The gains of Helsinki 1

What actually was discussed by the presidents of the US and Russia at Helsinki on July 16, 2018?

Was anything achieved, anything agreed between them that will have an effect in reality?

Were the leaders of these two powers, who together have more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons under their control, able to find common cause in at least some troubled areas where their militaries are or might be engaged?

Angelo Codevilla writes at American Greatness:

The high professional quality of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s performance at their Monday press conference in Helsinki contrasts sharply with the obloquy by which the bipartisan US ruling class showcases its willful incompetence. …

Having taught diplomacy for many years, I would choose the Trump-Putin press conference as an exemplar of how these things should be done. Both spoke with the frankness and specificity of serious business. This performance rates an A+.

Both presidents started with the basic truth.

Putin: The Cold War is ancient history. Nobody in Russia (putting himself in this category) wants that kind of enmity again. It is best for Russia, for America, and for everybody else if the two find areas of agreement or forbearance.  

Trump: Relations between the globe’s major nuclear powers have never [since the Cold War? – ed] been this bad — especially since some Americans are exacerbating existing international differences for domestic partisan gain. For the sake of peace and adjustment of differences where those exist and adjustment is possible, Trump is willing to pay a political cost to improve those relations (if, indeed further enraging his enemies is a cost rather than a benefit).

In short, this was a classic statement of diplomatic positions and a drawing of spheres of influence.

As Putin listed his agenda, he showed that today’s Russia is a status quo power, whose primary objective is stability. Having come to power over a country diminished and dispirited, he sought to recover as much as possible of what Russia had lost in the Soviet break-up. He forcibly took back parts of Georgia and Ukraine. In doing so, he pushed against open doors.

Today, no other doors are open. Now being ahead, he wants to stop the game. He knows that this is possible because nobody is going to wage or even risk war against Russia to try disgorging Abkhazia and Crimea. He wants Trump to acknowledge that. Warning against extending NATO to Ukraine and Georgia, he signaled that all else is negotiable.

He also has rebuilt Russia’s military and wants to protect its edge by persuading Trump to keep US missile defense in its current dysfunctional mode. This is an inflexible demand that deserves an equally inflexible rejection. Trump had already delivered it by ordering the establishment of the US Space Force.

By securing his naval and air bases in Syria, Putin succeeded in returning Russia to warm-water sea power. That required backing the Shia side in its intra-Muslim war against the Sunni in Syria, while the United States backed the other side. Today Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey are much as Putin wants them. He wants Trump’s acknowledgment of this statusRussia continues to argue to Americans that both countries have suffered far more from Sunni terrorism — ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood — than from the Shia version.

The two made clear that their commitment to stability in the Middle East outweighs support for either side, and signaled wider cooperation, especially on military matters.

Trump, leaving no doubt that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is absolute, faced Putin with the choice of partnering with America in restraining Iran or of being drawn into an Israeli-American war against an Iran with whose forces Russia’s are interwoven. Putin, for his part, seemed to concur with Trump’s priority. That along with tripartite security consultations with Israel is likely to cool Iran and Hezbollah’s ardor for war.

Trump signaled that America’s interest in Eastern Europe lies in re-establishing peace there, and in safeguarding the independence of its states. Poland and the Baltic States are not just NATO members, but also close to the American people’s hearts. By stressing peace, he made clear that America does not intend to make its defensive commitments there the occasion for a war at or beyond the extreme reach of American power.

Though Russia has backed North Korea in the past, Putin signaled that he is not happy with its acquisition of a modern nuclear force that is effectively China’s pawn. He seemed to promise pressure on North Korea to denuclearize — something that would displease China. Though that was a minor part of both sides’ press conference, it may well signal both sides’ recognition of their mutual interest in not letting China become the Western Pacific’s overlord. Such an understanding would be no minor achievement.

The American ruling class’s attribution of the 2016 election to Trump-Putin collusion, which has characterized US-Russia relations for two years, provided the press conference’s fireworks. Both denied any such thing and insisted there was no evidence of it. In response to a question about whether Putin would make available the 12 Russian state intelligence employees indicted for interference in that election to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Putin pointed to the existence of a treaty of cooperation on criminal matters and promised Mueller that access to the accused through the treaty.

This led to the final flourish. The Associated Press reporter demanded that Trump state whether he believes the opinions of US intelligence leaders or those of Putin. It would be healthy for America were it to digest Trump’s answer: The truth about the charge that Russia stole the contents of the Democratic National Committee’s computer server is not to be found in the opinions of any persons whatever. The truth can be discovered only by examining the server in question—assuming it has not been tampered with since the alleged event. But, said Trump emphatically, those making the accusations against Russia have refused to let the server be examined by US intelligence or by any independent experts. What is the point of accusations coupled with refusal of access to the facts of the matter?

The classic texts of diplomatic practice teach that diplomacy advances the cause of peace and order only to the extent that its practitioners avoid contentious opinions and stick to demonstrable facts.

The AP reporter, who should be ashamed, is beyond shame. Then again, so are the ruling class representatives who have redoubled their animus against Trump. Cheap partisanship is not all that harmful. It is the transfer of domestic partisan animus to international affairs, however, that has the potential to start wars. …

What that ignorant “journalist” was demanding of Trump — precisely what the credentialed experts should know better than to have demanded — was that the president of the United States scream at the president of Russia for all his evils. Competitive “virtue signaling” has become the way of political life in America. To the extent that it bleeds into America’s foreign policy, we are all in big trouble.

