Monday, March 19, 2018

Endless war in Syria

Patrick Cockburn was one of the best reporters on the Iraq War. If we can legitimately speak of it in the past tense. The trusty but staid Encyclopaedia Britannica's gives this definition (internal links omitted):
Iraq War, also called Second Persian Gulf War, (2003–11), conflict in Iraq that consisted of two phases. The first of these was a brief, conventionally fought war in March–April 2003, in which a combined force of troops from the United States and Great Britain (with smaller contingents from several other countries) invaded Iraq and rapidly defeated Iraqi military and paramilitary forces. It was followed by a longer second phase in which a U.S.-led occupation of Iraq was opposed by an insurgency. After violence began to decline in 2007, the United States gradually reduced its military presence in Iraq, formally completing its withdrawal in December 2011.
Cockburn gives us a grim update on the grim, ongoing Syria War, which is a civil war mixed with increasing foreign intervention, , The Syrian war could still be raging in four years' time unless the US and Russia agree to end it Independent 03/16/2018:

We must speak of multiple armed conflicts in Syria rather than a single war so that when one military confrontation gets close to its final chapter, it is swiftly replaced by another. Isis, the greatest threat of 2014 to 2017, is largely eliminated, but the new focus of violence is the escalating struggle between Turkey and the two or three million Syrian Kurds.

The Syrian Army is advancing into Eastern Ghouta and the likelihood is that President Bashar al-Assad will soon have almost complete control of the capital for the first time since 2012. One outcome could be for the rebel fighters to leave with light weapons for opposition or Turkish-held territory in southern and northern Syria, while the bulk of the civilian population would be amnestied and stay where they are. But the Syrian war is littered with compromise solutions which never quite came about because there were too many players to agree on a common course of action. [my emphasis]
Cockburn argues that a deal between the US and Russia is the best hope of putting the armed conflict to an end sooner rather than later. He describes the enhanced influence of Russia in Syria this way:
The Russians, for their part, know that it was their military intervention in Syria which in a single stroke restored their status as a superpower or something like it, a position they had lost when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. When the Syrian crisis first exploded in 2011, a senior Iraqi official asked an American general what was so different between the situation in Libya, where Gaddafi had just been ousted and killed, and that in Syria. The general replied in a short succinct sentence, saying that in Syria “Russia is back”. [my emphasis]
It's worth noting here that the US' enhanced influence in the US that has grown over the decades since the Carter Administration, and especially since the Persian Gulf War of 1991 has been anything but an unmixed blessing. To put it mildly. Anyone who wishes Russia ill might be celebrating their current role in the Middle East.

Cockburn's article is worth noting in connection with these reflections from Lawrence Wilkerson, The Most Important Hearings Of The Young Century LobeLog 03/16/2018. He reminds us that starting a war is a way for Trump to rally public support around him in the face of the staggering scandals now being investigated in relation to Trump, his businesses, and his 2016 campaign:
But the Syria conflict will most likely be the conduit through which this presidential team, linked at the hip with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s team, pursues its first new and immediately most likely use of military power. However, even the unending war thus produced — for that is precisely what it will be — will not sufficiently satisfy the appetites of this team. Moreover, taking on Syria and Iran might well lead to Russia. Putin has said as much publicly.

Imagine this scenario for a frightening moment. While embroiled in Syria with Israel at our side, Russia and Iran confront the U.S. and no one backs down. Turkey leaps into the mix to finish off as many Kurds as possible as the inevitable major regional war begins. Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, China delivers and immediately acts upon an ultimatum to Taipei. This bellicose White House team led by Donald Trump challenges China and, in the process, immediately loses USS Carl Vinson, sunk in minutes by a combination of missiles, torpedoes, and precision-guided bombs, an aircraft carrier worth $14 billion with about 5,000 souls on board.

Mr. President, what do you and your team do now?

Frankly, I believe this bone-spur-afflicted warrior will run upstairs in the White House, close the door firmly, pick up his smart device, and commence tweeting that, among other things, it was not his fault.
One of the implications of Wilkerson's comment is that, even if the Trump Administration is trying to be friendly to Russia, bad decisions in the context of unpredictable day-to-day events in the Syrian context could escalate to a much more consequential clash for the United States.

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