Archive for October, 2015

Is NATO’s Chief An I-Speak-Your-Weight Machine?

October 30, 2015

Christopher Lee - photo (1)

30th October 2015

London

Listening to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg being interviewed on BFBS’s Sitrep analysis programme it is clear that he may as well have sent his PR man.  Stoltenberg had nothing he could say.

James Hirst the interviewer asked Stoltenberg how was it that President Putin took no notice at all when Stoltenberg gave one of his regular speeches telling Russia to get out of Crimea, out of Ukraine and nowadays, out of Syria. Stoltenberg said NATO’s job was to defend Alliance members.  We could have got that off his answer phone.

Hirst, a good journalist, pushed him and kept asking the same question.  Stoltenberg as an ex-Norwegian Prime Minister knew all he had to do was sit out the interview.

The result? A clear reminder that NATO is not willing to do anything about anything when it comes to Putin and that above all Putin knows this.

There would never be an East-West confrontation over Crimea, Ukraine and Syria.  Also it is unlikely that Putin would have gone into (or sent people into) Ukraine if that place had been a NATO member.  What is disappointing is the inability of a Secretary General to forget the I-Speak-Your-Weight-Machine answer to a very important question.

How about an answer that discussed the very question and the dilemma? How about something along the lines of a teach-in on the practicalities of a Secretary General being a ring master of 28 member states and a person trusted to say nothing that US President Obama has not already said.

Instead the Secretary General gives the impression that he is just a mouthpiece.

In the present case what a pity the talking cannot be left to the deputy Secretary General Sandy Vershbow.  Here is a recent US Ambassador to Moscow (and North Korea) plus a former Washington hand responsible for international security.  Vershbow is cool.  He talks with experience and wisdom of having walked the defence and security bazaars for a decade or two whereas Stoltenberg’s subject is climate change and got to Brussels because he was no longer currency as PM in Norway.

After that Sitrep interview (@bfbsSitrep.com) and in these times it is pretty clear that NATO needs more Vershbows and fewer Stoltenbergs. Maybe someone would put up a Jo Luns Memorial Award to grade how the job should be done.

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Tax Credit: The Lords Showed the Needy That Someone Cares

October 27, 2015

Christopher Lee - photo (1)

27 October 2015

Westminster

The House of Lords did a splendid job last night.  The peers defeated the government on a piece of legislation that would cause financial agony and worse to the poorest and needy and in doing so demonstrated the government’s unthinking and uncaring.

That the Lords acted fairly and rightly is in no doubt.  Furthermore any one who says, as some of the Chancellor’s supporters did here at Westminster last night that George Osborne had not realised that so many would be penalised by his plan on Tax Credits is either a fool or a stooge.

The Treasury nomenclatura and Osborne’s bunny load of advisors had gone through the proposals and consequences in detail.  That is their role.

So they knew that a single mum would be desperate to pay the rent and feed three children when this new system hit.

They knew that this one act – which David Cameron promised would not happen – would and maybe will still cause such horrendous difficulties in already strapped households. For anyone in such a position the consequences would be too awful to imagine. That is a crude way of putting it. It is the reality.

Now there is speculation that Cameron will simply fill the Lords with a hundred peers and so contrive a Conservative majority.  Really? Would the Prime Minister do such a thing to push through such unfairness on the poorest?

Last night’s protest by the Lords brings to people who are not touched by the Tax Credit system an opportunity to witness the terrible imbalance of the have and have not in our society. For those caught in that frightening poverty trap where the children are the innocents there is a slightest hope that someone cares.

Chancellor Osborne so clearly remote from the dreadful plight of so many in need would do well to bin his plan.  It must not be part of the way in which people are quietly governed.

Iraq, Chilcot, IS – Why Blair Is Still On The Run

October 25, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

26 October 2015

London

If Iraq had not happened I wonder how Tony Blair would have rated today? But it did happen and now Mr Blair is having to explain his case all over again – this time on a CNN TV show.

