map. (see operational map below) They are pushing to and reaching the Euphrates River to  the southern flank of the Kurds Manjib beach head. It is now only a matter of time before the Kurds will have to withdraw from the Manbij area to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. Here their position is far more defensible from the Syrian army, and to a lesser extent the Turkish Army.

That makes the Euphrates River the new dividing line in the battle for Syria - the divide between the Kurds/Americans and everyone else. There is, however, a weak link in that line of defence - Deir al- Zour. This city and nearby airbase is controlled by the Syrian army, and is located to the south of Al- Raqqa (the ISIS self declared capital on the Euphrates. This map gives you a good idea of the area and the cities involved:

Deir al- Zour bridges the Euphrates and leaves any Kurdish partition of  North Eastern Syria highly vulnerable. In fact, it makes such a complete partition almost impossible to defend. Currently, the Kurds and Americans are concentrating their forces on the battle to retake Al-Raqqa. They have it surrounded on three sides with its back to the Euphrates. The US has just deployed 2200 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, and 1000 reservists to Kuwait in preparation for the final battle of Al-Raqqa. They have also deployed air mobile artillery, and the 400 troops that go with it, directly to the Al-Raqqa front. As of this morning the Americans and Kurds were within 50 km of the northern gates to Al-Raqqa. It may be a grind, but ISIS has no hope of winning that battle. Al-Raqqa will be laid to waste by American artillery and air strikes.

What comes then? Well, if the American and Kurdish intention is to create a Kurdish territory out of North eastern Syria, which this writer considers a foregone conclusion, then a battle for Dier-al-Zour will be next. It is a strategic must to seal a gaping hole in the Euphrates River defence concept. That will involve the Americans and Kurds attacking the Syrian and Russian military located there. A dangerous proposition indeed.

It has always been the case, since the ISIS advance was halted on the door steps of Bagdad, that the real danger of foreign powers throwing international law to the wind would play itself out once their common menace had been eliminated. We are almost at that point now. Mosul is essentially finished for ISIS. Al-Raqqa is surrounded. It's like the final weeks of Nazi Germany for ISIS right now. What unfolded after Nazi Germany fell was the iron curtain, the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War. Will that happen in Syria? Will the Americans put the brakes on and hold the Kurds to the eastern banks of the Euphrates? Will the Syrians and Russians be prepared to allow that to happen while they turn their attention toward the areas around Damascus and Ibdib that still require action to rid them of Islamic and Turkmen militias? Would that be a fatal move for Syria? And what of Turkey? Would it be prepared to allow a new Kurdish region to be added to the autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Iraq? That would leave just the South Eastern area of Turkey for the Kurds to capture and form their treasured vision of a united Kurdistan - one that already has the implicit and military backing of the United States.

The most plausible scenario, given the pragmatic chess strategy of Russian President Putin, is that the Syrians take the western bank of the Euphrates, and the Kurds/Americans take the Eastern bank - for now. Then the Russians and Syrians will turn their focus to the pockets of resistance in North Western Syria, and isolated pockets around Damascus and their border with Lebanon (Hezbollah and Iran likely playing a predominant role there). It seems Putin is willing to forestall any one-on-one confrontation with the US until after his rearmament program is finished - around 2020. In the mean time he is in the defensive mode, as is clearly demonstrated in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The problem with his strategy, as can be quite clearly seen in the Ukraine conflict, is that it gives the Americans time to establish positions in the area, and reinforce/bolster the local military. Now, instead of Russia taking on an isolated Ukrainian military of 50,000 it faces an unofficially NATO aligned country with over 200,000 troops. The same scenario is almost certainly going to play out in the Kurdish territories. In some ways, if you're Putin, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The real lesson in all of this is that abandoning the rules of order for expediency can never be sanctioned, and that to see it any other way is to invite chaos to the orderly conduct of societies around the world. It has to be said, because it is patently obvious, that the Americans hold the full responsibility for chaos that their cavalier actions have created in the world. They have changed the term "national interest" into the all encompassing "national right". They have claimed the world as their own with no right to do so. An unfortunate, but predictable consequence of the fall of the Soviet Union. A living case of power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. They have perverted the "peace dividend" that was so greatly lauded when the Berlin Wall fell into a "we'll take what we want when we want dividend", and in doing so turned the world against them. It is the Americans who were not invited into Syria to help fight ISIS. Just as it was the Americans that fanned the flames of the civil unrest in Syria to begin with, and it was the Americans, in conjunction with the Saudis, that financed it.

