Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Syria and Russia, in foreign policy and domestic politics

Emile Nakhleh presents a humanitarian-hawk case for escalating US-NATO intervention in the Syrian civil war in Syria: Time to Reassess American Strategic View of the Middle East 10/12/2016 in LobeLog Foreign Policy, where the contributors are are typically skeptical of US intervention in the Middle East.

It becomes harder all the time to distinguish the neocon case for intervention here, there and everywhere from the case made by neoconservatives for the same. He presents his policy recommendations in bullet-point form:

  • Bring about the end of the Assad regime and the territorial defeat of the Islamic State, which could require targeted military operations by the United States.
  • Negotiate with Turkey, Jordan, secular and Islamic anti-Assad groups, other than IS, on setting up a post-Assad provisional government that would pave the way for national elections within a practical timeframe.
  • Utilize in conjunction with the UN Secretary General, the Security Council, and the International Court of Justice the appropriate mechanisms to charge Assad and his gang with war crimes for their actions against the people of Syria.
  • These charges could extend to Russian military and civilian leaders for their participation in the destruction of Aleppo.
  • Negotiate with regional and European states on how and where to settle the massive numbers of Syrian refugees and to return many of them back to their home country.
  • Balance American national interest—economic, political, commercial, and security—with American values of good governance.
  • Engage regional autocrats on the need to hold fair and free national elections and respect for human rights.
  • Engage Saudi Arabia and other regional states on how to curb the spread of extremist religious ideology.

He wants to US to commit to regime change in Damascus and use military means both directly and through allied nations and groups to achieve it. At the same time, the US should commit to the military defeat of one of the main opposition groups ISIS/Islamic State, itself a product of the ambitious US regime-change operation in Iraq during the Cheney-Bush Administration. And pursue international war crimes trials against Syrian and Russian officials. Solve the massive refugee problems created by the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War and the Libyan intervention through some kind of magic diplomatic conjuration. We will also "balance" and "engage" to bring about Jeffersonian democracy and "good governance" throughout the Middle East.

Nakhleh even works in the favorite US piece of anti-Russian propaganda of the moment. "The recent aggressive Russian hacking of American government institutions, including the electoral system and the Democratic National Committee communications, is only the tip of the iceberg," of the cyber-security threat which he also sees as a significant threat from the Mideast.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are committed to escalating US participation in the Syrian civil war. And the corporate media is cheerfully playing along, having in practice learned very little from the Iraq War fiasco, it seems.

This is pretty far from anything resembling foreign policy realism. Juan Cole talks about some of the rapidly evolving complication in Russia and Turkey Make up: What implications for Syria, Kurds? Infomrmed Comment 10/11/2016:

Putin and [Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan are said to have agreed that civilian humanitarian aid should be allowed to reach the rebel-held East Aleppo pocket. Reuters says that Erdogan said, “We discussed … how we can cooperate on this matter, especially on humanitarian aid to Aleppo, what strategy can we implement so people in Aleppo can find peace ...” In fact, the Syrian government is besieging and bombing the 250,000 civilians in East Aleppo, and Russia is helping. If Putin’s pledge to Erdogan really is implemented, that is huge.

Russian sources suggested (and I would take this with a grain of salt) that Erdogan and Putin had made a secret deal with one another whereby Russia has taken a neutral stance on Turkey’s incursions into Iraq to strike at the separatist PKK Kurdish guerrillas based there, who come over the border to hit Turkish security forces and sometimes to engage in terrorism. In return, Erdogan has ceased regularly demanding that Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad immediately leave office.

If this report has any truth to it, then Turkey may have begun acquiescing in the survival of the Syrian government, which would be huge for the Syrian crisis.
The Obama Administration has shown more restraint than hawks of either the liberal or neocon variety would prefer to have seen in Syria. But their recent initiative to get up war crimes charges against both Syrian and Russian officials plays to both anti-Russian and anti-Assad positions.

The neo-Cold War approach to relations with Russia promises to cause a lot of unnecessary trouble. Fred Kaplan cautions about the hyperventilating over the election-relating hacking that the Administration and the Clinton campaign are blaming on Russia (How Does Obama Respond to Russia’s Cyberattacks? Slate 10/11/2016):

Nobody knows much about “cyberdeterrence” — what it means, what it requires. At this moment, a panel of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board is writing a report on cyberdeterrence, the first official report on the subject, even though cyberweapons have been in existence for decades. We might be witnessing an attempt at forming a cyberdeterrence policy in the midst of an actual international confrontation. Whether it succeeds (if that, in fact, is what it is) may be determined by what happens, or doesn’t happen, on Nov. 8.

Hillary's partisans need to dial it back a bit on trying to tie Trump's imploding campaign to Russian espionage and subversion. Yesterday, even-the-progressive Ceny Uygur did this credulous report, Trump Caught Quoting Russian Propaganda The Young Turks 10/11/2016:

Josh Marshall explains more soberly that Trump's white supremacist base pays attention to rightwing Russian propaganda and has been for a while (The Russia Channel TPM 10/11/2016):

News from Russian propaganda sources are pervasive in the alt-right/neo-Nazi web. As a secondary matter we know from Adrian Chen's work that there are a decent number of faux 'pro-Trump' accounts on Twitter that are actually run from troll farms operated by Russian intelligence services. By whichever path, Russian propaganda is ubiquitous on the alt-right/racist web - particularly on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan and similar sites.

It happens that we know the Trump world is awash in the alt-right/neo-Nazi web. After all, that's where all the retweeting of #WhiteGenocide accounts and the like comes from. So anything is possible. Perhaps there's a more complex explanation. But the simplest one is that it's organic. Russian propaganda stories from outlets like RT, Sputniknews and other similar sites spread freely on the alt-right/white supremacist web. And that's where the Trump camp lives. So it's entirely plausible that that's why material that appears only on these Russian propaganda sites shows up so frequently in Trump's speeches.

In other words, don't worry. The Trump campaign isn't infiltrated by Russian intelligence (probably). They're just awash in neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda.
And he links to an earlier post of his that looked the same issue, Mapping the Trump Hate Bubble TPM 08/17/2016:

How can it possibly make sense to Trump and his top staffers to turn their campaign over to the head of the junk-right gonzo site Breitbart News? Do they think this is going to make winning more likely as opposed to striking a nail into whatever chance they have to turnaround a terrible trend? Who knows? A perfectly plausible answer that Trump is a committed white nationalist who simply wants to run this kind of campaign. To some extent it's definitely true. But again, there's speculation and then there are looser judgments that are nonetheless very edifying. And these little hints picked up by Ollstein and Brown are views into this world. A major party candidates, the nominee of the Republican party just in advance of the Fall campaign awash in the world of racist white nationalism, anti-American Russian propaganda and more. It's quite a spectacle to behold.
Josh also sketched the current positioning of Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News in Into the Alt-Left, Alt-Right Russian Alt-Universe TPM 08/16/2016:

Most of us know about RT. What I wasn't aware of was something new called Sputnik News. I'm definitely not the first to write about it. Many others have since it launched in 2014. I just wasn't familiar with it myself until I started seeing it referenced by various alt-left folks on Twitter. At first I thought it was some US outfit with just an arch name. But no, like RT, it's produced by the Russian government for foreign audiences. As Foreign Policy put it two years ago, if RT is a Russian mix of Deutsche Welle and VOA [Voice of America], Sputnik News is their propaganda Buzzfeed or maybe more like some combination of Free Beacon and the supermarket weekly world news. It's punchy, conversant or maybe more more like sorta conversant in all the new-fangled Internetn memes. At least in its American incarnation it's basically Russian propaganda for millennials.

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