He says to go into Iraq after Saddam Hussein was the toughest decision he had to make. Wrong Mr Blair.

The then US President George W Bush was already going into Iraq.  Mr Blair went along for the ride to glory being overwhelmed by the aura surrounding true power. He would have enjoyed being a US President.

He says he was sorry that the Intelligence that swung his decision to go get Saddam was not so good.  Wrong Mr Blair.

The Intelligence at all levels was enough to tell us that the military threat was non-existent.  Weapons of Mass Disappearance.

He says if they had not gone after Saddam then Iraq would have become the same as Syria is today. Wrong Mr Blair.

Syrians started the Damascus demos because the Arab Spring was running and Syria joined in and Assad had a second rate security operation.

There was no revolution brewing in the Middle East in 2003 and Saddam ran the tightest Sunni security operation anyone had seen.  Only a dead man walking would have tried a demo in Saddam’s Iraq that year.

He says that just maybe IS or Daesh or ISIS may have emerged because of the war in Iraq.  Wrong Mr Blair.

IS emerged not because there was a war but because the coalition pulled out far too soon leaving a state convulsed by revenge politics and no military and security apparatus capable of identifying extremism.  Above all, IS started in Syria, not Iraq.

So what is this all about? It is about the forthcoming preliminary publication of the Chilcot inquiry set up to  look at the who did what and why of the Iraq war. Mr Blair gave evidence and did a good job.  Others who also gave evidence – but contradicted Mr Blair.  That they gave their evidence in a way to protect there own skins is neither here nor there now. Mr Blair is an easy and not much a moving target.

The point is that Mr Blair has already read the Chilcot paragraphs about himself.  He knows the criticisms and by having his people go through the transcripts (the evidence text is on line for anyone to read) he also knows that the general public impression is that the war was bad news and his part in it is condemned by his own people.  That is not Chilcot’s fault.  Most people believed that anyway.

So Mr Blair is going public with his defence anticipating reaction to Chilcot.  Simple as that. It matters not what Chilcot says. In fact most people will never read it. Anyone left who cares wants the Blair Guilty headlines.  We have had them so many times that except for insiders, Chilcot matters not.

You may think Mr Blair is cutting a sad enough figure; then again you may be among those who say he has become a multi millionaire so what’s the problem.  The truth is somewhat deeper.

It is hard to remember sometimes that Mr Blair was not just Iraq.  For example he made his Party electable and since he left office it has never again been so. Tony Blair’s supreme achievement was not teaming up with George W Bush but being a main figure in bringing about a peace settlement in Northern Ireland. There was a string of successes for PM Blair and but for one thing he could today even be on some one’s list of a future Prime Minister returning to rescue a Party that has descended to almost nothing without him. A grand old man of politics. A world statesman.

Instead? Forever in British eyes: Tony Blair is on the run.

Who Needs The United Nations? Answers On A Big Postcard

October 18, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

19th October 2015

New York

Do we really need the United Nations? Or as some say, if there was no UN would it have to be invented?

It was founded 70 years ago this week on the 24th of October 1945 just 89 days after the United States dropped two nuclear bombs over Japan, the final act in the most horrific war of all time.

The United Nation’s task in 1945 has never changed: to fix the problems of a world that knew there was more to come.

Here at 760 United Nations Plaza on the bank of the East River few of the thousands who work at UN headquarters would say the original objective – peace and security; the protection and promotion of human rights; and human development – has been achieved.

The UN was the great ambition born from the failed League of Nations set up in 1920 with a purpose of disarmament, collective security and ending disputes by arbitration and not military means and so prevent a second world war.  WWII happened.  The League of Nations had failed. Here was a time of butchered democracies, redrawn boundaries and global societies and economies bewildered and damned by the events of the previous five years. None believed a new institution was the fixit from recovery while many of the principles fought for were immediately threatened by the creeping Cold War.

