Home for the holidays – and because of that, I thought that an update on what is going on around the compass rose might be helpful.
US Military to Withdraw from Syria
Progs criticized President Trump for deploying the US Military in Syria to degrade or defeat ISIS. Now that the last ISIS stronghold fell to the US/Kurds, those same curs are blaggarding him for withdrawing the troops. I realize that war is a racket and our deployment in Syria benefits defense contractors in the DC Beltway. At the same time, President Trump’s move is the correct one.
The US military forces had a specific, narrow mission which originally was to capture Raqqa. They accomplished that.
Capturing Raqqa expanded into ensuring the Islamic State was permanently defeated, which won’t happen ideologically, but they can be denied territory and we did that.
Then the mission morphed into protecting the Kurds.
That expanded into blocking the Iranians.
Then came ensuring a government without Syrian President Assad; then staying until there was a political settlement and finally seeking a fundamental regime change but Assad can stay.
The US has never had a strong rationale for involvement in Syria. The images of then Secretary of State Kerry fawning over Assad during the miserable years of obamanation were as unnatural as the US supporting soldiers and Marines in a completely land-locked enclave that is mostly desert.
The US is not ceding Syria to anyone. It never had anything to cede. Despite dominating a third of Syria, the US has had no influence in Syria beyond the fight against the Islamic State.
The other parties live in the region, except the Russians. The Russians have had ties to Syria since 1946. They have had a naval facility at Tartus since 1971 by invitation. The Russians, Iranians and Turks filled all available political space long before the first US soldier arrived.
The US could not protect the Kurds. The US backing of the Kurds could not prevent their loss of Afrin Canton to the Turks in two major operations. None of the major regional actors support the Kurds. Russia tried and failed to arrange for the Kurds to attend UN-backed or Russian-backed political meetings.
Islamic State fighters remain in Syria and continue to relocate and reconstitute in many countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indian Kashmir. China is concerned about returning Uighur fighters. The US military success in Syria forced non-Syrian fighters to return to their homes, generating an Islamic State diaspora. Sorry China…no, not really.
The many Israeli air attacks against Iranians in Syria are a testament that the US military presence posed no significant obstacle to expansion of Iranian activities in Syria.
The Russians have been a Syrian ally for 60 years. Their position has been strengthened because they did not have to fight the Islamic State. They added an airbase and signed a 99 year lease for the naval base. They used the civil war to field test their most modern weapons and all their field commanders. Most of that would not have been possible without the US effort that defeated the Islamic State. The Russians would have been required to commit far more forces than they have.
The Turks are the historic enemy of the Russians, Arabs and the Persians. The US intervention force distracted the Russians, Arabs and Iranians from that underlying fact. None of these parties will defend the Kurds, but they will now be able to focus on frustrating Turkish President Erdogan’s pretense to restore Ottoman dominance.
The Kurds want to create a federal state. That won’t happen, but the US has empowered them. With better arms, training and experience, they are better equipped to negotiate an arrangement with the Syrian government and to resist the Turks. If the Turks attempt genocide, US airpower will remain in the region and on call.
The next order of business will be the re-emergence of the old hatred of the Turks. Russia, Syria and Iran eventually will induce Turkey to withdraw its forces back across the border. Turkey’s invasion of Syria; its support for Syrian Islamic extremist groups and its dalliances with Russia and China will diminish its stature in NATO. When there was an Islamist threat on NATO’s flank, the Turks sided with the Islamists.
With no US forces in Syria, the US will have the opportunity to have a relationship with Syria. In many indirect and important ways, the US military presence saved the Assad government by enabling its allies. However, the government in Damascus will be looking for opportunities to balance its dependence on Russia and Iran. The Russians will always be amenable to letting the US shoulder the costs of Syrian reconstruction.
As for Iran, Syria is a secular state, the last of the Ba’athists – pan-Arab socialists. Iran’s relationship with Syria during peace time always has been uneasy, bordering on unnatural. Religion has almost nothing to do with the Syrian-Iranian relationship. It is based on the Syrian confrontation with Israel. The practices and beliefs of the Alawite sect in Syria border on heresy and apostasy for Sunni and Shia Muslims of strict observance.
For years, Syria has allowed Iran to use Syria as the conduit for arms to Hizballah, enabling Hizballah to open the Lebanese front on Israel’s northern border. Tension between Hizballah and Israel is likely to increase and could lead to conflict, but the US presence in Syria has been tangential to that scenario, despite the best efforts of Prime Minister Netanyahu to draw the US into the larger Arab-Israeli confrontation.
Mischief in Ukraine
|19 December situation map produced and
published by the Ukrainian National
Security and Defense Council staff.
Eastern Ukraine is quiet, but Kyiv wants another dustup. Despite Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s outcries, the military situation in eastern Ukraine is almost quiet. In the past two days, the daily situation map produced by the Ukrainian National Defense and Security Council shows limited exchanges of fire across the contact line.
This week Russia has deployed 10 combat aircraft to Crimea, but the Ukrainian threats of an imminent invasion are not supported by the the staff of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council or any reputable news service. Generally, most people are preparing for the winter holidays.
Ukraine announced its intention to send more patrol ships back to its Azov Sea ports again.
Oleksandr Turchynov, Secretary of the Ukrainian government’s national security and defense council said in an interview with the BBC, “Russia’s aggression will not stop our plans to create a naval group in the Sea of Azov…If we stop and retreat, Russia will actually fulfill its task of capturing the Sea of Azov, present the world with self-determined new sea borders in the Black Sea, de facto legalizing the occupation of Crimea,” (BBC News)
The Ukrainians want to draw the US and Europe into their arguments with Russia and they are instigating trouble where it doesn’t need to be. The hope of money and power from outside of the nation motivate those moves.
|Gurza-M class artillery boats (built in 2012) are made in
Ukraine to patrol harbors, rivers, and lakes. They are a poor
match for the Russian fleet.
Turchynov said Kyiv would invite representatives of NATO and the OSCE on board next time to prove Ukraine was not violating any regulations.
The Russians retain custody of three Ukrainian vessels and their crews that provoked the Russians in the Sea of Azov last time. The Ukrainian navy probably cannot afford to lose many more patrol ships, and they will if they continue to provoke the Russians.
The Ukrainians talk boldly, but the Sea of Azov has been Russian-controlled since Prince Potemkin formed the Black Sea Fleet in 1783 at Sevastopol. The Russians have established rules for passing through the Kerch Strait, and enforce those rules.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner posted on Twitter that he was to meet union representatives on Tuesday evening, 18 December. Two police unions complained on 17 December about working conditions and strained resources in light of the past few weeks of protests, which have seen officers sent in to clear road blockades and control demonstrations.
The outcome of Castaner’s meeting was interrupted for budget discussions and was set to resume on Wednesday night, 19 December. The issues are pay increases and overtime pay.
France asked the national police to defend the government from the positions that it adopted. The police then abandoned that duty (in part) through their own protest to the same unpopular decisions to levy a tax on the weather, and send the proceeds to the third world for some sort of alchemy that is not well defined.
The French government is in a bind. They can’t exist without police support and the police want pay and overtime that they earned, and the government doesn’t want to pay. That reluctance does have to do with the police mutiny. When the police fail to respond to lawful orders, a government is in jeopardy as well as embarrassed.