Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Syria:Why Has the US Not Won the War?

August 1, 2016


Christopher Lee

1 August 2016

New York

Why has the mighty US not won the war in Syria?  Missiles, drones, laser bombs, satellite Intelligence, allies from all over the world and still the war goes on.  Refugees are being abandoned.  Russia is calling the shots – literally.  President Assad Must Go posters in the White House have faded.

With all the military might that could destroy the world in an afternoon’s war gaming (and for real if worry struck) the United States has failed to do what it thought so easy in 2011.

President Assad was expected to step down with a few weeks of the demonstrations that spread from Daraa where the first real signs of protest had emerged.

President Obama had made it clear from day one in the White House that he saw the Middle East as a military and political quagmire where only the legacy of failure would survive. The pressure on America from within the reason was consistent on Obama.  He had to chose sides or risk even greater pressures from US allies like Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, apart from its oil and dollar attractions had become the centre of US military options.  The Saudi’s were and remain America’s political and military landlords in the region.

Obama ran out of stand-off options.  On August 18 2011, Obama said Assad should step aside.  That was not what the rebels not Washington’s allies wanted to here.  They wanted a sharp get out of town notice pinned on the Assad’s Presidential door. Assad was never going to pack his bags. Assad was not Saddam Hussein.  No Colonel Gaddafi.

The protest became an armed confrontation within months.

Opposition groups took up weapons. They killed 120 Syria troops.  The bodies were desecrated. Anyone who wanted to join the fight was welcomed.  The result obvious: a desperate and disparate armed opposition to Assad demanding support – political and financial and military – from the major outside players such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the Saudis, the Turks. Without understanding what they were doing, many of US allies supported the so-called Coalition against Assad. It was called a coalition.  It was nothing of the sort. It was split armed opposition that soon included al-Qaeda and then IS.

What went wrong from the start?  The so-called Western alliance did not understand what was going on.  The leaders, including Obama, were badly advised and no one could publicly at least stick firmly to ambitions because they did not know what they were and how to get to them.  The scale of the conflict demanded on the ground military intervention.  To have made that strategic jump would have meant unacceptable commitments from countries such as the US and UK only just out or still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Furthermore, none of the apparently sophisticated military outside forces had any idea whatsoever how to fight Assad and gradually they did not trust the side upon which they would have to fight.

The internal coalition of opposition was being seen as a group who would in power run a bloodbath of revenge.  Obama and Co kept out other than mounting distant warfare against Islamist groups and arranging arms to rebels.  The insertion of Western special forces made little difference.

Then of course, the Russians arrived.  They backed the Assad regime, moved without any discretion rebel positions and helped destruct much of Western Syria.

The Turkish war against kurds was but a side show but an example that Syria had become a battlefield of such consequence that apart from downtown Damascus- a futile but telling description – Syria no longer existed.

And what have we got from desolation?  Assad in power. Russia the leading outside power. A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. A refuge population that the world does its very best to forget – if ever it took notice.

There is one other aspect: the surviving rebel groups whose blatant ambitions neither suited American understanding of the conflict nor made military sense now hope with considerable fervour that Hilary Clinton makes it to the White House. To do what?

Whatever Hilary Clinton’s mood there is no way she wants to get involved in a tough military commitment anyway in the Middle East.  Moreover, Congress will not let her.  Hilary, who naturally thinks two terms as President is fine with that.

Two people know that for sure: Presidents Putin and Assad.  There is nothing that will get home political support that American and her allies can do.  Moreover, there is nothing at all in the latest military adviser’s think tank that will change that.

The armed opposition groups from 2011 are powerless figures at fringe meetings of What To Do About Syria. Today real opposition in Syria are mujahedin groups who have taken the 2011 rebellion much further. The ambition is not simply to unseat Assdad; it is to replace the government and its ways in Damascus with rule by sharia law – the other caliphate; but the commitment of Russia may prevent that.

Barring a palace revolution, the outcome looks simple: Assad stays in a possible split territory with Russia in much the same position as the United States is in Saudi Arabia.

Curiously, Russia’s position may therefore benefit America and her allies.  Mr Putin actually wants what American thought it wanted. The fact that President Assad is still there is therefore what Russia wants and what America cannot publicly admit it wants.

Europe – The War Grave of Politics

April 22, 2016


Christopher Lee

22 April 2016, London

Ted Heath, shortly after he retired as Prime Minister told me that EU membership made war less likely in Europe. We were sitting in the drawing room of his house in the peaceful embrace of Salisbury Cathedral Close with the garden running down to the sweet Avon.

It was a warm summer and the future was safe in the hands of Europe – as long that is, the hands were firmly clasped together.