It did not, and will not, “bleed into America’s foreign policy” through President Trump. Though his style of negotiating is to be frank and straightforward, he knows, through long experience, how to maintain an atmosphere of amicable goodwill which makes agreement easy where it is possible.

Contrast this meeting with the silly performance that a giggling US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, put on with her failed “Reset” act when she met the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on March 6, 2009, in Geneva; a farce which simply signaled to the Russians that Obama’s America was a push-over.

From the Obama-Clinton “reset’, Russia made all the gains. The US agreed to reduce its nuclear arsenal by a third (which Vice-President Biden hailed as a victory for the US!). Obama broke a US promise to Poland and the Czech Republic to provide them with missile defense systems and radar stations because the Russians were furious at the very idea. The Russians proceeded to destabilize Ukraine, shoot down a civil aircraft in Ukrainian airspace – and annex the Crimea. Though Obama drew a “red line” against the Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, using chemical weapons against his own people, he did nothing about it when Assad crossed the line by gassing the population of Ghouta, an area in southwest Syria, in August 2013. In the following month, the egregious John Kerry, successor to Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, claimed to have reached  an agreement with the Russians whereby they would reign Assad in, to prevent such a horror being perpetrated again. Russia, he was confident, would oversee the destruction of Assad’s arsenal of sarin and mustard gas and the facilities for their manufacture. Needless to say, Russia did no such thing.

True, we have yet to see the long-term results of any understanding reached by the two presidents at Helsinki. But of this this we can be sure: Vladimir Putin will have understood that Donald Trump is not a man to be trifled with.

A real American reset button 4

How cool is that – to actually make the Chinese Politburo sit [dining with President Trump] through a night of American targeted bombing?” Mark Steyn exclaims, as he comments, cogently and wittily as always, on Thursday night’s strike by the US on Syria.

The bombing was a praiseworthy act of “tactical ruthlessness”, which now needs to be “matched with strategic clarity”.

In regard to the Russians, who keep Assad “on his throne” in Syria, the strike – says Mark Steyn – was “A REAL AMERICAN RESET BUTTON”.

And in  the course of this recorded flow of apt observations delivered on Fox News next morning, he remarks: “Obama mistook the sidelines for the moral high ground.”

Which should be Obama’s epitaph. Or one of them.

Posted under Syria, United States, Videos by Jillian Becker on Saturday, April 8, 2017

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A just response to a savage attack – but what next? 15

Last night the US Department of Defense put out this statement through Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis:

At the direction of the president, U.S. forces conducted a cruise missile strike against a Syrian Air Force airfield today at about 8:40 p.m. EDT (4:40 a.m., April 7, in Syria).  The strike targeted Shayrat Airfield in Homs governorate, and were in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun, which killed and injured hundreds of innocent Syrian people, including women and children.

The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.  A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.   As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.

The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces.  The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4.  The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.

Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line.  U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.

We are assessing the results of the strike.  Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.  The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.

We applaud President Trump for keeping his word that he would act after the gassing of civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, and for acting decisively and effectively.

The strike sends a message to Russia, Iran, and North Korea that this president does what he says he will do, and he is willing to use the military might of the US against aggressors.

But questions arise:

The libertarian view is that the US should not have struck Syria because the US itself was not attacked. Is there merit in this view?

It needs to be asked: if Bashar Assad is deposed – as Secretary of State Tillerson has indicated is now a policy aim of the Trump administration- what will come after him? Is there anyone ready to succeed Assad who will govern the country any better?

Will chaos and violence prevail in Syria after Assad has gone, as it has in Libya ever since the death of its dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi?

Could any country possibly be in a worse, a more unstable, a more chaotic state, than Syria is now and has been for years?

Unless –

Will Assad’s going make it easier for ISIS to take over the whole country?

If ISIS did that, would President Trump – with the necessary approval of Congress – declare war on Syria?

What will happen to the Christians in Syria who have been protected by Assad if he goes? ISIS policy is to convert or enslave or destroy them.

We invite readers’ answers to these questions, or any others which this dramatic turn in world affairs gives rise to.

Posted under Arab States, middle east, Syria, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Friday, April 7, 2017

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The ruinous presidency of Barack Obama 4

… ends with a diabolical act of treachery.

Bret Stephens writes at the Wall Street Journal:

Barack Obama’s decision to abstain from, and therefore allow, last week’s vote to censure Israel at the U.N. Security Council is a fitting capstone for what’s left of his foreign policy. Strategic half-measures, underhanded tactics and moralizing gestures have been the president’s style from the beginning. Israelis aren’t the only people to feel betrayed by the results.

Also betrayed: Iranians, whose 2009 Green Revolution in heroic protest of a stolen election Mr. Obama conspicuously failed to endorse for fear of offending the ruling theocracy.

Iraqis, who were assured of a diplomatic surge to consolidate the gains of the military surge, but who ceased to be of any interest to Mr. Obama the moment U.S. troops were withdrawn, and only concerned him again when ISIS neared the gates of Baghdad.

