Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

The Blair-Cameron Rule of War

November 18, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

18 November 2015

Westminster

Those who criticised the way Tony Blair took the UK to war may reflect that the present Prime Minister David Cameron expresses similar sentiment.

Here at Westminster, in the mother of all parliamentary democracy Mr Cameron announced that as far as he is concerned it is not necessary to get the consent of the United Nations to start British bombing in Syria.

Of course, that is an image of the transition to war adopted by Tony Blair in 2003.  It was an apparent flagrant sweeping aside of the authority of the UN.  So it is again.  The bigger picture is different but there is one disturbing similarity between the Blair and Cameron reasoning.

In 2003 Tony Blair had been told by the then US President George W Bush that if there were to be political hassle for him (Blair) then there was no need to send in the British forces.  Political support would be just fine.

Blair believed that if the UK military was not on the start line then his famed support of the US after 9/11 would be meaningless.  He must have known also that Britain and he personally would be seen as what the former US Secretary of State Dean Rusk called a nation that had lost an empire but  had not found a role in the world.

Blair would be a second team player. Nice guy but what the White House would always see as someone in the Unsigned Christmas Card column.

And Cameron?  Go back to the intervention in Libya. There is every indication that Cameron joined the Libya operation in a hurry because the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy was leading on this, had decided to go in and that Cameron was being left behind. That could not happen again.

So Cameron told the Commons this lunchtime that whatever the UN said and presumably however his law officer the Attorney General described the legality of bombing, he Cameron would be going to the House to say the UK was joining the A Team of the US, France & Co.

Cameron may be right in what he said but best to remember four things: the UK’s bombing capability will make little difference to the campaign; a military role that has status value only  is not today needed – best stick to reconnaissance; re-read Dean Rusk and most importantly, mission creep.

 

 

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Has Obama, Cameron & Co Underestimated Putin Again?

September 27, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

27 September 2015

New York

Putin is a dangerous ex-KGB bodybuilder who plans to knock over as many democracies as possible and if not rule the world then say how it should be ruled.

That is the mix of mocking and alarm bell ringing image put about by Washington and London and their client states such President Poroshenko’s Ukraine. Whereas London, Washington and the coffee morning gathering that runs the Western Alliance, NATO have the true masterplan to peace, prosperity and the eventual downfall of the leader of modern Russia.

The slight problem of it all is that when Putin ordered the taking of Crimea the West posted bare back and chested pictures of horse riding Putin and told him him to get out of Crimea and East Ukraine. The West’s Make My Day Punk plan did not work.  Putin put on his shirt and doubled the deployment.  The West did nothing about that.  Putin has already assessed that they would not. Obama, Cameron et al did not mention the subject again.

Then President Putin started loading its port facility in Syria and took over the main airbase south of Latikia.  Now at the UN General Assembly Putin (during his first visit in ten years – he does not need the UN) said the deal is that we all back Assad, bin and deals with the rebels and then go for IS in Syria.

The Western punditry, echoed by London and Washington leaders said Putin should wind in his military neck, get out of Syria and forget any deals with Assad.  Now there is an idea that Putin is right but no one can say so.

Today the plan is looking something like this:

The West has long realised that it should never have backed the Syrian Free Army etc but cannot say so.

The West should never have rushed in to the anti-Assad camp without thinking through the strategic end game. Putin did think it through.

Putin’s Russia has long been an ally of Assad and knows from decades of fighting rebel forces, especially in Chechnya, that backing Assad’s enemies was a mug’s game.

Now we have squeaky briefings in Whitehall and here at the United Nations that Assad can stay for a while but should agree to go eventually and that zapping IS should be the main effort.  The French have started.  The Australians are in on it.  The British have done so and will do more and the Americans are leading the way.

No one of course will put boots on the ground. No one that is other than the Russians. Russia is now running the show and the West is playing a dangerous catch-up.

There are three reasons for this change of tune and tactic by the Western coalition:

1  Bad Intelligence four years back made them back the wrong horse and they are only just realising that.

2  Secondly (and reluctantly) they are privately saying that Putin’s game could be the surest bet

3  Thirdly (and most significantly) there is every evidence that IS is beatable thanks to a combination of better Intelligence gathering, drone reconnaissance and attack and the fortitude and bravery of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters

What does this tell us today at the UN?