The only solution for Syria is that Syrians decide what their country will be. To demand otherwise is to place yourself in a type of arrogance not befitting the average person. Always remember it is not righteous people who start wars, it is the self-righteous. The ones that place their beliefs above all others and enforce them over all others. Recent history has shown that the Americans will not allow the Syrians to decide the future of their country, and that is a terrible indictment upon them. It is also a terrible indictment against the rest of us that we allow this type of "God syndrome" to have a place in the civilized  world we claim ours to be. In that way, Syria today is a reflection on all of us - our greed, our arrogance, our uncaring hypocrisy. The very same traits that have their roots in all our conflicts of the past. It shows that despite all our achievements as a species, when all that is stripped away, we continue to act as though we still carry clubs and dwell in caves. That's the really sad part of it all.      

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Coup in Washington

The old Chinese proverb "may you live in interesting times" rings so very true these days. A "populist" billionaire is elected as a "man of the people" in the United States, and sends the internal organs of the American elite into convulsion. It's hard to watch what is loosely called the land of the free, and remain uncommitted to one side or the other - by design perhaps. With every passing day the venom grows, the accusations become more shrill, and President Trump becomes more destabilized. It's the type of "regime change" actions we routinely witness the United States commit in the rest of the world now being visited on its own, by its own.

Make no mistake, what is happening in the United Sates right now has absolutely nothing to do with Russia, or any other foreign country. Nor is it some sort of spontaneous movement against a "crazed despot". What we are witnessing is the very calculated destabilization of the American presidency by those that are sworn to uphold the American constitution, and those that aren't sworn but claim to uphold it. In other words, an internal insurrection.

To be fair, Trump seemed to anticipate this sort of reaction to his election - even well before election day. He shrewdly calculated that the American establishment would use all their means to thwart him, and even unseat him. So, right back to the early days of the campaign, he began marshalling people toward a common set of causes in order to create what he termed as "the greatest movement in US history" -  a"Trump Nation" if you will. He was so successful that the US political establishment quickly realized that should they try and impede him that Trump would appeal to his base, which was primarily Republican voters, and they would place decisive pressure on those Republican Senators and members of Congress that stood in his way. In fact, it is quite clear that Trump is not really a Republican at all, but an independent who chose to use the Republican Party as a vehicle to gain office. And his plan succeeded perfectly.

However, since the election, things have changed. It is quite obvious now that the US establishment are not prepared to accept the results of the election - ironically what they accused Trump of preparing to do should he have lost the election. Instead they have chosen to launch a campaign against President Trump, from a multitude of sources, to first destabilize his presidency by eroding his support with his base, and then.. well we'll get to that.

As bizarre as it might seem to be to accuse governmental organizations within the United States of acting to over throw their own duly elected President, it must be said that all the evidence points to that fact. It becomes obvious when you look at previous US intelligence operations in other countries to see the same MO here. The damaging internal intelligence leaks. The 24-7 vicious media attacks. All designed to decimate the credibility of President Trump in the eyes of "Trump Nation" - the source of Trump's power, and incite hatred  and contempt towards the man. Once his credibility has been sufficiently destroyed they will move to replace him.

There are a number of solid pieces of evidence that clearly demonstrate they are maneuvering to distance VP Pence from Trump as we speak. For example, the recent firing of Trump's national security advisor. It has been made clear, especially in the media, that the reason he was fired was for "lying to VP Pence" over his contacts with Russia. Within days of that spin, Pence is jettisoned off to an international security conference in Europe where he is portrayed as "the voice of reason" by the US media. His diplomatic skills are emphasized. There are no peculiar and unflattering pictures of him published. In other words he is being promoted, but by whom?