Syrians, whose initially peaceful uprising against anti-American dictator Bashar Assad Mr. Obama refused to embrace, and whose initially moderate-led uprising Mr. Obama failed to support, and whose sarin- and chlorine-gassed children Mr. Obama refused to rescue, his own red lines notwithstanding.

Ukrainians, who gave up their nuclear weapons in 1994 with formal U.S. assurances that their “existing borders” would be guaranteed, only to see Mr. Obama refuse to supply them with defensive weapons when Vladimir Putin invaded their territory 20 years later.

Pro-American Arab leaders, who expected better than to be given ultimatums from Washington to step down, and who didn’t anticipate the administration’s tilt toward the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate political opposition, and toward Tehran as a responsible negotiating partner.

Most betrayed: Americans.

Mr. Obama promised a responsible end to the war in Iraq. We are again fighting in Iraq. He promised victory in Afghanistan. The Taliban are winning. He promised a reset with Russia. We are enemies again. He promised the containment of Iran. We are witnessing its ascendancy in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. He promised a world free of nuclear weapons. We are stumbling into another age of nuclear proliferation. He promised al Qaeda on a path to defeat. Jihad has never been so rampant and deadly.

These are the results. They would be easier to forgive if they hadn’t so often been reached by disingenuous and dishonorable means.

The administration was deceptive about the motives for the 2012 Benghazi attack. It was deceptive about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s service record, and the considerations that led it to exchange five Taliban leaders for his freedom. It was deceptive about when it began nuclear negotiations with Iran. It was deceptive about the terms of the deal. It continues to be deceptive about the fundamental aim of the agreement, which has less to do with curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions than with aligning Washington’s interests with Tehran’s.

Now the administration is likely being deceptive about last week’s U.N. vote, claiming it did not promote, craft or orchestrate a resolution that treats the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City as a settlement in illegally occupied territory. Yet in November, John Kerry had a long talk on the subject with the foreign minister of New Zealand, one of the resolution’s sponsors.

“One of the closed-door discussions between United States Secretary of State John Kerry and the New Zealand government today was a potential resolution by the United Nations Security Council on a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict,” the New Zealand Herald reported last month. “‘It is a conversation we are engaged in deeply and we’ve spent some time talking to Secretary Kerry about where the U.S. might go on this,’” the paper added, quoting Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

The Israelis claim to have more evidence along these lines. If so, it means the administration no longer bothers to lie convincingly.

Even this might be excusable, if Mr. Obama at least had the courage of his mistaken convictions, or if his deception were in the service of a worthier end. Instead, we have the spectacle of the U.S. government hiding behind the skirts of the foreign minister of New Zealand — along with eminent co-sponsors, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal — in order to embarrass and endanger a democratic ally in a forum where that ally is already isolated and bullied. In the catalog of low points in American diplomacy, this one ranks high.

After the Carter administration pulled a similar stunt against Israel at the Security Council in December 1980, the Washington Post published an editorial that does the paper honor today.

“It cannot be denied,” the editors wrote, “that there is a pack and that it hounds Israel shamelessly and that this makes it very serious when the United States joins it.” The editorial was titled Joining the Jackals.

Unlike Mr. Carter, Mr. Obama hasn’t joined the jackals. He has merely opened the door wide to them, whether at the U.N. or in the skies over Syria or in the killing fields in Ukraine.

The United States abstains: What a fitting finish to this ruinous presidency.

Yes. For America, if not for himself, Obama’s presidency has been a colossal foreign policy failure.

If his domestic policy failures – a long list, headed by his failure to achieve even 3% GDP growth in any year of his two terms and his worsening of race relations  – are added to the record, he surpasses Jimmy Carter to win the title of America’s worst president.

Putin projects Russian power, Obama wags his finger 2

Russia has brought fighter planes, air-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft batteries to Syria. He has put military “boots on the ground” there too. The aerial bombing and ground fighting have started. Command centers have been established. Russia is there to stay.

An editorial in Investor’s Business Daily deplores the fact that Russia is now the dominant great power in the Middle East.

And it is a fact. Obama has handed the region to Putin as on a golden platter.

And what’s worse, with Russia comes China and Iran. We can’t see Putin sharing power with any other country for very long.  But right now, the Vast Nasty Country Conspiracy is in full operation.  (See here, here, and here.)

Moscow won’t just be destroying IS; it will be replacing us as dominant power in the Mideast, where the oil the free world needs is. And Putin won’t be alone.

According to Russian Sen. Igor Morozov, who sits on Russia’s international affairs committee, Chinese forces are joining Russia against IS. “China has joined our military operation in Syria,” Morozov said in Pravda. “A Chinese cruiser has already entered the Mediterranean, and an aircraft carrier follows it.”

With Iranian Quds force commander Qassem Soleimani believed to have met with Russian officials this month, the “genuinely broad” coalition against terrorism in which “Muslim countries are to play a key role” may end up as Russia, China and Iran.

Meanwhile, London’s Daily Express reports on German reporter and author Jurgen Todenhofer’s book, “Inside IS — Ten Days in the Islamic State.”

In it, he warns that the free world “is drastically underestimating the power of ISIS’,  which “intends to get its hands on nuclear weapons”,  then undertake “the largest religious cleansing in history”. Years ago, all these would have seemed laughable predictions. But Obama’s new world of American decline is full of such terrifying surprises.

