Posts Tagged ‘John Kerry’

Putin Moves Into Syria – The War Just Got Worse

September 6, 2015


6 September 2015. London.

Russian advisers and equipment are moving into Syria on an increased scale.  Intelligence agencies in Washington, London and Paris suggest the evidence of this move is now documented.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants his UK air force to join in on bombing raids against President Bashar al-Assad ground forces, airfields and communications centres.

American air forces have been active for some time.

Has any one in London or Washington worked out the consequences of an UK or American guided system knocking out a Russian unit?  Sorry may not be enough.

We cannot write off such an incident as miscalculation especially with President Putin in his usual Make My Day mood.

Miscalculations start proper wars. The 4 year old Syrian conflict is a brush fire compared with what could follow the knocking out of Russian hardware & operational forces.

Russian intervention in Syria is not new. Russia along with Iran for different reasons has supported President Assad since the war against rebels began.  But the latest intervention is different.  Electronic, photographic and Human Intelligence sources now combine to show that Russian force protection units have been sent to a Syrian airfield.

The purpose of the units is to protect Russian armoured assets and a full air traffic control operation. This is not an in-out Russian operation.  Satellite monitoring shows that accommodation blocks including a medical unit have also been airlifted in.

The general operational conclusion is that the Russians have taken command of the airbase to begin further weapon deployments and even strike aircraft.

If you want to really get scared about Russian involvement then listen to what President Putin had to say on 4 September. It is “premature” to talk about Moscow getting involved in direct fighting.  That was not Putin saying the reports were rubbish.  That was Putin saying watch this space.

Unless Putin is about to change sides, then Prime Minister Cameron will have to answer this simple question when he goes to the Commons for permission to bomb Syria: “Does he want permission to bomb ALL pro-Assad forces? US Secretary of State John Kerry knows this.  That’s why he’s spending time this weekend talking to Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Cameron who has displayed little tactical or strategic understanding of the use of force and the long term consequence has a problem

One of his Brimstone missiles into the wrong armoured personnel carrier in Syria could start the rollout of an even harsher conflict in Northern Europe. According to some of his former military advisers, Cameron’s past view is that the military job is to go fight when he tells them to. Best listen very closely Mr Cameron.

And perhaps the House should listen if the British chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Crispin Blunt (who does understand these things)  asks his PM for a target list when legislators debate airstrikes in the coming weeks.

Christopher Lee

September 9, 2013


Obama’s Syrian Problem – What Should He Bomb?

9th September

The frightening aspect of the Do We Bomb Syria debate is simply put: even if President Obama got the go-ahead to strike he does not know what to bomb?

What do his cruise missile commanders aim for?  Chemical stocks? Command HQs of Syria’s 4th Division? President Assad’s palace? His brother’s command post? Think about it.

The order to the Syrian army to take Moudhamiy, the suburban rebel stronghold had not shown any result.  The local commander had failed to get his troops in to the district and eject the rebels.  The division responsible for retaking the area was the so-called elite 4th Division. 4 Div is commanded by General Maher al-Assad who is the unquestionably ruthless and crippled by his wounds from another occasion, brother of the Syrian President.

The spearhead brigade in the Syrian assault was 155 brigade in which there is an element on the two Syrian chemical warfare battalions.

The brigade attack was not producing results. Maher al-Assad does not tolerate failure.  When a local commander is failing, he may return to last resort weapons release.  In NATO procedure that would be low kiloton tactical or theatre nuclear warhead release.  CW is the poor man’s kiloton warhead. The procedure would be to fire binary chemical warheads into the area and follow on with an artillery attack. All of this happened on 21st August.

It is possible that President Assad was not in the loop that took the decision to use CW. It is even possible that this was a local and tactical decision. All this is discussed elsewhere.

Given these circumstances, President Obama said that the red line had been crossed. Secretary of State John Kerry in London this morning gave voice to the circumstances, the thinking of the President, the moral as well as the military case for attacking Syria.

Later today (9 September) he will do so to Congress. Kerry knows the Congress and what it has to hear and understand.  After all, he was a celebrated Senator as well as a one time prosecutor.  Kerry understand s evidence and jury.  Congress is the jury today.

Every procedure aside from a UN supporting resolution is in place for Obama to take the decision to attack, even if Congress says No.  The President does have that option.

What is not clear, is the target list. The purpose of bombing is to show Assad and any other  CW holder anywhere in the world- and there are plenty of them – that America will tolerate CW use. The next purpose is to disable the Assad option to use them again – if again he did. The third purpose is to bomb a Syrian leadership (not necessarily Assad’s) to the conference table.

Obama et al say the plan is not regime change.  This is clearly nonsense.  Perhaps the plan is not to bomb Assad in his palace bunker. But if the logical targets are given a GTG (Green To Go) then the conclusion has to be that Washington believes that the Syrian regime will be so vulnerable as result of lost assets, that it will fall or, as Washington would hope, those close to Assad will remove him from power and that they will then agree to meet in a Geneva Two-type peace negotiation.

