Now non-lethal aide is cut to Syrian Rebels

 

This was always the risk with arming the Syrian rebels. AQ linked rebels could easily take, steal, or acquire any weapons we supply them with. Either way, it’s not looking good for the “moderate” rebels, like elsewhere in the Middle East the well armed often rule in the in governed spaces. Syria is no exception.

Syria Update…

So how are those hyped talks with Syria going? After going to the faux brink of “military action”, losing the Brits, and then a last minute approval request from Congress, we initiated negotiations with Syria for removal of their chemical weapons.

I fear the talks are becoming worthless. Although UN teams are in country, both Saudi Arabia and the leading Syrian rebel groups are now boycotting any future talks. Why? Because they both insist that removal of the Assad regime must be a part if the talks, and of course Pres Assad does not agree. I think we can be pretty confident Pres Assad is not worried about US military action.

This had so inflamed our relations with Saudi Arabia that they turned down a nomination to the UN Security Council in disgust of our (and UN) handling if the Syrian issue.

Spokesman for the Dept of State on Syrian issues, Robert Ford, said “there is no military solution for Syria.” While I agree Syria would be a mess for our troops, this just verifies that there really was no threat of military action in Syria, and Assad knew it.

Last minute talks were agreed to by Syria and their Russian allies primarily to boost the Russian influence in the area and preserve the Assad regime.

Now we are not having talks with the leading rebel group nor with one if our former best ally in the region. Once again, Pres Obama has increased the distance between us and our allies and decreased relations in the Middle East.

I fear our Middle East relations will continue to deteriorate along with our prestige and influence on the World stage. It’s a shame that it is self induced.

Talk to Iran?

Trust Iran?

Where has this sudden move by IRAN to admit that nuclear weapons should not be a weapon in their military come from? Is it from the recent showdown in Syria where President Assad was trembling (tic) at the thought of military strikes in Syria…  Uh, no. I don’t believe military options are the key reason. I think two other options are influencing the Khomenei and the new President in Iran.

The first, often criticized, is the cumulative effect sanctions are having on the population in Iran. Despite Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea shrugging theirs off, sanctions are finally making an impact in Iran.

After Ahmadenijad’s reelection in 2009, many in the country thought the “election” was fraudulent and rioting ensued across the country (reminder the Supreme Leader selects the President to be voted upon in Iran-not a real free election) Iran’s oil revenue is down 58% and it has been reported that over 50% of the population is having trouble finding enough money for food. This can be directly correlated to decreased fuel subsidies by the Iranian government spiking gasoline prices and runaway inflation on basic necessities and western products.  Rouhani was elected on the promise that he would improve the economy and situation for the average Iraninan..  Now he has to deliver.

Where could he possible get the money for this? How about cutbacks or reduction in developing nuclear weapons? This is hugely expensive, especially buying equipment on the global black market, subsidizing North Korea, paying off nuclear scientists, and they burying them into mountainsides. They could save billions of dollars and turn that money back to the country or to the oil infrastructure. If Rouhani can get some sanctions reduced in a deal with the US, even more trade and infrastructure can help his cause. More money also means Iran can increase their foreign aid to their friends across the Middle East, Venezuela, and North Korea. (Perhaps future blog on that topic)

What else is enabling this sudden desire to talk to the US? I believe it’s the sudden reemergence of their long friends the Russians. With Putins team stealing the political limelight with a “save” in Syria, I think the Iranians will use the Russian link for their future negotiations with Kerry. I look to see Russian influence either on inspectors, teams, or even coordinators for verification. Perhaps UN teams allowed as well, but don’t look for any Americans anytime soon own those teams.
Russia also plays a key role in any future UNSC Resolutions or helping remove current ones. What else? I’m sure Iran would be happy to receive their often delayed S300 missile system.

Putin will be for elevating his country to a status so they matter again on the World Stage… All without military might. He is seeking equal status with the US in the Middle East and probably fits in with old realpolitik thoughts from the old days…

Do I think all these happy thoughts on Iran possible? Yes, but it’s not as we haven’t heard this tune before, both in Iran and their soul mates in North Korea. (North Korea was reportedly powering up a reactor this last week that they agreed to shut down a decade ago in return for oil shipments there). I am highly skeptical of these public promises and well have to see what Iran agrees to, and more importantly what inspectors find. In the end nothing should change for sanctions until we see some actual events on the ground in Iran.

Either way, I think we have to give these talks a shot, even if it helps Russia in the near term. Military action in Iran is the last thing we need at this point after multiple Wars the last decade and a budget crisis with a tired military.

