Posts Tagged ‘Putin’

What Chance Russia & US Going To War Over Syria

October 10, 2016

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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.

 

 

 

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Syria:Why Has the US Not Won the War?

August 1, 2016

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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.

European Cup v Politics. No Winners

June 13, 2016

Christopher Lee - photo

Christopher Lee

Stade Felix Bollaert-Delelis, Lens

14 June 2016

Wales will beat England  2-1 against tomorrow.  Reason? England cannot score goals but with two obvious exceptions, they have better players. Second version: Wales will win 1-0 (Penalty).  Third version: hooligans will get match cancelled.

Whatsoever the result, England will lose because no one likes the English football team – not even the English because they (the team) have a nasty rich image as people. Paid too much.  Never win much when it matters. We are saying that the only nice England players are the former England players.

We are saying also that Prime Minister David Cameron needs by 23 June England FC to be winning this Europe thing and on their way to the 10 July  final because if they do then the national feel good factor will work for him and people will vote Stay.

We are saying also that Boris, Gove Darling et al need England to be winning this Europe thing by 23 June and on their way to the 10 July final because the national feel good factor will mean the union flag is worn with pride and the people will vote Bye Bye.

We are saying that support can turn elections because a national success turns a result by creating a sense of national ecstasy when a trophy is brought home and a below surface glumness when footballers fail.

The British politicians have always made sporting links to whatever game they play at Westminster and now further afield. The post-war Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee installed a teletext system when he arrived in Downing Street in 1945, not to monitor world events but the latest scores in Victory Test matches between an Australian services eleven and England between May and August 1945.  More modern prime ministers made sure minor decorations were handed out when cricket and rugby teams won international series and bicyclists dot not fall off.

More dramatically, Saddam Hussein’s son Uday had  the Iraqi team tortured when they lost in the Asian Cup in 200o. In 2014 North Korean’s soccer team was arrested and threatened with execution after losing to South Korea. Losing meant the North Korean people – especially the leader – were shamed. If they had won North Korea would have been proved triumphant politically and ideology.

The conclusion is that only sport creates the sense of pride and unity – or destroys it – for a nation state in tender times. From British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, to Tory and Liberal leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg, to French Presidents Mitterrand, Chirac and even Sarkozy all have invoked the names and spirits of their national sporting sides at the height of bi-lateral relations knowing sporting arena results could not be signs of how international politics would fall.

Could be that is why the American always play among themselves for the World Series events, not taking chances of losing against political as well as sporting rivals.

But the other truth is that the sporting effect (other than America’s) does not survive. A Test Match win followed inside three weeks with MBEs all round and flesh-pressing at Downing Street is followed by a whitewashing in Australia and muttering from the Downing Street PR, what was that all about – apart from when John Major was Prime Minister

The true result has to be quickly taken. In 1970 England failed to qualify for the World Cup four days before Labour (who had basked in England’s 1966 success – four months after Moore’s side won the Jules Rimet) was beaten at the general election.

The political victor, Ted Heath, was glad England had lost because he was told it would make the British people fed up with government.  Heath won.  The Labour minister of sport Denis Howell,  declared on the Sunday of defeat “Everything began to go wrong for Labour for the following Thursday.” Wilson blamed the “disgruntled Match of the Day Millions.”

Could it be that if England look bad in the Qualifications, then Cameron will lose the Stay vote?  Or could another day of disgruntlement work for Boris against those “bloody Europeans”?

Feel the pulse in the only thing that really means much to the English nowadays.  The Beautiful Game. It does not really matter if Wales wins or loses.  They will always be gallant fighters.  The English? No one, other than 25,000 fans, cares a toss. Or is that so? The political strategists who believe Howell and Wilson were right?

As a permanent secretary in Whitehall remarked this week. “We have the Referendum, talks on Syria, the NATO summit the week up to the July the Europeans final, talks with Putin’s lot and a shouting match in the EU about an EU Army, which we do not want. If we should win, we go to all these things as champions.’

The thought of Cameron in a white and three lions T-shirt in Vienna Geneva and Warsaw is something to contemplate. All is to play for.  All could easily slip from grasp. After 1-1 with Russia last weekend, anything is possible when own goals decide the political as well as sporting results.

Give UK Reserves a Proper Job-Blue Berets & Putin

June 6, 2016

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Christopher Lee

6 June 2016, London

The Polish government is recruiting a 35,000 paramilitary force because of tensions with Russia.  The force will be a hybrid military operation largely with civilians ready to deploy if Russia does what it did to the Ukraine.

By this time July, Polish plans will be finalised and announced at the Warsaw summit of heads of NATO governments and a further reinforced Alliance battalion attached to what will be a rotation brigade.

That is the very military position and should knock on the head any half-baked ideas for a European army – an unsustainable concept that would be nothing more than NATO less Canada and the US.

The people who should quickly learn from the Polish idea are the British.

