Archive for the ‘middle-east’ Category

Why Trump Bombed Wrong Bomb

April 7, 2017

 

Christopher Lee

London 7 April 2017

President Trump called Prime Minister May and said this is what we have in mind. Prime Minister May said Go for it.

Defence Secretary Fallon took a call from Defense Secretary Mattis who said he was putting 59 cruise into the Homs air base. Defence Secretary Fallon said Have a good one.

President Putin sat by the phone. No one called.

This morning (Friday) it was all done. The newly shaped National Security Council of generals in Washington (McMasters, Dunford, Coats, Mattis) had a good day.

The President needed to respond to the gas attack on Kahan Sheikhoun. He needed to back away from Obama policy of do nothing. Mr Trump was, maybe still is, an ideal man in charge on the day for the generals.

Donald Trump suddenly had his top people asking Mr President, what do you want us to do?

Man alone eats hog, was how Willie McCobb used to say it when he ran the Mississippi Delta. Big appetite for power but it fades when you’re the only one at the hog roast. In crude terms that’s what has happened.

So two questions: who gets what out of the US response? What happens next?

Syria: The destructive power of that attack could destroy President Assad’s palace and bunker in Damascus. Assad knows now that Russia cannot be guaranteed to defend him. There were Russian anti-missile systems at the Homs air base. No attempt was made to fire them. The US isn’t afraid of Russia.

Russia: They read Trump wrongly. His policy on Syria has not changed. Still no boots on ground. But his readiness to do something Obama would not do (one-shot game changing) they never anticipated. Putin will need revenge and that can only be diplomatic and he has no options.

Iran: In the Middle East Iran is the most feared state after Israel. Iran controls or backs policies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and threatens others in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iran is protective military cousin to Assad. Iran has failed on this one. It has lost image among other countries. It will try to freeze on bi-lateral agreements with the United States, but Trump is now a tried and tested arse-kicker.

UK: Other NATO and European countries did not get the calls from Washington. The past 24 hours showed Washington regards London as people on-side, trustworthy. Downing Street matters. Mrs May did well to be the first into Trump’s Washington. It rings Thatcher-Reagan times.

Next? We are to believe this was a one-off. It happened because Assad, or whoever in his bunker ordered a gas attack and the way the Western world reacted. This in itself compares ideologies.

A gas attack kills fewer people and cause less long term wounds than a 500lb conventional bomb raid.

Yet in the West, still with images of World War One, gas is a far more sinister weapon. It is illegal whereas a conventional warhead that can cause far greater catastrophe is polished and sold to anyone at public annual exhibitions.

Therefore, logically, America should be cruising every Syrian bomber airbase. But warfare obeys made-up rules.

The world doesn’t think about the gassed child who got a shot of atropine in time and will be back at school next week.

The world doesn’t compare that poor wretch with the kid in the conventional and legal bombing raid with both legs blown off for the rest of his or her life and a demolished hospital that cannot save the rest of the family. This is really the story of the past 24 hours. We all got mad with Assad for using a wicked weapon whereas the bigger killer goes unpunished. Trump has not got that far in the moralist’s warfare manual. There may be worse to come.

Trump wanted power. How to respond to the sarin attack was his first experience. It is hoped he did not like it.

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What Chance Russia & US Going To War Over Syria

October 10, 2016

christopher_lee180-11

Christopher Lee

New York

8 October 2016

Think about the scenario: Putin needs Assad to win his civil war otherwise Russia will be chased out of Syria. So Putin supports bombing easiest and most telling targets – Aleppo hospitals.

US with help from the UK and France says this Russian tactic amounts to war crimes.  Putin gets mad at that and calls off nuclear warhead agreements.

The next stage? America within the NATO system reinforces that area supporting the Baltic States.  Moscow says that amounts to provocation.  NATO says it amounts to a sensible precaution and shows its Baltic allies as well as Russia that it will not abandon its obligations in the region. In other words: come closer Russia and we will push you back.

The next stage (reached this week)? Russia moves an Iskander ballistic missile battery  with a kilotonage level nuclear warhead capability into Kaliningrad – that is, next to NATO allies Lithuania and Poland.  This, as it is supposed to, raises tensions among NATO states in the region who do not know what next to do and mostly want to do nothing.

Here in New York, to use the diplomatic jargon, Russians and Americans are not nibbling the same canapés.  The negotiations over Syrian peace possibilities are abandoned. Even the never ending margin meetings of low level diplomats are nothing more than individuals reporting back to the Lavrov and Kerry front offices on who is saying what in private.

There was a rare weekend meeting at the UN over the weekend.  The French (one of the five permanent members of the Security Council) tabled a motion to stop the Aleppo bombing and open a humanitarian aid corridor.  It would have gone through if it had not been for Russia.  The Russian delegation had instructions from Moscow to veto any cease fire resolution, whatever the motives. Russia vetoed.

The Syrian ambassador Bashar Jaafari got up to speak and in protest at the whole farrago the British permanent representative, Matthew Rycroft led a largely Western walk out.  Rycroft turned on the Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin and told him, thus Putin, that his veto was a death signature on Syrians in Aleppo.  Churkin did not even look uncomfortable.