Firstly, Western Intelligence analysis four years back of what was going on in Syrian and the likely outcome was a failure.  (They should have listened to Sitrep on BFBS Radio – that programme has consistently got it right!)

Secondly, Putin may not have been right but his crude opportunism was based on what was possible and now he is looking right and although they will not say so Western governments know this

Thirdly, Syria is not a single example of Western failure to get Intelligence analysis right. Western assessment of what was happening in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Syria? All wrong.

When the critics of what goes down here at the UN blame the United Nations then they should think again.  It is not the UN that is consistently wrong.  The misjudgements are to be laid at the doors of foreign policy analysts who are either failures or who cannot overcome the preconceptions of political leaders too busy to think through the jumble of reality and possibility.

The shorthand for that is that Western leadership (the French and Germans are honourable exceptions) for all their assets are not up to the task of the management – never mind the crisis management – of today’s world.

Putin may be loaded with all the terrible characteristics our leaderships say he is but so far he has out thought them by sticking with the basics of Intelligence and Opportunity Assessment: it is easy to assess capability it is then the hard job of assessing intentions of an enemy and opportunities to exploit the current situation. So far at least, Putin is ahead of the game.

Il Papa, Putin, Obama – A Word In Your Ears

September 20, 2015

christopher_lee180-11

21 September 2015. London

Today is the United Nations Day of Peace. It is the day the Secretary General says “stop the killings and the destruction, and create space for lasting peace.”  What Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would like to see is an end to the 16 big wars in the world (each with about 10,000 deaths a year) and the 22 minor wars (each with about 1000 killings a year).

The UN says it would be a good idea to halt the wars during this Day of Peace. Maybe the nearly 40 states or factions at war do not get the Secretary General’s Good Luck Peace cards.

But in one particular area of conflict, Syria, there is at least public demonstration of trying for a fix – however unlikely that is. Because this week, the world goes to New York and the General Assembly of the United Nations. It is the time when heads of government give speeches to the UN.  They talk of rights and wrongs.

On Friday Vatican flag will fly outside UN Headquarters, an unusual event because the Vatican is not a member of the UN. It is there on the day that the Pope will speak to the 180 or so delegates on his mood for peace, his hope for a world without hunger and his belief that it is possible for sides bitterly opposed to come together. It is more than a Have A Nice Day speech. The influence of the Holy Father should never be underrated – even Nikita Khrushchev admitted that after papal intervention in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the focus at the end of this week is on the seemingly intractable moment of the civil war in Syria.

The man with considerable influence who will be most carefully listened to is President Vladimir Putin of Russia. He has, or so we are led to believe, a plan to change the course of the war and to set a proper battle against IS – all in one.

Putin thinks he understands the weakness of the so-called Western Position. He believes that some allies of the United States are coming round to the idea that under America’s bidding they were too eager to jump into the war against Assad.  He believes that after four years bloodletting allies of the US believe that the rebel leaders are not to be trusted, that there is not unquestionable common leadership among them and that should they ever overthrow Assad then little would achieved but another Libya.

Putin on the other hand is building a military stronghold in Syria in support of Assad that has not been seen since the Soviet Union in the 1970s had a similar arrangement with the Egypt of the then President, Anwar Sadat.  The fact that the pact broke down and that the Soviet Union troops were told to leave matters not in the existing circumstance.  Putin is in.  Without him and Iran, Assad would be done for.

Mr Putin’s outline for his speech at the UN is that it would be best to support Assad and then bend a combined force against IS.  That could even, initially, mean Assad falling back on the Western Provinces of Syria, regrouping and then with a combined land-air operation for IS. Putin’s generals even see this as a combined operation with the counter-IS conflicy in Iraq.

The present state of US and UK thinking plus the support of other allies including Australia that has joined the bombing campaign against Assad’s forces is that it would be an unacceptable about face. It is not even certain that American President Obama will meet with Putin.

It might be remembered that the coming weekend in New York is a major part of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. Putin, who has not visited the UN General Assembly for ten years, understands the symbolism of the event. It will give him an opportunity to grandstand his plan (at home as well as abroad) and with it he hopes to get some of the adverse diplomatic and world opinion of his back.