The greatest hope was for the forum in which everyone could be heard and for all its weaknesses the UN is the only place where ambitions for a better world can be laid out and its frailties exposed.

The too often unworthy experiences of failure may be counted in post-1945 war zones. Yet recovery from failure, even partially, may constitute some form of success if not victory; 63 global peace keeping operations since 1945 (currently 16 plus 12 political missions across five continents) give a statistical value to the determination of the UN to bring about something more than a truce and the fact that the UN manages to get some form of military monitoring to protect such fragile agreements.

But here is the temper of the images and reputations of failure levelled at the UN. That original demand to fix problems, particular conflicts, has come to nothing. The Secretary General’s call for cease fires are platitudes and often the Secretary General must know this. That indifference – so much more damning than rejection of advice – says the UN has no function in matters of resolving conflict.

Here is an example of the misunderstanding of the value of the UN. The UN is not here to stop conflicts happening or bring them to a conclusion.

The UN has four roles.

Firstly it is the clearing house for the valuable UN agencies – heath, refugees, medicine, education etc.  It can coordinate efforts where as a single non-government organisation can’t.  These are the prime values within the workings of the 44,000 UN workforce.

The second role is the management of military conflict resolution.  At the out break of fighting or in the transition to conflict, the UN can provide a Resolution that the conflict is justified, for example to prevent war crimes or breaches of human rights. Thirdly the UN under the auspices of an agency such as the UN High Commission of Refugees can work to relieve the misery of conflict. Fourthly  the UN is there to guarantee any peace at the end of a conflict.

Public concentration is too often on military and political crises and where there is failure it is because the UN can only be the sum of the hopes of its 193 parts.  But all is not lost.

The UN’s true strengths are in the great High Commissions – Human Rights, Refugees and increasingly the UN lead on tackling Global Warming.

Finally we have to take on board that the UN’s major roles are governed by the rules that were drawn in 1945.

The great global anxieties of 2015 are similar to those that existed in 1945. For all the downplay, the world is a better place for millions than it was 70 years ago and the UN has done much to make it so.  It could never have prevented Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. But it was there when others were not once conflict began.

If You Were Putin?

October 15, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

15 October 2015

London

Today see one thing from Putin’s point of view. The tiny Balkan state of Montenegro does not much like Russia. The diplomatic signs from a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica today suggest that by the end of this year Montenegro will be a member of the Western Alliance.

Seems a straight forward bit of European business.  If you are a small state (population 650,000) best keep your head down or join something that will look after you in the event of international trouble.

Moreover Montenegro is already in the EU. So it would seem an easy ride into the military club. It would also tell Russia that the good guys are still siding with the West, not Moscow.  It would be the first expansion of NATO since Albania and Croatia joined in 2009.

So job all but done.  Almost.

Not everyone in Montenegro wants to join. For example, ethnic Serbs are like many in Serbia and simply do not want to be in NATO and have always had ideological links with the Russian Federation.

But never mind, the Americans say that if Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic cleans up the Montenegrin problem of crime and corruption at too many levels of the state’s society then he’ll get US approval at the December meeting of the Alliance and given the tensions in the Ukraine and the intervention in Syria, then Putin will get the message that NATO is getting stronger and that increased strength is in spite of his threats to many former client states of Moscow.

Here it is worth-while looking at the deal from the Kremlin’s viewpoint.

Think of yourself as Putin.

When Communism collapsed in the 1990s the West promised that it would not expand into the former Near Abroad as the USSR called its border states. The Warsaw Pact would disappear but the US in particular said Moscow had no fear that its cordon countries would be taken over.  They would become neutral.

What happened?  Putin in his formative years and then in power saw former Soviet states joining the EU and then NATO and then becoming major exercise territory for NATO forces. American sponsored NATO forces opened bases in East European states. NATO simply moved the old Cold War front line right onto the Russia border.

Imagine if that had been the other way? I imagine being the so-called West and Russia marching its troops even further westwards than before.  Imagine the overrun states joining what was then the Warsaw Pact.  Would we be twitchy – to say the least?