Charles Krauthammer thinks, as we do, that Putin has little interest in defeating the Islamic State.

He writes, also at IBD:

If it had the wit, the Obama administration would be not angered, but appropriately humiliated. President Obama has, once again, been totally outmaneuvered by Vladimir Putin.

Two days earlier at the United Nations, Obama had welcomed the return, in force, of the Russian military to the Middle East — for the first time in decades — in order to help fight the Islamic State.

The ruse was transparent from the beginning. Russia is not in Syria to fight the Islamic State. The Kremlin was sending fighter planes, air-to-air missiles and SA-22 anti-aircraft batteries. Against an Islamic State that has no air force, no planes, no helicopters?

Russia then sent reconnaissance drones over Western Idlib and Hama, where there are no Islamic State fighters. Followed by bombing attacks on Homs and other opposition strongholds that had nothing to do with the Islamic State.

Indeed, some of these bombed fighters were U.S. trained and equipped.

Asked if we didn’t have an obligation to support our allies on the ground, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter bumbled that Russia’s actions exposed its policy as self-contradictory.

Carter made it sound as if the Russian offense was to have perpetrated an oxymoron, rather than a provocation — and a direct challenge to what’s left of the U.S. policy of supporting a moderate opposition.

The whole point of Russian intervention is to maintain Assad in power. Putin has no interest in fighting the Islamic State.

Indeed, the second round of Russian air attacks was on rival insurgents opposed to the Islamic State. The Islamic State is nothing but a pretense for Russian intervention.

Just three weeks ago, Obama chided Russia for its military buildup, wagging his finger that it was “doomed to failure”. Yet by Monday he was publicly welcoming Russia to join the fight against the Islamic State.

He not only acquiesced to the Russian buildup, he held an ostentatious meeting with Putin on the subject, thereby marking the ignominious collapse of Obama’s vaunted campaign to isolate Putin diplomatically over Crimea.

Putin then showed his utter contempt for Obama by launching his air campaign against our erstwhile anti-Assad allies not 48 hours after meeting Obama.

Which the U.S. found out about when a Russian general knocked on the door of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and delivered a brusque demarche announcing that the attack would begin within an hour and warning the U.S. to get out of the way.

In his subsequent news conference, Secretary Carter averred that he found such Russian behavior “unprofessional.”

Good grief. Russia, with its inferior military and hemorrhaging economy, had just eaten Carter’s lunch, seizing the initiative and exposing American powerlessness — and the secretary of defense deplores what? Russia’s lack of professional etiquette.

Makes you want to weep.

Consider: When Obama became president, the surge in Iraq had succeeded and the U.S. had emerged as the dominant regional actor, able to project power throughout the region.

Last Sunday, Iraq announced the establishment of a joint intelligence-gathering center with Iran, Syria and Russia, symbolizing the new “Shiite-crescent” alliance from Iran across the northern Middle East to the Mediterranean, under the umbrella of Russia, the rising regional hegemon.

Russian planes roam free over Syria attacking Assad’s opposition as we stand by helpless. Meanwhile, the U.S. secretary of state beseeches the Russians to negotiate “de-conflict” arrangements — so that we and they can each bomb our own targets safely. It has come to this.

Why is Putin moving so quickly and so brazenly? Because he’s got only 16 more months to push on the open door that is Obama.

He knows he’ll never again see an American president such as this — one who once told the General Assembly that “no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation” and told it again last Monday of “believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.”

They cannot? Has he looked at the world around him — from Homs to Kunduz, from Sanaa to Donetsk — ablaze with conflict and coercion?

Wouldn’t you take advantage of these last 16 months if you were Putin, facing a man living in a faculty-lounge fantasy world?

Where was Obama when Putin began bombing Syria? Leading a U.N. meeting on countering violent extremism.

Go on, weep.

That’s what we’re doing, figuratively at least.

The terrifying army of the black flag 4

A review of a book on ISIS at Commentary, by Michael J. Totten, is full of interest. It explains some of the Byzantine intricacies of Arab, middle eastern, and Islamic politics.

The book is titled ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. It’s written by Michael Weiss & Hassan Hassan.

The review begins with two sentences with which we emphatically agree. We wish that all who report on ISIS would take note of them.

ISIS isn’t a terrorist organization. It’s a transnational army of terror.

And a very formidable army it is in its size and its armor.

The CIA claims it has as many as 31,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq, and Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, thinks the number may be as high as 200,000. When ISIS fighters conquered the Iraqi city of Mosul last year, they stole enough materiel to supply three fighting divisions, including up-armored American Humvees, T-55 tanks, mobile Chinese artillery pieces, Soviet anti-aircraft guns, and American-made Stinger missile systems. ISIS controls a swath of territory the size of Great Britain and is expanding into Libya and Yemen.

The book relates the history ISIS. The midwife of its birth was Bashar Assad, the president of Syria.