If any of this could be true, then here are the targets:

  • Command and Control of Syrian air force units plus the avgas, repair and logistics capability. His air force could perhaps disperse to Iran and fight on from there. So some effort has to be put into taking out aircraft and aircrews – not at all easy.  Some have already gone to Iran.
  • Air defence radar and communications
  • 4 Division HQ and its back-up command systems.
  • Military fuel supply dumps
  • Remaining brigade HQs

Many of these targets could patched and regrouped. But battle damage assessments from US satellite and overfly, plus signals intelligence, would quickly put together a second attack list.

The people (apart from the Assads) who will be watching the Congressional vote and the GTG moment are not in Damascus, nor Aleppo. They are in the southern Turkish garrison at Antakya which is now the headquarters of the Free Syrian Army along with its, US, UK, Saudi and Qatari advisers and sponsors. If you believe that the rebels fired the CW, that would be the place they planned. Very unlikely of course, but so is the whole Syrian affair.





Christopher Lee

December 22, 2012


A Second Chance For Kerry But Is Obama’s Second Choice Second Rate?

22 December 2012
Senator John Kerry is said to be President Obama’s choice to replace Hilary Rodham Clinton and so become the 68th US Secretary of State.  

Sounds pretty straight forward. A shoo-in for the Senator from Massachusetts.  Could well be but it’s worth remembering that Kerry is Obama’s second choice. He wanted his UN Permanent Representative Susan Rice in the job but Ms Rice was forced to pull out over her handling of the diplomatic aftermath of the death of America’s top man in Libya, Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

What’s more, Kerry was Obama’s second choice four years ago.  Kerry wanted the State Department job and made that pretty clear.  Instead, Obama chose Clinton. Why did Kerry lose out first time round?  He did so because Clinton had only just lost to Obama in the Democrat presidential nomination and for eight years as First Lady she had amassed a good knowledge of foreign affairs and was therefore on first name terms with many foreign figures import to the new President’s foreign policy agenda.  Obama knew next to nothing on foreign affairs, Clinton knew a lot so it was a good team choice – and has so proved to be.  Kerry, although a sound man on the Hill, was not in that league.

Putting all this together, does this mean Kerry as second choice is second rate? Could be except that Kerry has the pedigree for the job.  He comes from a foreign affairs family.  His father was a State Department man. He speaks passable French and knows his way around capitals, especially in Europe..

Also, Kerry’s foreign affairs rating has improved during the past three years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Moreover, he has not been a stay-at-home policy wonk. He was very much Obama’s personal envoy with many trips to Pakistan in a not entirely unsuccessful attempt to overcome animosities in that country’s military and political top brass following the assassination by American Seals of terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.  That was no social call.

There is too some evidence that Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu trusts Kerry.  Whether or not Kerry trusts Netanyahu is unclear, but he surely knows by now that it is better not to.  Indeed it is hoped that Kerry has learned that leaders outside the United States can be just as smart as anyone mooching the corridors of Washington power.  Like many American envoys and officials he still needs to understand that when dealing with anyone, especially from the Middle East, the first two rules of negotiating should be simple to grasp: in modern times, America doesn’t offer much that can pull off a peace deal or alliance and secondly, the person an American is dealing with often has to be sharper and even more duplicitous than any one sent roaming from the State Department because he (and sometimes she) has more to lose that the American. In spite of the style and good manners, negotiators and go-between in the Middle East usually have a lot to lose.  It’s a warning, even a rule, Kerry would be well advised to understand – it’s an extension of the old journalistic interview safeguard Why is this lying bastard lying to me?

That bronze, if not golden rule of cynicism needs to be cleaned up for Kerry who in times past has spoken of his close relationship with Bashar al-Assad. Outside of the Syrian leader’s family and select Alawites, there is no such thing as a close relationship. It is significant that the Syrian conflict was  regarded as a No Go area by Ms Clinton and a mark of her brilliance at the State Department was the way in which while keep channels open to leaders in so many conflicts she urged caution on Obama when there any notion that America should go out and save yet another chunk of the world.  Ms Ciuton’s view after the removal of Saddam Hussein was that America had to take on board that even when in a position to bring about change, that change could easily do more harm than good.  Waiting for waiting to happen, as the British 19th century diplomatists agreed was often a safer and in the long-term, wiser course.

There is a further irony in the Kerry sage that may have a long term significance. Kerry first met Obama during his own attempt to get the Democrat nomination during the run up to the 2004 election.  Kerry had asked Obama, a virtually unknown politician, to speak for him during the Democratic convention.  Obama did and was something of a wow.  Kerry did not make. Four years later, his political best man did make it.

So the irony? Deep down, Kerry has not given up on the idea of being President. If he did a good four year job at State, especially pulling up a spectacular like Israel-Palestine, then would he not be in a good position to make a second play for that nomination. On present showing he would not get because, again on present showing, Hilary Clinton would. But Kerry will never have another nor a better chance to go for the nomination.

If that happens, Clinton would knock him off any ambition perch.  His one disadvantage is that there’d be few to catch him.  The difference between Clinton and Kerry is that Clinton is a team player – Kerry shows no sign of being so. That is important in the State Department where there are few second chances in diplomacy and no room for second raters.

For the coming three years, Clinton, should she choose to run, will have the biggest and brightest team backing her and it will be a team working with the finest Secretary of State America has produced since the Kennedy and Johnston era, Dean Rusk.  

So no chance for Kerry? Looks that way except for one thing: the presidential race will be on in 2016 and three years is an awful long time in politics.