Putin sees Montenegro’s application to join NATO as yet another expansion of the West and therefore in his terms a threat. Maybe no big deal. But think how Putin sees it and then perhaps understand a little more how Putin ticks

Just how dangerous is the world today?

October 10, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

12 October 2015

London

The way it sounds on the networks and the OpEd pages the world is close to WWIII. Syria is on the brink of something although few pundits can say what. Afghanistan is about to go under. A second Intifada is revving up. NATO is sending more troops to the old Soviet borders. Oil is creeping back – a sure sign that no one is in control. Gold is up – a sure sign that a global problem is slipping into crisis status.

But is the world really in such a social and security meltdown? Could it just be that the globe is coping with little local difficulties and not much more? A quick round-up from East to West is in everyone’s interests.

North Korea beloved leader Kim Jong-un said a couple of days ago that his country is easily ready to defend itself if the United States starts trouble. His corps de ballet militaire performed exquisitely in Pyongyang’s main square, jets flew above in tight formation, tanks and full missile carriers rumbled below and Mr Kim made his first public speech in three years. Then they went home. Not even a missile test worth the bang.

China is building artificial islands in South China Sea and America and Japan says they should not and so China has carried on building knowing that no one is going to war over this.

In Sri Lanka the civil war moral tragedy is a matter for the UN but no one is fighting.

To the north, Pakistan and India still disagree over Kashmir, but apart from a few practise shots, no one is going to war over that blunder as once they did.

In Afghanistan, the security mess will get worse, Taliban (Afghanistan) and Taliban (Pakistan) will make inroads, the Americans will deploy troops for longer than expected, but there is nothing going on that suggests a return to the events of the opening decade and a half of this century.

In Africa, there is no way that Libya is on the road to peaceful government but nor is the carnage of just a couple of years back being repeated.

Further south the Boko Haram threat is broadened but not any greater.  The gunmen are on the streets of Guinea but the elections will go ahead as planned.

The UN has 19,000 troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 12500 in South Sudan, 12,000 in the Central African Republic and 10,000 in Mali.  Something’s working there in spite of minor conflicts, skirmishes, coups and corruption as a matter of course.

In Europe, there is Ukraine.  Potentially but mostly theoretically, there is a chance of an East West confrontation but not really. Why?  Because in spite of posturing and statements from NATO, the Alliance will not go to the mattresses over Ukraine and Russia bets on this.  There’s nothing doing in the rest of Europe other than a few separatist groups.

Of course there is Syria etc.  Is it so bad in historical warfare terms? Just about. Two years from the original protest in Damascus in March 2011, the deaths had reached 100,000.  That was a landmark figure that continued to multiply and does not look like stopping. Daesh or whatever we are to call the butcher terrorists is all about asymmetric warfare.  It is not state on state and thus, and this is hard to say, not so bad as might have been.

So this very crude audit of world warfare says there is plenty of politics, plenty of $m ordnance being used but not so many killed.

In truth 95% of the world is not at war. Most people have never heard a shot fired in anger. We might think on that as part of the reason that there are no boots on the ground anywhere that matters.

British Bake-Off beats Putin’s Missiles for top Headlines

October 9, 2015

Christopher Lee - photo (1)

9 October 2015

London

The Royal Navy has fired submarine launched cruise missiles in Middle East for some years. The US Navy has maintained an even bigger missile firing operation in the region.  Both the Royal Navy and the US Navy have had sea launched missiles go astray.

So why all the fuss about 18 per cent of Russian cruise missiles fired from the Caspian Sea landing in Iran and not on target?

Obviously it is part of the anxiety to portray President Putin personally as a bandit causing strategic and moral havoc in the Syria conflict.  That is an Okay thing to do.  It has been that way in European warfare ever since October 1415 when Henry V flew his long red banner at Agincourt signifying that no prisoners would be taken – chivalry-speak for guys caught in the middle would be massacred.