A Plea from Putin

From the NYTimes:

A Plea for Caution From Russia
By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN
September 11, 2013 The New York Times
MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

Syria Accepts Russian Proposal

image Syrian President Assad has accepted the Russian proposal for international control of his chemical weapons.

We shall see if this is accepted into TA UNSC Resolution led by France.

Odd though we are stopped at the brink of attacking by a supposed Kerry gaffe. I guess it’s better to be lucky than right.

 

A Quotation Summary of Syria

Although I lifted this from my earlier blog, I think it deserves its own posting that I can update.

Here is a summary (my version) of the White House comments or statements so far:

“We must attack within 48 hours”

“We can’t wait on the UN inspectors report”

“We have a large Coalition with us”

“I don’t need Congress to authorize this immediate threat”

“I will seek Congress’ authorization” (for this immediate threat but not until next week, oops 2+ weeks)

“But I don’t need their authorization”

“We will punish them militarily” (but not destroy the weapons themselves)

(To get some Republicans onboard) “We will change the momentum of the battlefield”

“If they hand over their chemical weapons we won’t attack”

Don’t worry about Syria’s response, AQ, rebuilding Syria or affiliated extremists.. “We’ve talked this all through”

Is Syria Different?

I’ve seen more and more press releases from this weekend on how Syria is different from Iraq, or Libya, that we must act.  Funny coming from Sen Kerry who was against action in Iraq, despite UN Sanctions which we don’t have here, that this time we must act.

How did our last bombing in the region go after its leader Gaddafi was threatening..  From a Sunday article in the London paper the Independent:

Libya has plunged unnoticed into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Qaddafi two years ago.  Government authority is disintegrating in all parts of the country putting in doubt claims by American, British and French politicians that NATO’s military action in Libya in 2011 was an outstanding example of a successful foreign military intervention, which should be repeated in Syria. … Output of Libya’s prized high-quality crude oil has plunged from 1.4 million barrels a day earlier this year to just 160,000 barrels a day now.

Thomas Friedman had a great article discussing this same topic in his Sunday Op-Ed:

I keep reading about how Iraq was the bad war and Libya was the good war and Afghanistan was the necessary war and Bosnia was the moral war and Syria is now another necessary war. Guess what! They are all the same war.

They are all the story of what happens when multisectarian societies, most of them Muslim or Arab, are held together for decades by dictators ruling vertically, from the top down, with iron fists and then have their dictators toppled, either by internal or external forces. And they are all the story of how the people in these countries respond to the fact that with the dictator gone they can only be governed horizontally — by the constituent communities themselves writing their own social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens, without an iron fist from above. And, as I’ve said before, they are all the story of how difficult it is to go from Saddam to Jefferson — from vertical rule to horizontal rule — without falling into Hobbes or Khomeini.

He goes on further discussing the same dangers I have in previous posts about there is no political entity that is ready to take over should Assad be toppled or removed from power.

If we were to decapitate the Syrian regime from the air, the same thing would likely happen there. For any chance of a multi-sectarian democratic outcome in Syria, you need to win two wars on the ground: one against the ruling Assad-Alawite-Iranian-Hezbollah-Shiite alliance; and, once that one is over, you’d have to defeat the Sunni Islamists and pro-Al Qaeda jihadists. Without an army of the center (which no one will provide) to back up the few decent Free Syrian Army units, both will be uphill fights.

The center exists in these countries, but it is weak and unorganized. It’s because these are pluralistic societies — mixtures of tribes and religious sects, namely Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Druze and Turkmen — but they lack any sense of citizenship or deep ethic of pluralism. That is, tolerance, cooperation and compromise. They could hold together as long as there was a dictator to “protect” (and divide) everyone from everyone else. But when the dictator goes, and you are a pluralistic society but lack pluralism, you can’t build anything because there is never enough trust for one community to cede power to another — not without an army of the center to protect everyone from everyone…..

…..

Each tribe or sect believes it is in a rule-or-die struggle against the next, and when everyone believes this, it becomes self-fulfilling.

That means Syria and Iraq will both likely devolve into self-governing, largely homogeneous, ethnic and religious units, like Kurdistan. And, if we are lucky, these units will find a modus vivendi, as happened in Lebanon after 14 years of civil war. And then maybe, over time, these smaller units will voluntarily come together into larger, more functional states.

They are tough words, but if we “change the momentum on the battlefield” we need to be prepared to get more involved for quite some time.

Is Syria different on the ground?  No.  It will take enormous effort, money, and blood before Syria would be stable enough following the collapse of their government.  It would take help from the Arab League, NATO, EU, The UN, none of which is stepping up yet.