Talk to diplomats who spend their lives at this level and they talk in whispers, not to be secretive but to reflect the seriousness facing governments seeking the wisdom for solutions rather than the distinctions of triumphalism.

They talk of miscalculation, not in the UN chamber, but on what could become a battlefield.  A Russian or American aircraft shot down when both aircrews fly with instruction not to back off. An artillery commander unsure of his own rules of engagement and so a calamity occurs, such as the shooting down of the MH-17 airliner.

There are two truths whispered in the UN corridors: the Russo-Syrian offensive will succeed without hindrance from the US because no President is likely to commit a military action just as the nation goes to vote and anyway, no Congress would support it.

Secondly, Putin’s shifting of the Iskander launchers into Kaliningrad will frighten most European members of NATO into taking no action.

They say here that Putin can no longer be stopped in his Tsarist ambitions to have the fear driven respect of all the so-called world leaders.

There is a third truth: tsarism, historically, was so very vulnerable to miscalculation. Putin on the edge could turn miscalculation into determination and yes that is when the extra step that Lavrov, Kerry and the Security Council try to avoid will lead to confrontation.  The weaponry of war is this week in place.  The diplomacy appears very fallible.

 

 

 

Five Years On & Hope Became Terror

January 13, 2016

christopher_lee180-11

13 January 2016

London

Five years ago this week the Arab Spring began in earnest. On 14 January 2011 President Ben Ali of Tunisia resigned. The social media went into fast thumb tap and click. The Middle East began to throw off its identity and took to the streets demanding change.

The freedom squares were full of protest within days. Egypt. Lebanon. Yemen.Bahrain. Jordan. Libya. Morocco. Iraq. Less than a month from the going of Ben Ali Hosni Mubarak was gone as President of Egypt.  On 6 March the first shots were fired in Syria. A week on and the Saudi sent in troops to rescue the Bahrainian leadership in case the anger spread to Riyadh.

In that same March NATO went into Libya  not to support their recent ally Gaddafi but to join the rebels against him. By the summer Yemen was in full fire and President Ali Abdullah Saleh fled for his life.  Five months later, October 2011 a cringing Mummer Gaddafi was assassinated.

The change was all to see and just as predictable.  Libya spilled its blood in political anger and still bleeds. Egypt elected Mohamed Morsi as president in June 2012 and then the army  overthrew him the following year and returned to virtual military rule and in 2014 elected former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. There was worse, to come

Out of this political and zealous carnage on 9 May 2013 ISIS, IS, ISIL ,Daesh – call this Jahadi as you will – was formed, declared a caliphate and the world quickly witness barbarism that could never have been imagined at the start of the Arab Spring. James Foley was Daesh’s first beheading.

By the autumn of 2014 a token coalition of forces but mainly American went after Daesh with a series of airstrikes into Syria.  The war there had been joined with ‘Western’ nations declaring for the rebellion and calling for the downfall of President Assad.

They are still bombing. Assad is still there.  In 2015 Russia joined in the hopeless of it all and said it was bombing ISIS in Syria but was truly bombing (and not very accurately) anti-Assad rebel positions.

Russia had signed up with Iran to defend Assad and equally to defend his constitutional and international right to rule as an elected leader. Iran, a Shia nation saw the fight for Assad (an Alewife and therefore a branch of Shia) as chance of a proxy war against Saudi Arabia and its Sunni royalty.

As to show this conflict could never be held tight in the Middle East, gunmen attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo the satirical French magazine and then in November of last year other gunmen and bombers killed 130 in Paris.The rest of Europe waits to see who is next.

Where has all this got us? Syria is in ruins beyond its capital. Iraq remains a failed Shia led state with Daesh in its strongholds and moving freely between Iraq and its “capital” Raqqa in Syria. There is hardly a state not spilling over with refugees.

If there is a deep anxiety than this in the region it is in Riyadh.  The ruling royal family, itself born beneath the green flag of Wahhabism and the ruthless of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, now fears for its own survival. So it should.

There is not a government from Washington to Brussels to the whole of the Middle East that does not fear the collapse of the Saudis.  The manner of its going would be a stage in the Arab Spring totally unthinkable five years ago. The consequences unpredictable and unwanted even among its harshest critics. The ruling family is now unstable in the sense that it is unlikely to be able to defend itself.

Here then the rub of the lamp that whips up the ghoul and not the friendly genie.

If Saudi Arabia starts to go then the United States will have to launch a major defence.  The advanced operation of US military forces are already in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf but not enough to defend the unthinkable. The British are having built (with Saudi money) a new base in the region. London would have to reinforce it if things go the way they so easily could.

Five years ago there was candle lit and iPhone glowing hope in the Middle East especially among the young and the educated longing for new times to come that would give them back their dignity of national identities instead of impossible dictatorships.

Five years ago and Ben Ali went quietly. Five years later no one can go quietly. Before this year is out the US and her allies including the United Kingdom and France could be heading for the biggest firefight since Viet Nam. Hope is done for. Terror has the next move.