That is the case today – without the red banner.

The Russian missile launch was tactically effective, especially those that fell on the IS headquarters at Raqqa. Its triumph was that Putin’s commanders were showing that there is more in their locker than 34 ground attack aircraft that have limited effect.  Moreover, Putin’s decision to put the arm on Belarus to allow Russia to rebuild an airbase in that state facing NATO was a reminder that the military eye-balling that Putin understands more than anything else is still very much on the morning briefing diary of every Western commander, politically as well as military.

At the end of a week that has seen an escalation in the ISPs of the Syria conflict what is new and what is important?

Russia hit IS targets as well anti Assad rebel points including destroying an important CIA communications point in Syria. Syria announced an offensive beefed up with Russian close air support against rebel positions. A low key operational command from Moscow checked out the readiness status of a mechanised infantry brigade in Chechnya should it be needed in Syria as a protection force for Russian bases.

NATO member state Turkey warned that Russian jets were intruding Turkish air space. President Obama said this was bad news and made matters worse. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said it was bad news and made matters worse. No one remembers what Prime Minister Cameron said. NATO members promised to increase its rapid reaction capability to 40,000 although no one knew by when, what sort of troops and who would decide both.  Britain said it was sending 100 army trainers to the Eastern Front. Saudi Arabia said it would give more weapons to the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army, Jaysh al-Fatah and Southern Front.

A big news day.  The world’s premier news broadcaster BBC led on the winner of a national baking competition. Maybe that is about right. Most Brits anyway care more about fairy cakes. Most Syrians do not bake. A twitchy Turkish pilot and a wayward Russian one could change that view.

Why Putin & Obama Can’t Fix The World

October 7, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

8 October 2015

London

The world has two top men: Vladimir Putin and Barak Obama. Both are heading up super powers.

Until a year back that only the USA was a superpower. Russia still had the nuclear arsenal to scream-die any one within 2000 miles radius but after 1991 Russia was yesterday’s superpower. Nothing more than a megaton rating with a barrel of oil fetching just two cents more than a barrel of whiskey.

Communism had burned on the flaming pile of Moscow vanities.  With the literary allusions came the illusions that Putin was just a toughie without a shirt on a horse who looked out of place at summits.

And then came 2008 and conflict with Georgia, Abkhazia and South Osseti. Georgia wanted in to NATO. Putin would not have that. Then Ukraine. Ukraine wanted in to NATO.  Putin would not have that.  Start a fight in Ukraine and brave NATO members ran a country mile rather than let in Ukraine at war with Russia.  Putin then took Crimea back and with it a sure lease on the old Soviet Black Sea fleet headquarters.

So what was next? It had to be Syria.  Russia was there from the start. He had a curious ally, not Assad but Iran especially after the deal brokered by America on nuclear weapons.  Iran was in from the cold.  Russia was all but a brother in arms.

More to come. Putin is in the process of forcing Belarus to stand aside while he establishes a forward operating base in that former Soviet satellite. President Alexander Lukashenko is saying No Way Mr Putin. It will happen.

All this and the president of the real superpower has kept his distance.  Sure the salvo of squalid statements has been unceasing.  Russia must not do this.  Russia must stop doing it.  Russia is making things worse. Russia is endangering peace. (What peace – but that is another matter).

Within this dreadful seven year picture instability there is a sense that the greater masterclass in superpowerdom goes unattended, unheard and even unrealised.  The Cold War that invented superpower standing also protected fractional insurrection in stable international relations. With some  irregularities the world was governed by threat.  This meant that regions of influence of the two superpowers were tacitly observed. Local conflicts, even two Arab Israeli wars did not disturb the superpower peace.

In the liturgy of old East West relations there were summit meetings that became legendary. Two leaders who oozed power. Two men we imagined could say Go Nukes if the world became hopeless. Now?

There are summits still.  The other leaders are unmemorable.  No big beasts of political persuasion. No dynamics that tell you that each leader had formative years when the world was so threatening that people openly took sides and so opinions were formed that would never be usurped.