Is it different for Presidential authority to unilaterally act? Yes.  In fact, despite calls from the President that Congressional approval is not required (coincidentally that he is seeking approval of) the NY Times this morning had this in their article:

…. the proposed strike is unlike anything that has come before — an attack inside the territory of a sovereign country, without its consent, without a self-defense rationale and without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council or even the participation of a multilateral treaty alliance like NATO, and for the purpose of punishing an alleged war crime that has already occurred rather than preventing an imminent disaster.

If you remember the Bush reasoning for Iraq, it was expanding our authority to strike to prevent an imminent attack.  There was also a decade of UN Sanctions not upheld.

Related articles

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/opinion/sunday/friedman-same-war-different-country.html?_r=3&

Is it War, or does it Matter?

A week ago, President Obama told us that he did not need Congressional approval to bomb Syria. Then after seeing the International Coalition dissolve, he proclaimed he would get backing from Congress. Now Sen Kerry states (Interview from the HUFF Post):

“Constitutionally, every president, Republican and Democrat alike, has always reserved to the presidency, to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the right to make a decision with respect to American security,” Kerry said during an interview in his State Department reception room on Thursday.

“Bill Clinton went to Kosovo over the objections of many people and saved lives and managed to make peace because he did something that was critical at the time. Many presidents have done that. Reagan did it. Bush did it. A lot of presidents have made a decision that they have to protect the nation.”

So do they need Congress? I don’t know. Apparently they want a scapegoat if it goes south.. Otherwise , (tic) well, you better vote for it Congress, or the President might do it anyway..

Are we going so that we can save the people and provide peace like Kerry states in his interview or are we going to uphold the “international laws” against chemical weapons that Syria has never signed? Oh yeah, and without UN backing or any sort of NATO or Coalition force. Somehow we will also do it with limited strikes that will “punish” Assad but somehow not destabilize the security of the weapons. (or destroy them for that matter) Never mind our tired military since 9/11, limited stockpile of tomahawk missiles (well over a $1 million a piece), sequestration, and a Congress that never passes a military fiscal budget before a fiscal year starts.

Even larger in the debate, doesn’t military action without international sanctions violate “international law” ?

Do we need to declare “war” with Congress? Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post asked in her editorial this morning:

What would we call it if another country fired missiles our way? ….

I know what the Syrians will think of it.

Will this “non-war” punishment make a difference to Assad? I doubt it. Would it have made a difference to Qaddafi? Oh yeah, it didn’t matter there either. He would fight to the death like Saddam. Will this change the momentum on the battlefield? Perhaps 3 days of strikes could. But who will take charge? Who has the best weapons and is the most brutal? I let you answer that.

Worried about the weapons falling into the wrong hands or AQ elements taking charge of the weakened state of the Syrian government.. ? (From the Huff post interview)

But if we “degrade” the structure for controlling those weapons, how do we keep them from getting into the wrong hands without some kind of on-the-ground involvement?
Let me give you the reverse question. If we don’t send this message to Assad that this should not be used, and if we don’t strengthen the opposition over a period of time through the support that the world is giving to them, and the United States backs off of sending this message, there is a much greater likelihood that those weapons will fall into the hands of the bad guys and a much greater likelihood that you will have a lot more of them, because those are the people who are going to get the support to remove Assad.

But the specific question is, if you degrade the delivery systems, how do you keep those materials from getting into the wrong hands?
By being very thoughtful in your selection of what you do, so that you do not undo his ability to be able to maintain and guard the actual stockpiles. Stockpiles are spread out in various parts of the country. And we know where they are. And the United States is obviously going to be very careful not to do something that makes matters worse.

So to summarize his answers, Sen Kerry believes the chemical weapons are more likely to fall in to the wrong hands if we don’t strike. Don’t worry, he’s not going to strike anything that affects the chemical weapons or their security. As he says, he’s talked this all through. Really? Thats our assurance? You’ve talked it through? Sorry, I’ve seen post strike Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and you think it will be alright? Did those work out as planned? Uh, no.

In the end I feel like I’m on a roller coaster from the White House. A year ago chemical weapons are a red line. A year later 100k Syrians are dead with perhaps a million refugees and we don’t say anything until Syria’s second chemical attack.

“We must attack within 48 hours”

“We can’t wait on the UN inspectors report”

“We have a large Coalition with us”

“I don’t need Congress to authorize this immediate threat”

“I will seek Congress’ authorization” (for this immediate threat but not until next week, oops 2+ weeks)

“But I don’t need their authorization”

“We will punish them militarily” (but not destroy the weapons themselves)

(To get some Republicans onboard) “We will change the momentum of the battlefield”

“If they hand over their chemical weapons we won’t attack”

Don’t worry about Syria’s response, AQ, rebuilding Syria or affiliated extremists.. “We’ve talked this all through”

My question is, what is next in the plan?

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