ISIS began its life as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) after the United States demolished Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003. The Bush administration saw Arab democracy as the solution to the Middle East’s woes, and Syria’s tyrant Bashar al-Assad didn’t want to be the next Saddam. Assad waged a proxy war to convince Washington that participatory politics in the region would be perilous. Weiss and Hassan quote former Syrian diplomat Bassam Barabandi, who says candidly that “[Assad] started to work with the mujahideen.” He dispatched Syria’s homegrown jihadists to fight American occupation forces [in Iraq], and most of those jihadists would sign up with AQI. Assad pulled off a win-win scheme, purging Syria of potential enemies while teaching both the American government and citizenry a lesson they still haven’t forgotten: Occupying and democratizing an Arab land is a far messier and bloodier business than most in the West are willing to stomach.

It worked so well in Iraq that Assad would eventually replicate it inside his own country. When the uprising against him began in 2011, he framed the conflict as one between his secular regime and Islamist terrorists, even when the only serious movement against him consisted of nonviolent protests for reform and democracy. Few in the West bought Assad’s line at the time, so he then facilitated an Islamist terrorist opposition. His loyalists like to present a choice: “Assad or we burn the country.” And they are not kidding.

As Weiss and Hassan detail, Assad opened the jails and let Islamist prisoners free as part of an ostensible “reform” process, but he kept democracy activists in their cages. He knew perfectly well that those he let loose would cut a burning and bleeding gash across the country, casting him as the only thing standing between the rest of us and the abyss. …

ISIS is a terrible force; as terrible as any in history or fiction.

The first thing ISIS does when conquering a new city or town is set up the grisly machinery for medieval punishments in town squares. “Letting black-clad terrorists run around a provincial capital,” Weiss and Hassan write, “crucifying and beheading people, made for great propaganda.” It was all Assad could do to ensure the Obama administration wouldn’t pursue a policy of regime-change as it had in Libya and as the previous administration had in Iraq. …

Had Assad been forced into exile or dragged from his palace before the Arab Spring soured, Syria might look strikingly different today. Weiss and Hassan cite an International Republican Institute survey of Syrian public opinion in 2012 that found 76 percent of the country favored one kind of democratic transition or another. But Assad guarantees that bullets rather than ballots will decide political outcomes, and millions would rather flee to squalid refugee camps abroad than get caught between the anvil of Syria’s totalitarian state and the hammer of ISIS. …

ISIS’s founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, loved beheading hapless victims on camera as much as the new leadership does, and his grisly behavior earned him the nickname “Sheikh of the Slaughterers”. He hated no one on earth — not even Americans — more than he hated Shia Muslims who, in his view, were beneath even Sunni Muslim apostates. …

Abu Bakr Naji, one of ISIS’s intellectual architects, published a book online outlining its strategy and vision: The Management of Savagery. It is used today as a manual not only in Syria and Iraq but also by al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. “Jihad,” he writes, “is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening [people], and massacring.”

The authors make a compelling case that ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a would-be Saddam Hussein in religious garb…. Like Zarqawi before him, [he] is even more genocidal than Iraq’s former strongman. Al-Baghdadi has “so far demonstrated nothing short of annihilationist intention …” …

Annihilationist, that is, first and foremost of the Shi’a, who are “marked only for death”.

[But] Syrians and Iraqis aren’t the only ones threatened by all this, of course. ISIS aspires to wage its exterminationist war beyond the Middle East, not only in the United States but also in Europe. “We will raid you thereafter,” it boasts in its online magazine, Dabiq, “and you will never raid us. We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the Permission of Allah, the Exalted. This is His promise to us.”

And that, since ISIS became the enemy of Assad – the despot who brought it into the world – puts the US and Europe “tacitly on the side of Assad”. And as Assad is kept in power by Iran, they are also tacitly on the side of Iran and “their joint Lebanese proxy Hezbollah”.

It is a state of affairs that the Iranian rulers delight in.

Tehran can hardly contain itself. “One of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism,” Weiss and Hassan write, “now presents itself as the last line of defense against terrorism.”

[But] the idea that a state sponsor of terrorism could ever be a reliable partner against international terrorism is ludicrous. “Whatever Washington’s intentions,” Weiss and Hassan write, “its perceived alliance of convenience with the murderous regimes of Syria and Iran is keeping Sunnis who loathe or fear ISIS from participating in another grassroots effort to expel the terrorists from their midst.”

ISIS continues to grow at an alarming rate and has so far recruited thousands of members from Europe. “What draws people to ISIS,” the authors write, “could easily bring them to any number of cults or totalitarian movements, even those ideologically contradictory to Salafist jihadism.” Indeed, its ranks are swollen with tribal sectarians, thrill seekers, former “socialist infidels”, foreign losers looking for meaning and community, and psychopaths pining for butchery. Many find the execution videos of “Jihadi John” — a modern version of what 19th-century Italian revolutionary Carlo Pisacane called propaganda of the deed — darkly compelling. For the most dangerous ISIS recruits, what the rest of us see as bad press is seductive.

Many, however, are painfully naive. Savvy ISIS recruiters do an outstanding job convincing the gullible that its notoriety is unjustified. “Don’t hear about us,” they say. “Hear from us.” Weiss and Hassan dig up comments from some of ISIS’s obtuse fans in online Western forums who have bought the sales pitch: “Does the Islamic State sell hair gel and Nutella in Raqqa?” “Should I bring an iPad to let Mom and Dad know that I arrived safely in caliphate?”