Putin believes his master plan is such an obvious solution to the Syrian war. He understands also that the war is part of the great scheme to realign the 20the century origins of the Middle East and now the imagery of Sunni versus Shia. In this case Putin supposes  the whole region is used to surviving by undated compromise and volte face and therefore his position has more support than publicly demonstrated.

In short, we may not see the results of public and backstairs meeting at the end of this week. But it will not be a time to write off those rarely understood meetings in the margins that mean so much at the General Assembly.

Putin will need credible allies and so far there is none. Putin’s people have hoped to put together meeting with someone they may just rate more than Barak Obama on this occasion.  Putin wants the support of the Pope.

The Pope will be briefly at the UN.  But the Pope is not going to get involved in a very possible public failure in such a tragedy that plays in Syria.  The Pope will speak on Friday. Putin is due to arrive on Sunday.  The Pope will not wait for the Russian President. All a macabre political gavotte? Maybe. But the reality is that somewhere between them all is the start of an effort get people talking in this dreadful war.  Could be we should be watching the mood at the UN by the end of this week. It’ll not be a mundane General Assembly.

Christopher Lee

September 17, 2012

UN Syrian War Crimes List is secret.  Why? This isn’t one-side savagery.

17 September 2012

The Foreign Office has received a Restricted circulation list of suspect war crimes committed by Syrian military.  The list is compiled by yet another UN Commission. For the past twelve months, the Commission’s task has been to find abuses in human rights in Syria.

You’d think that was something of a home-by-teatime job.  Not so, according to the suits here in Whitehall.   The tricky number is not so much gathering reports because they come real or imagined from anyone with an iPhone in any place you can name in Syria.

The test is two-fold: forget allegations and concentrate on hard evidence and secondly, is the evidence against individuals on both sides of the civil war tough enough to prosecute?

Because the chairman of the International Commission of Inquiry for Syria set up last year  is Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. He has asked the UN Security Council (the UK is one of the five permanent members, hence the study in London) to copy his finding to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

That would be the first step in indictments for war crimes in the Syrian civil war.

Mr Pinheiro says there’s sure evidence that individuals at the top of Syria’s government have been signing off massacres – remember more than 100 killed at Houla last Spring – individual murders, torturing and rape.

Now, this gets more interesting as the crimes themselves.

Yesterday (Monday) there was a meeting in Geneva of the Human Rights Council. At that session Mr Pinheiro rehearsed all his skills and caution that has made him such a respected Brazilian diplomat and academic at Brown University, Oxford and Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales.

He gave the Council a confidential list of the individuals who might stand accused of the war crimes.

However, that’s the list we should see.  We all know that no conflict goes clean. Every fight is dirty and a civil war tends to be the dirtiest because there’s little ideology fought over only blood vengeance and something deeper than ideology – ethnic hatred.  So it is in Syria.

Why then no naming of names? Professorial lawyer Pinheiro says his Commission lacks one crucial element: absolute proof that would nail the war criminals for the rest of their natural lives.  So what’s going on? Rumour? No, he say. We know who is guilty.  Well, we could all guess up big on this one.

The problem is this: the professor can tell the ICC who authorized and in many cases carried out the criminal atrocities. But the ICC has to have squeaky clean evidence otherwise there’s no chance of a conviction – assuming any of them come to trial.

Something else missing from that list are the names of the rebel war criminals.

But aren’t we all supposed to be on the side of the rebels? Every Western government is. Blind faith in their cause?

Listen to Obama, Cameron et al and that certainly sounds like it.  So why nothing on the summary executions carried out by Free Syrian Army rebels in Aleppo, Latakia and Idlib?  There’s just as much evidence for the rebel ordered atrocities as there is for the crimes committed in the name of Assad.

There is a further complication. Islamist fighters have infiltrated the Free Syrian Army. There is not enough overall command and control over the FSA and therefore the Islamists are killing in the manner they know best – with ruthless disregard for the human rights the FSA is supposedly fighting for.

Messy enough? It should be, especially as now we know that there is a considerable number of Iranian special forces – the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps – operating in Assad’s army.

They have arrived to take command or enforce command since the wounding of Assad’s hardline brother Maher who is said to have lost both legs in a bomb attack in Damascus on 18 July.

Maher al-Assad’s name is on the professor’s list. It is hoped that his rebel role call is as detailed and as high ranking.