The choice of Pence as running mate for Trump was often described by the US media as a nod to the Republican establishment, but many people thought it could also prove to be his undoing. Short term gain for long term pain. You will notice that throughout the Republican campaign, and the actual election, not one negative story about Pence has been filed. Why? Through two years of campaigning the media could not find any dirt on Pence? Seems very unlikely. The answer is clear - they're protecting him. Why have they protected him from the get go, and are now not just protecting him, but also promoting him? Cause he's their man. The man they intend to take over from Trump when they move to remove him. The vehicle of removal? With the obvious vilification of Trump by the media on the issue of Russia it seems this will be the chosen route for seeking his impeachment. However, it would seem that impeaching the man before he has barely attained the throne might not be the most prudent course. Then again, when it comes to loss of control, perhaps expediency will trump prudency.   

The US political establishment, and the US security establishment walk hand in hand. Never let that simple fact be lost on you. Therefore, when the political establishment is threatened with a loss of control so is the intelligence establishment. Nobody expected Trump to become President Trump (well some of us did call it) and what we're witnessing now is a sort of emergency surgery by the US establishment. They always had Pence as their go to card, but likely never believed they would need it - if the coverage by CNN is any example.

The bottom line is that the duly elected President of the United States is facing a coup from within the US political, security and media establishments. A very distasteful travesty to be perpetuated upon the "leader of the free world". The expediency of breaking the rules is always tempting to those in power, but it also has devastating consequences that are normally unintended. Whoever chose the expedient assassination of John F. Kennedy likely didn't fully realize that the assassination would create permanent, deep seeded distrust about the American government with the American people. It severely undermined the credibility of the establishment, and has fostered a now almost impenetrable distrust of all the government agencies within government.

Today the preferred method of dealing with these sort of situations is character assassination and not actual assassination. However, the reaction to this action may well be the same. Now many within the US establishment are attempting to show Russian President Putin as the puppet master behind Trump's rise to power. That may be true, or it may not be true. One thing is for certain though, Putin has to be the happiest camper on the block with Trump's election. The Divided States is now more divide than ever - bypassing the Vietnam War era. If something were to happen to President Trump the only real benefactor would be Putin. The internal unrest that would result from a coup against Trump would rip the US apart as "Trump Nation" lost its proverbial mind over his ouster. If he isn't ousted, and the US establishment simply continues to create an atmosphere of chaos within the country, Putin wins here too. Putin would certainly be the man sitting in the nose bleed section, devouring his popcorn as the US imploded. Looking at it from that perspective is even more worrisome, yet all too real to be ignored. Putin may have helped Trump get elected, but he may have done it in careful consideration of the reaction by the establishment to a Trump victory and not any possible sweet deals he could get as a result of his assistance. This seems far more likely to me.

If I had a message for the US establishment it would be: careful what you wish for. For every action there is a reaction, and the unintended consequences of surgery may be fatal for their place they have become accustomed to. Certainly that is what history has shown - in the US or elsewhere. The far better approach is to allow the man to exercise the responsibility he earned by winning the election. Rely and trust in your democratic process. Put aside your ambitions and ego. Let nature take its course. Do not open Pandora's Box. Be careful what you wish for.  If I had a message for President Trump it would be: whoever is feeding you lines that your electoral college seat count is the highest since Reagan's victory is giving you "bad advice" for an intended purpose. I'm a proud Canadian, and happy this isn't transpiring in my country, but this world is for all of us to be responsible for. Coups are not responsible exercises of power. This one, in that way, is no different.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Russia's duty in Eastern Ukraine

As far as civil wars go, the war in Eastern Ukraine is as ugly and hateful as any. It started with a popular revolt in the republics of Lugansk and Donetsk against the removal of the Ukrainian president by popular revolt in Western Ukraine - during the Sochi Olympics. Back then unarmed civilians were standing in front of tanks and armoured personnel carriers to stop Ukrainian troops from entering their cities and towns. People took over government buildings and protested against the government in Kiev. We're a long way from those days now.

With backing from the United States, the Ukrainian government turned its army on the rebels in both Republics. In response, Russia assisted the rebels with arms, intelligence and some allege men. In any case, the popular unrest against the coup in Kiev turned into a war for the two republics independence. Shockingly, and brutally, the Ukrainian government ordered its own military forces to attack the towns and cities of Donetsk and Lugansk, and the death toll of civilians ran into the thousands. The Ukrainian government never seriously looked to negotiate with the people of Eastern Ukraine. They simply tried to put them down. That's were anger over the coup turned into pure hatred. A blood hatred. Too many lives were touched by death and destruction at the hands of their own government to ever forgive.