Today, the world is relatively rid of war. It may not seem that way from headlines but it is true and has been so for three or four years. But it is not rid of conflict.  Oddly then, the world needs two superpowers whose leaders can aggravate the institutions into decisions and actions that produce more than a whimper of resolution totally without the power to impose logic and normality. If America wants to intervene, it no longer has the Congressional means to do so.  If Russia wants to intervene it no longer has the guarantees that what it does is winnable but for both the great beastdom of superpower reaction and resolution will bark but never bite.

Instead of joining forces to trounce a common enemy the two superpowers simply go their own ways. One prefers isolation because it has failed other ways.  One prefers intervention because at the great summits it looked of no consequence. Simple as that. Wasted power.

Just imagine: an old fashioned summit in the tradition of Versailles and Paris Treaty making.  There would be weeks in the preparation with officials dealing this concession with that. At last the day and the arrival of the keepers of the latchkeys of compromise. A signing and promises of verification that few bothered with because the signature was all that mattered.

Putin and Obama, Obama and Putin (the protocols are important in these times) given the stage to resolve not their now problems because they are in truth very few but to bring about the closure of miserable conflict and then agreement to rout what after all is a minnow, Islamic State.

Would the big beasts return to this? There can only be one reason not to: they no longer care about conflict that far away.  Okay, but just look where Belarus is. That is where this will end.

How Did UK-US Intelligence Get It Wrong About Syrian Rebellion

October 2, 2015

 christopher_lee180-11

5 October 2015

London

This week an inquiry begins inside the British Parliament to establish the government’s policy and Syria.  Given the events of the past seven days it is quite possible that no one knows the answer – including Prime Minister Cameron. He will.  But not yet.

Note Well: the inquiry wishes to know what IS the policy rather than what WAS the policy.

Nevertheless, the introduction to the inquiry must first establish the following: why did Britain back the anti-Assad rebellion? Why did Prime Minister Cameron agree so easily to support the rebels that wanted President Assad out?

The inquiry may well provide a question beyond its terms of reference and one that few would have expected to ask a year ago.  It is this:Will Syria turn out to have been Cameron’s dirty dossier war?

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee of all-Party lawmakers starts its inquiry on 8 October. Before the Committee of Members of Parliament will be military and academical witnesses as well as Intelligence evidence.  The base line to the inquiry is simple:

Was the original decision to support anti-Assad rebels taken too quickly and based on poor or even corrupted analysis of Intelligence Assessments?

The original protest against Assad was not heading for civil war – it became war because UK/US promises to back the rebellion

Does the British government now think that the United Kingdom and the USA UK should have left the Syrian protest to come to its own conclusion?

Given the above and the intervention of Russia’s President Putin what today is British policy on Syria?

This is a major evidence taking exercise by the Select Committee under its new chairman, the Conservative MP and former Minister Crispin Blunt.  Blunt has one of the more analytical minds in the Commons.  His Committee is balanced and its members well informed. It will have to be.

Some witnesses will by their established positions declare whatever the circumstances Assad has to go  – just as Tony Blair declared the Gulf War was justified to depose Saddam Hussein – therefore the UK role  against Assad’s forces has been the correct one.

Therefore the Committee must first and foremost discover the original grounds for becoming sponsors of the rebellion and if they were based on sound Intelligence analysis or were they simply teaming up with US policy.

That sorted, the Committee can be in a more reasonable position to judge the UK’s present policy towards Syria.

The present picture suggests something like this:

The UK supported the Syrian rebels without a sound analysis of what was really going on in the protests four and a half years ago and where the rebellion would lead.

The level of a threat by IS was not then a factor, but today it is.

Assad with Russian and more significantly Iranian help is still there even though he has lost much of his territory.

Russia now dominates Western thinking as to what happens next.

So the obvious statement to the Committee is that all that went before was simply that – stuff that went before and now is now.