The foolish recruits are more likely to become victims themselves than to victimize others — in March, ISIS forced a 12-year-old boy to execute an Israeli Arab man for trying to flee — but ISIS will continue to attract newcomers as long as it’s permitted to thrive. And thrive it will until it faces a more determined resistance force and as long as radical Sunni Muslims around the world feel galvanized by the perceived American-Iranian axis against them.

As the authors say in their book’s stark conclusion, “the army of terror will be with us indefinitely”. 

The giggling dictator 6

Jonathan Tepperman, Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs, reports on his interview with Bashar Assad. Fascinating!

The best comes near the end.

Posted under Civil war, Syria, Videos by Jillian Becker on Sunday, February 1, 2015

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Curious and curiouser 1

What sense can be made of this story?

Syria flies rockets to Iran: Iran loads them on a ship and sends it sailing down the Gulf, south-west on the Arabian Sea, and north up the Red Sea.

Israel intercepts the ship, commandos board it, find the rockets, re-route the vessel to the Israeli port of Eilat.

Where was it bound for? For whom were the rockets intended? Gaza? How the hell would they get there?

Look at the map showing the path of the arms to the point of interception, search and capture:

Next we are told that the Israelis didn’t accomplish the whole feat alone – gathering the intelligence, setting up the capture. No, suddenly Jay Carney claims that it was a US-Israeli joint venture.

In an unusually frank disclosure, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday night, March 5, that US intelligence services and military had worked with Israel to track the Iranian Panama-flagged ship KLOS C, which was apprehended by Israeli naval commandos on the Red Sea earlier that day carrying missiles for Gaza via Sudan. The ship was boarded by the Israeli elite Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) and found to be carrying dozens of 302mm rockets with a range of 150 km made in Syria. It is now on its way to Eilat.

Just how would they get from Port Sudan to Gaza? Through Sinai? Then through tunnels? Isn’t the Egyptian army patrolling Sinai? Hasn’t Egypt closed the arms-smuggling tunnels? Why would Egypt allow arms to reach Hamas, the rulers of Gaza and a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood when the MB is the present Egyptian government’s enemy?

And even more curious, why would Obama suddenly co-operate with Israel against Iran when his whole policy towards those two countries for at least the last four years has been to co-operate with Iran against Israel?

Has he had a sudden change of heart and mind? If so, what will his party, his base, his hurrah-chorus the mainstream media, say to this 180 degree turnabout?

It’s really very hard to believe.

The White House spokesman said that Washington worked with Israeli through intelligence and military channels, and at the national security adviser level, as soon as it knew the shipment was on the move. He said that President Barack Obama also directed the US military to work out contingencies in case it became necessary to intercept the vessel (therebysanctioning military action).

Obama? Military action?

“Our Israeli counterparts ultimately chose to take the lead in interdicting the shipment of illicit arms,” Jay Carney said. …

This was the first time in four years that the US and Israel have collaborated in an operation against Iran – ever since the Stuxnet virus attack in 2010 on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Until now, the Obama administration steadfastly refused to act against Iran for fear of jeopardizing the international diplomatic track for curbing its nuclear program.

The unusual frankness with which the Obama administration announced its coordination with Israel is both dramatic in itself and a road sign pointing the way to a radical change in its Iran policy.

The US and Israel appear to be lining up – in their military policies as well – against the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah bloc.

This radical turnabout was most probably the high point of the conversation between the US president and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House Monday, March 3, after which Netanyahu raised comment by showering Obama with praise during his speech to the AIPAC conference in Washington the next day. …

Whereas  Obama had shown impatience, irritation, and antipathy towards Netanyahu in an interview just one day before the meeting.

US and Israeli intelligence sources report that both countries are braced for a swift and stinging response from Tehran … As Carney put it: “We will continue to stand up to Iran’s support for destabilizing activities in the region in coordination with our partners and allies.These illicit acts are unacceptable to the international community and in gross violation of Iran’s Security Council obligations.”

Israel’s elite Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) early Wednesday, March 5, boarded [the] Iranian Panama-registered cargo vessel KLOS C. Concealed in its hold under sacks of cement were dozens of 302mm rockets with a range of 150 kms, manufactured in Syria and destined by Iran for the Gaza Strip after being offloaded in Sudan.

The Israeli commandos seized the vessel in open sea on the maritime border of Sudan and Eritrea, 1500 km south of Israel, and have set it on course for Eilat.

Sudan has [become] in the last two years …  a major Iranian weapons manufacturing and logistic depot, which supplies Syria, Hizballah and Hamas. Port Sudan is the hub for the smuggling of Iranian arms to various Middle East locations.

The IDF [Israeli Defense Force] said the Iranian missile cargo was destined for the Palestinian Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip. If this is so, it would mean that Iran had gone back to arming Hamas with missiles and rockets after a two-year pause during which the Palestinian extremists were cold-shouldered by Tehran for their animosity to Syria’s Bashar Assad. …

[But] it is hard to believe the Assad would consent to relay Syrian-made missiles to this antagonist.

Some Middle East military sources believe the shipment was not destined for Palestinian terrorists for use against Israel, but rather for Muslim Brotherhood activists fighting the Egyptian army from their forward base in the Gaza Strip.

They don’t rule out the possibility of Al Qaeda affiliates fighting in Sinai as being the address. Western intelligence has recorded instances of Iran entering into ad hoc operational collaboration with al Qaeda elements when it suits Tehran’s book. …

The rockets were flown from Syria to Iran, then loaded on [the] ship where they were concealed under sacks of cement inside containers. From the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the ship headed into the Red Sea bound for Sudan where it was intercepted by Israeli commandos.