Today, as I write this, the guns of war have shattered what was always a shaky ceasefire known as the Minsk Accord. Minsk was always destined to failure as it never fully took into account the blood hate in Ukraine. I wrote about it back then here . The truth is neither side wants a thing to do with the other. The Ukrainian government is acting as though the people in Eastern Ukraine are trying to steal their territory, and the people who reside there have no right to self-determination. Not a very European view, which the new government there claims to be.

The Ukrainian army has been conducting a "creeping" offensive almost since Minsk was signed, but in recent days that has accelerated dramatically. They have been moving into small towns and areas that were agreed to be no man's land, or left alone by both sides. They were in the de-militarized zone that divided the two sides along the complete front lines. The forces of Donetsk and Lugansk, I call them NAF or Novorossiya Armed Forces, after the name the Lugansk and Donetsk Republics gave their new political entity (Novorossiya = New Russia), are responding to these incursions now. Massive artillery duels between the two sides have escalated dramatically. Civilian areas are being leveled once again, and Ukrainian tanks have been filmed in the "de-militarized" zone near the city of Donetsk.

It appears that a freshly rearmed Ukraine, with masses of new military recruits, is again planning on asserting itself on the two republics. That being the case, where are the guarantor nations of the Minsk Agreement? Russia, Germany and France brokered the deal, but they aren't forcing the Ukrainian government to restrain itself. In fact, they haven't been able to get Ukraine to live up to any of the required steps outlined in the Minsk Agreement. Instead, Minsk has served as a shaky truce at best - often violated over the last three years, but not to the degree it has been today.

Russia, Germany and France have the responsibility to enforce Minsk. Not just the truce aspect of Minsk, but also the structural requirements that the Ukraine government was meant to do under the agreement. While Russia would not have much influence to bring to bare on the government in Kiev, Germany and France certainly could. The United States certainly could. Instead, these governments, including my own in Canada, have turned this into a rearming and retraining exercise of the Ukrainian military - essentially treating Ukraine as a member of the NATO alliance. In other words, there has been no good faith given to the Minsk Agreement, and the sole focus has been meeting force with force.

Russia has a role to play in all this that it has refused, and that is to occupy the two republics. The Ukrainian government feels it has a free hand in attacking when and how it chooses, and most of the casualties that result are civilians. This has to stop. The only way to stop the Ukrainian government from attacking its own civilians in the republics is to place a barrier in front of them that will deliver a much more serious blow to them that they could inflict on the other side. The Russian army would and should constitute such a barrier. I say that not to wave the Russian flag, but in serious reflection on reality. Russia will not, understandably, allow foreign armies enmasse on its border. Nobody would. It would take an army to stop the two sides from killing each other. The majority of both republics either identify themselves as Russian or are Russian speakers. The Russians in these circumstances would be trusted by the people of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Russian military intervention in the republics is necessary, pragmatic, and humane. The Western world needs to come to this conclusion, and support it before all out carnage raises its ugly head there again. The stupid, outdated ideas of Russian imperialism and all that nonsense need to be put to the side. The Russian government must also wake up and smell the coffee. Russia claims to be a source of major influence in the world, and a leader in a new multi-polar world. If that is to be the case, then Russia must exert itself correspondingly if it wants to be taken seriously.

Of course, Russia itself is in the middle of a rearmament program, and in that sense it may not want to bite off more than it can chew - which in a sense is understandable. However, when mass slaughter is happening on your won border, and people of your decent are the victims of a government that shells its own people, then it is incumbent on you to act decisively. By way of example, the Turkish incursion into Syria to establish a "safe zone". Russia could, and should do the same in Donetsk and Lugansk. A safe zone that protects those people from being slaughtered at random by their own government. That isn't being imperialistic or ambitious. It is being humane and showing leadership. It is plain and obvious, that after three years of Minsk, the Ukraine government simply can't resist the temptation to put down the people of Donetsk and Lugansk by force. No further evidence is required. Russia sitting on its hands makes Russia look weak on its own border, and with its fellow Slavs. So, Mr. Putin, show the leadership a leader of the multi-polar world must, and make Donetsk and Lugansk a "safe zone" for the people that live there. Don't they deserve that much?