But we are where we are because of miscalulation and shabby scholarship of Intelligence analysis and broadly speaking the people who made misjudgements and systems that supported them are still advising the same political leaders.

So we should recognise that the attempt to define British Syrian policy is about the same as the countryman’s advice to the bewildered traveller: “To get where you want to go I wouldn’t start from here.”

And there we have the problem. When the Syrian conflict began there was no Putin input that we worried about. Today there is exactly that. In short, Britain has to declare its Syria policy by accepting that it is not certain what it can achieve. Moreover just one military miscalculation could explode that policy.

The Committee’s task is a solemn one therefore. It is not about political point scoring.  It is not about handing out blame.  It is to tell us if our leadership is capable of making the judgements that will cope with what has become an international crises of considerable proportions.

The Prime Minister says the first duty of Government is the security of the nation. The first hope of the nation is that it has government that can deliver on that promise.

The recent record says that may be a false hope.

East v West – The Battleground Is Syria

October 1, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

I October 2015

London

Russia is now at war with America. Let there be no diplomatic illusion. Putin has sent his bombers against American and British supported rebels. That is not even a proxy war. That action is a straight forward confrontation.

Putin is saying there are once more two, not one, superpowers. The Russian’s measure might in sheer military terms. There is more to come.

Talks in New York last night to make sure there is no miscalculation between USAF jets and Russian Air Force operations in Syria is nothing to do with good military practice.  Russia and America are on different sides.

The New York talks were in reality Russia telling America to stay out of Putin’s way and his determination to destroy US-UK backed rebels and for the moment, to keep Assad in power.

Whitehall is already asking what next does it do?

What happens for example when an RAF Intelligence gathering drone is brought down?

In Washington they are asking what military response does the President authorise when the anti-Assad rebels demand that the US stops Russian attacks on their forces now heading for the Assad held territory of Western Syria.

There is no way that Obama can authorise a combat air patrol over over the rebels. The next stage to that, by miscalculation or commission, is a shooting war over Syria. You don’t have to blink to imagine what that will lead to.

The military sandbox scenario is simple: Russia bombs rebels. Russia tells America and anyone else on the anti-Assadl side including Australia, France and the UK to stay out of the area because Putin is operating an emergency war to keep Assad in power.

If the USAF does not obey Putin what are the possibilities of a mistake or a retaliation?  The answer is High.

Or for students of Machiavelli is there an even darker story here?

Could this be the dangerous game in Syria: the US has decided that the rebels should be abandoned? Why would they do that? Answer: it is the only way in which they could end the war.

The Whitehall and Washington have concluded rebels in power will mean another Libya and the USA will be seen as the power that brought that about.  Worse still, the US and allies will have to maintain what could so easily become a blood-letting regime on the Syrian throne.

So let Russia successfully defend Assad, then let the Syria leader stay in power until a new leadership is established – not from the rebels but from people already in Assad’s palace. The next stage would be to go for IS.

The whole thinking in Washington and London is flawed.  It takes no account of Putin’s own plan. Like all Russian leaders from Tsarist times, through the history of the USSR to this century, Putin does not trust the idea of alliance. This is his war and as far as he thinks he is winning.

President Putin asks this question of his analysts: Does America abandon the rebels? Does America just want a deal in a war it cannot win because it cannot guarantee the outcome?  They tell him what he already thinks: America wants out.

What does he do next? Bomb more rebels.  Keep them out of Assad’s backyard. Lead a coalition against IS positions. Do a better job of occupation than his Soviet predecessors did in Egypt before they were kicked out in the early 1970s. Accept the idea of a partitioned Syria.

There is another plus: tell the US to stand back and Iran will like that. The rest of the world will nod wisely. Another Washington foul-up.

So Putin believes he’s on a roll.  The Military Mo is with him. He could be right.

This is all high military and political drama but let us not forget it all means more misery for the 7 million or so displaced Syrians.  The war ain’t over for generations to come.