The Iranian arms ship’s progress was tracked all the way.

By Israel, apparently. By the US, easily if that’s what Obama wanted. But why suddenly does he want to “jeopardize the international diplomatic track for curbing Iran’s nuclear program“?

Will Jay Carney, standing there among the flying pigs, do something he has never done before – tell the truth and explain everything?

That’s not very likely, but then much is not very likely in these bizarre events.

US switches sides in Syria 11

For the first time in the 1,000-day civil war, the Americans find themselves in greater sympathy with Russia, Iran, Assad and Hizballah than the rebel cause.

According to DebkaFile, Bashar Assad is winning the civil war (or uprising against his dictatorship). So the Obama administration has stopped supporting the rebels to the extent, and in whatever way they ever did, and is now romancing Bashar Assad.  The new policy follows naturally from the exciting new love-in Obama is having with the Shia tyrants of Iran.

The conquest Sunday, Dec. 8, of Nabuk in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border is a signal strategic breakthrough for Bashar Assad’s army, climaxing a row of battleground successes that have cast the rebel forces into deep disarray. Nabuk fell after a two-week siege by the combined forces of Syria, Hizballah, Iraqi Shiite units and the Iranian Al Qods Brigades. The Qalamoun range which separates central Syria from central Lebanon is at their mercy.

Assad and his allies, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, can chalk up four major war gains:

1. The highway from Damascus to Syria’s two port towns, Latakia and Tartus on the Mediterranean coast, is now open through the wayside town of Homs.

2. The last remaining rebel supply routes from Lebanon are cut off. Syrian rebels can no longer use Lebanon as a supply base for reinforcements and new recruits or as a destination for their casualties to receive treatment.

3. The Damascus-Beirut highway is now under Hizballah control, providing its Beirut headquarters vitally direct access to the forces posted to Damascus, and easing liaison and communications among Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah military units in the field.

4. Pushing the rebels out of their Qalamoun strongholds was the last step before loosening their two-year grip on the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Under relentless Syrian army siege, many rebel commanders holding on to those suburbs are crossing the lines and handing sectors over to Syrian army officers.

The Assad regime has reached a stage in the civil war at which the rebels no longer pose a military threat to his hold on power and have lost the capacity for more more than terrorist attacks or sporadic mortar shelling.

The Syrian rebel movement has lost its coherence as a fighting force. In desperation, they are releasing a stream of false claims of successes and unfounded accusations that Assad has reverted to chemical warfare. …

Since the only anti-Assad forces still in fighting shape are the two Al Qaeda affiliates, Jabhat al Nusra and the Iraqi branch, Washington is turning its back on the Syrian rebel movement as a whole and instead [is] ready to talk indirectly to Syrian army elements loyal to Assad as well as Hizballah.

Indeed, in consideration of Hizballah’s military kudos and rising political clout in Beirut, the Obama administration has opened up a back channel to its leaders, mostly through British diplomats.

It turns out that the same coalition which contrived the nuclear deal in Geneva on Nov. 24 – the US, Russia and Iran – is going into action again on the Syrian issue with a favored spot for Iran’s Lebanese Shiite pawn [Hizballah].

We think this DebkaFile report  is likely to be true in its main thrust: that US policy has changed, and America is now in alliance with Russia and Iran and in negotiation with one of the world’s most savage terrorist organizations.

And if it is true, it is an enormity – an extreme wrong.

It is not that the rebels are any better than Assad. Both sides are evil. Both sides seem to be peopled by vicious murdering torturing cannibals. Neither should be supported. But Assad is Iran’s client. Hizballah is Iran’s creation. What matters here is the colossal boost to Iranian power. The US has conceded the territory to the mullahs.

Under a pretense by their traitorous leaders that it is better to negotiate than risk a war with belligerent enemies, the American people are being led into capitulation.

Iran will be nuclear armed. Hizballah can claim legitimacy, and the cost to Lebanon and Israel is dreadful to think of. Russia’s power and prestige is being enhanced with each disastrous move Obama makes in the region of the Middle East.

And the US is no longer the protector of the free world. The erstwhile free world no longer has a protector.

Romancing psychopaths on the world stage 2

We think that Caroline Glick is at present the most perceptive commentator on the Middle East and American policy towards that tumultuous region. In a recent column she writes:

The Iranians … view diplomacy – like all their dealings with their sworn enemies – as a zero-sum game.

They are aiming to become a nuclear power. They may pretend that their nuclear arms program is negotiable, but it isn’t. President Rouhani will talk to Obama about it, and even smile as he does so, but regardless of anything that is said, or even agreed, the Iranian nuclear arms program will proceed as expeditiously as possible.

Behind Rouhani stands Qassem Suleimani, “Iran’s real strongman”.

Qassem Suleimani is the head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. It is the most powerful organ of the Iranian regime, and Suleimani is Iranian dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s closest confidante and adviser.

Rouhani doesn’t hold a candle to Suleimani. …

Suleimani came of age as a Revolutionary Guard division commander during the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988 … As the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Suleimani commands the Syrian military and the foreign forces from Iran, Hezbollah and Iraq that have been deployed to Syria to keep Bashar Assad in power. …

Has has called the Syrian military “worthless.” He has also said, “Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I could conquer the whole country.”