President Obama’s message this morning is that too many American soldiers died on the beaches and ditches of this continent for the United States not to have a view on the UK referendum on EU membership. Ted Heath M.C. and Obama would have understood each other.

What Heath said and the point Obama made is a reminder that the EU was born out of the tragedy of World War II. The founding fathers, men like Jean Monet, Joseph Bech, Robert Schuman, Paul Henri Spaak et al were of one mind; the Benelux Customs Union, the Coal and Steel and later the Economic Community brought together minds in political and commercial unity.  But the purpose was greater: Europe should never again be split in war.

This was all during the opening moves of the Cold War. The USSR prepared for war – the Channel Ports in four days was the brag of the 16th Shock Army in Magdeburg. A wise European elder, sat with me this morning, sipped from his bowl of coffee, dragged on his now socially unacceptable Gauloises (a successor to Monet perhaps) and observed, Putin has his new Shock Army.

This past week, Putin’s suits sat once more in the NATO-Moscow Council in Brussels (No No Smoking signs needed – you simply don’t) and with splendid diplomatic curtness ran through an agenda to see if the Alliance and Russia could get back to an practical informality that predated the taking of the Crimea and the interference in the Ukraine. It was good that the cocktail of ambassadors met after two years apart. Yet the political and military differences are as great if not greater.

As my vieux sage rasped, Putin works on the break-up of the EU. The Americans are throwing in brigades. Not what we had in mind when we all signed in 1975.

Equally let no one doubt that the US would never pay to join an organisation that dictated 60% of its laws.  Nevertheless the imagery of committed soldiery is stark. Today, with remaining suspicions about Putin’s ambitions and the demonstration of Daesh tactics in Brussels and Paris quite clear, the Obama message should be understood. In effect, Europe remains America’s front line.

That is not a political point as is the June referendum.  It is Intelligence Analysis at its simplest.

Ted Heath too understood this as did many of his Cabinet – five Military Crosses, including his Defence Secretary.  They had got their knees brown. Heath’s view was simple: membership of NATO was not enough even though it brought Canada and the US into some future ORBAT.

The real Order of Battle is the diplomacy and long term thinking of the EU. Could be why Obama has gone out on a diplomatic limb.





ISIS atrocities, Libya feet first, a new President – here comes 2016

December 28, 2015


28 December 2015


2016 will be a sinister affair. That’s what they say in the darker alleys of Whitehall and across the river on the Albert Embankment.

The oil guys in the Middle East say ISIS is working up a nasty. Big hits in as many European capitals as they can manage on the same day. Make Paris look like a hooligan mugging. The Middle East oilmen having the most to lose and twice that to protect have been known to get it right.

They says something like this: four or five organisers with long placed hitters in seven or eight capitals. Museums are easy targets.  Metros have to be quick. Theatres.  Everyone dies in the third act. Yup.  There’s a lot of black humour out there. Why the third act? Security is sharper in Act I and Act 2.  Act 3 has a It Won’t Be Tonight feel.

On the wider screen for 2016, Libya is the hardest one to tackle. The factions are still spilling blood and revenge is easy done.  France and UK are all for getting in there with air support, intelligence gathering and special forces reconnaissance (SAS’s original role) and smart diplomacy i.e. soft and hard power operation.  Trouble is no one knows for certain where ISIS has got to in Libya and most importantly who is running it there.

In the Middle East proper there is every chance of a strong US-Russia partnership developing in Syria.  Give it a couple of months. Russia without a sign of Oooops-sorry! is intent on whacking as many anti-Assad rebels as possible before going the extra distance on some form of election.  Here’s something that is not going to change in 2016 unless Assad is taken down by his own people – palace revolutions will be a general feature through the world of British interests.

Moscow clearly believes that Assad is the best bet in Syria. A lot of people at State Department could copy that but it is never going to be official policy especially as in Moscow Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov could be running Putin.  Watch those two names next year.

Everything is tugging Washington (and the UK) into further involvement in the big places it has failed during the past decade. More troops and close air support in Iraq and Afghanistan has a ring of the military version of American Old Home Week.

The future of Afghanistan is in the hands of Pakistan – always has been. So watch for higher training programmes and arms supplies from Pakistan military to Taliban. Watch also for Taliban’s biggest enemy in Afghanistan in 2016: ISIS.

It is all heady stuff and somehow makes the UK-MOD headaches low budget stuff. But the work is underway to see how much of a battle group or an force projection the carrier programme could make.  One carrier means six or so frigate/destroyer escorts plus a couple of subsurface vessels.