The Basij (The Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed) is a volunteer militia.It was established in 1979 by the Ayatollah Khomeini to fight in the Iran-Iraq war. Under the command of the Revolutionary Guards, it is now used to help put down internal opposition.

It was the Basij that crushed the anti-Islamist Green Revolution in Iran in 2009. But for a man whose formative experience was serving as a Revolutionary Guards commander in the Iran-Iraq War, Suleimani’s view of the Basij as a war-fighting unit owes to what it did in its glory days, in that war, not on the streets of Tehran in 2009. …

The Revolutionary Guards [used] the Basij during the Iran-Iraq War to serve as cannon fodder. Basij units were made up of boys as young as 12They were given light doses of military training and heavy doses of indoctrination in which they were brainwashed to reject life and martyr themselves for the revolution. 

As these children were being recruited from Iran’s poorest villages, Ayatollah Khomeini purchased a half million small plastic keys from Taiwan. They were given to the boys before they were sent to battle and told that they were the keys to paradise.

The children were then sent into minefields to die and deployed as human waves in frontal assaults against superior Iraqi forces. By the end of the war some 100,000 of these young boys became the child sacrifices of the regime.

When we assess Suleimani’s longing for a Basij brigade in Syria in its proper historical and strategic context – that is, in the context of how he and his fellow Revolutionary Guards commanders deployed such brigades in the 1980s – we realize that Suleimani is a psychopath.

US officials have preferred to think of him as “a pragmatist”. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, they tried to negotiate with Sulumeini indirectly “through Iraqi politicians whom he controlled”. They failed, but persisted in their attempts. The former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Cocker …

… was in Baghdad at the time setting up the Iraqi Governing Council. He used Iraqi intermediaries to clear all the Shi’ite candidates with Suleimani. In other words, the US government gave the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards control over the Iraqi government immediately after the US military toppled Saddam’s regime. 

Far from convincing Suleimani to pursue a rapprochement with the US, Crocker’s actions convinced him that the US was weak.

And so, shortly after he oversaw the formation of the governing council, Suleimani instigated the insurgency whose aim was to eject the US from Iraq and to transform it into an Iranian satrapy. And yet, despite Suleimani’s obvious bad faith, and use of diplomacy to entrap the US into positions that harmed its interests and endangered its personnel, Crocker and other senior US officials continued to believe that he was the man to cut a deal with.

[American officials] like to romanticize the world’s most psychopathic, evil men. Doing so helps them to justify and defend their desire to appease, rather than confront, let alone defeat them. Suleimani and his colleagues are more than willing to play along with the Americans, to the extent that doing so advances their aims of defeating the US.

Expanding on Bush’s aversion to fighting Iran, and preference for romanticizing its leaders rather than acknowledging their barbarism, upon entering office Barack Obama embraced a strategy whose sole goal is engagement. For the past five years, the US policy toward Iran is to negotiate. Neither the terms of negotiation nor the content of potential agreements is important.Obama wants to negotiate for the sake of negotiating. …

It’s possible that Obama believes that these negotiations will transform Iran into a quasi-US ally like the Islamist regime in Turkey. That regime remains a member of NATO despite the fact that it threatens its neighbors with war, it represses its own citizens, and it refuses to support major US initiatives while undermining NATO operations. Obama will never call Turkey out for its behavior or make Prime Minister Recep Erdogan pay a price for his bad faith. The myth of the US-Turkish alliance is more important to Obama than the substance of Turkey’s relationship with the United States. A deal with Iran would be horrible for America and its allies.

Whatever else it says it will do, the effect of any US-Iranian agreement would be to commit the US to do nothing to defend its interests or its allies in the Middle East.

While this would be dangerous for the US, it is apparently precisely the end Obama seeksHis address to the UN General Assembly [September 24, 2013] can reasonably be read as a declaration that the US is abandoning its position as world leader.

Wasn’t that one of his chief reasons for striving for supreme power – to end America’s world leadership?

The US is tired of being nitpicked by its allies and its enemies for everything it does, he said. And therefore, he announced, Washington is now limiting its actions in the Middle East to pressuring its one remaining ally, Israel, to give up its ability to protect itself from foreign invasion and Palestinian terrorism by surrendering Judea and Samaria, without which it is defenseless.

Like his predecessors in the Bush administration, Obama doesn’t care that Iran is evil and that its leaders are fanatical psychopaths. He has romanticized them based on nothing. Although presented by the media as a new policy of outreach toward Tehran, Obama’s current commitment to negotiating with Rouhani is consistent with his policy toward Iran since entering office. Nothing has changed.

From Obama’s perspective, US policy is not threatened by Iranian bad faith. It is threatened only by those who refuse to embrace his fantasy world where all deals are good and all negotiations are therefore good. What this means is that the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power does not faze Obama. The only threat he has identified is the one coming from Jerusalem.

Israel … is Obama’s greatest foe, because it insists on basing its strategic assessments and goals on the nature of things even though this means facing down evil.

Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated in his speech to the UN (October 1, 2013) that facing down the evil of Iran is what his country will do. We watch to see if he will act on his promise.

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