In spite of promises paying for all this is a hard call.  But the toughie for all three services to be sorted in 2016 is manpower. A great tr-service fighting force emerging from the 2015 SDSR – but fewer and fewer people with on-going training programmes to “man” them.

The biggest event of 2016 will be on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November – when the US votes for a new President. On November 9 they will wake in every city anywhere you can name and ask Who Won? They should do.  The new incumbent will be the most important person in the whole world.

On present showing the presidential election will be the most racially influenced presidential election in decades. Latinos, Asian and Black America since Fergusson will pack a  punch this time.

Meanwhile the current tenant on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the 44th President, will be ending his term by going after ISIS in the biggest way he can: hopeless superpowerdom testing to destruction.

And that is almost it except for the little matter of the election of a new secretary general of the UN. Ban Ki-moon goes on December 31 2016.  Who get’s the job.  No one knows. My money – against all the odds called thus far – is on a Bulgarian, foreign minister Irina Bokova.  But what do I know?


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

October 9, 2015

Christopher Lee - photo (1)

9 October 2015


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


8 October 2015


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.

East v West – The Battleground Is Syria

October 1, 2015


I October 2015


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.

Has Obama, Cameron & Co Underestimated Putin Again?

September 27, 2015


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


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

May 22, 2013


Drone Attacks On the Decline, But That Won’t Shine Obama’s Legacy

22 May 2013

Is the United States running out of al-Qaeda kill targets? Has the cutting off of the serpents heads been more effective than President Obama thought possible when he sanctioned drone killing as what he was told would be the best way of beating terrorism?  And has this meant nothing to the legacy Obama so keenly seeks in his final term?

In Washington, drone attacks remain a combined military, counter-terrorism and even an ethical issue.  That is why President Obama went Thursday to the American National Defense University with a speech that fundamentally attempted to justify his global counter-terrorism policy.  Given where he was speaking, he was getting to a captive and committed audience.  For others, what he said does not necessarily get high-fives.

Firstly, Obama has struggled to define what the White House calls a “legal architecture” for target lists. The only way to satisfy some, but not all, critics of the drone program is to take it out of the exclusive hands of the CIA.  If, for example, the drone targetting schedule were in two groups – the CIA and the military – there would have to be a certain higher level of transparency in who gets lined up for a hit and what is done to limit the civilian casualties that have become a factor that makes a mockery of the claim that drones are pin point accuracy weapons.  They are not, not can they be.

Secondly, Obama signs off each strike.  That means also that he has lethal powers that sit uneasily in the White House and have done so since Vietnam and carpet bombing.

Thirdly, the US is clearly rethinking its drone target policy, not because it has an ethical revelation, but because major targets have been taken out and identifying new ones harder.

Fourthly, Obama and his advisers have both publicly and privately made a case for drone hits on the basis that they are cheap, they work and they do ot cost American lives. Precision targeting is now questioned and so is the diplomatic cost of continuing with them at the present level.  

Many countries that once turned a blind eye to strikes in their homeland now object. That sets up a local political destabilizing factor and that makes it harder for America’s one time vital allies to continue to publicly do American bidding or at least assist where it once thought reasonable. Internal pressures and local political intriguing mean that US  support in many countries is becoming harder to pin down and this includes the once willing passing of information on radical groups and personalities – candidates for drone attacks. So the “dangerous man is dead” justification no longer remains an uncomplicated issue.

When, for example, attacks started in 2004 in Pakistan, there was just one that year. It took another four years for the attacks to reach double figures – 35 in 2008. Two years on, the strike figure was more than 100 into Pakistan territory. Since then the kill rate has reduced the so-called threat target list to just 13 this year so far.

As a security problem, the dispassionate would argue that it is a good problem to have.  American must be a safe place. But ethically it is not and Obama knows this too well. This White House does not do any better than previous administrations on war ethics.

For example, when he arrived at the White House for his first term, Obama made a big deal about the wrongness of the Guantanamo detention centre on the island of Cuba where America incarcerated often dubiously come-by prisoners for indefinite detention and interrogation.  He said he would close it down.  He hasn’t.

A difficult aspect of Guantanamo for this lawyer President is the heavily classified, 6,000 page analysis of the CIA’s interrogation program and the refusal of requests that it should at the very least be partly released as a freedom of information request. Difficult decisions for a President so vulnerable to an accusation that he’s a good talker but can not get crucial issues through a po-faced Congress.

All this is why the National Defense University speech is so important.  It will be the public definition of Obama’s most controversial military authority for the rest of his term. So far, not so good for a President who still hasn’t hit upon a legacy that he’s want in the book of American presidential history.