Undoubtedly the British have probably the best, certainly one of the most reliable military systems in Europe. There are two weaknesses: manpower and a failure to build a volunteer reserve – the old Royal Navy Reserve (RNR), Territorial Army (TA) and Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR).

The purpose of the new style Polish militia is something needed by the British and a concept that would work.  The concept would be simple:

Any military set-up needs above everything else, an identifiable purpose.  The modern post-Afghanistan war volunteer reserve lacks vision and purpose. Recruiting is no where near the figures that the generals said would be there to reinforce the regular forces, especially the army. Reason? The generals got it wrong living as they do in an utterly outdated belief that if they blow the bugle then well-motivated young people will step forward to the colours.

Two reasons for low numbers: fuller civilian employment and greater employer demands plus the army in particular while not back to the days of driving trucks up and down the M11 as regular and only training has no single and believable purpose.

What would simply work is this: the  reserves need to identify an enemy and have an attractive and not an uncertain role.  Modern young men and women are used to priorities rather than general ideas.

The reserves should be formed in two groups: vocational (medical, engineering etc) and militia.  The militia should be tasked to learn everything there is to know about the Russian operation in Ukraine (as an example), identify and learn off by heart the structure of the Russia militia and regular combinations with weapons systems used, recruiting units, tactics and terms of reference.  In other words go live to identify and get in the mind, the strength and weakness of a potential enemy. The British reserves would become walking encyclopaedias of the potential aggressor. Imagine the senses of achievement and purpose that would bring people in civilian jobs.

There is another but not a lesser role: train the whole of the British army volunteer reserve as UN peacekeepers. Have them identify the job, pre-plan for every country a UN operation is or is likely to occur.  British troops are being sent to South Sudan as UN peacekeepers. No reason why trained reservists should not go.

Neither of the above is to lift the load of the regular forces, although it would have a limited spin-off in that direction. These are major jobs that would give great purpose to the reserves and would have recruits in line down the street.

The main achievement would purpose and identity – something missing in civilian and parts of the military in Britain today where the theme is disestablishment and devolution instead of understood identity of purpose.

 

 

 

Trump Says NATO’s A Dump. Best Listen to Him

May 20, 2016

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Christopher Lee

21 May 2016

Brussels

In this city there are more bureaucrats on every street than Qin Shi Huang had cast in Terracotta. Donald Trump seems to think they have about the same value: objects of curiosity and most people asking What For?

Nowhere does the modern conundrum of the first emperor of China come to mind than a short 620 bus ride out from Brussels North station. In no time at all (maybe 30 minutes but that is no time considering what will unfold) the bus drops you along Boulevard Leopold III just across from the headquarters of the biggest multinational military and political organisation in the world, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

NATO was very much the brainchild of the Norwegians and the British and had 12 member states when founded on 4 April 1949.  Today there are 28 members and if the United States were not a member and did not supply the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) then NATO would count for nothing. At best, it would turn into an Euro Defence Force.

What Donald Trump has been told and whoever did so was right is pretty simple stuff. Four or five NATO states are in a position to treat NATO membership seriously and as Trump’s people point out, keep increasing their defence spending by 2% of there national Gross Domestic Products. Trump is wrong when he says the US bankrolls NATO. The UK for example makes the 2% GDP increase in annual defence spending albeit only after some cute double entry book keeping where assets=liabilities + owners equity.

Sir Adam Thomson, the UK’s permrep at NATO (an ambassador rating) is reported as saying that Donal Trump has got it right on one thing “Europeans do need to start pulling their weight when it comes to investing in defence.”

Trump dumps on NATO in a big way.  He say America is carrying the whole alliance or as he puts “we are getting ripped off by every country in NATO.  We are paying most of the costs. When he sees that the Belgians here, the Czechs,Hungarians, Italians, Luxembourgers, Slovenes and Spanish each pay less than 1% then you can see why Trump’s bad-mouthing is hard to dismiss as the rantings of a red neck Republican looking for headlines.

There is a side of this that he has yet to get on. NATO is as important as a political-military  alliance as it was at its formation when Stalin was closing the Iron Curtain around his “near abroad” of client states that with the USSR became on 14 May 1955 the Warsaw Pact -Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungry, Poland and Romania. Many of the states are now members of NATO.

That makes Putin’s Russia nervous – as it would the USA if former NATO states had joined  Russia. Equally there is little to be said against the idea that Putin’s policy on Crimea, Ukraine and thus far in Syria rings alarms along Boulevard Leopold III. In short, Europe feels unsafe – and that is without throwing ISIS into the Threat Assessment delivered every weekday morning at NATO.

Trump is right to biff NATO.

It is remember an Alliance of political formation.  Generals do not take decisions in NATO.  Politicians in national capitals do and then they come to Ministerial meetings or as they will in July this year in Warsaw, in a gathering of heads of government.   The greater truth is that these ministers are governed by the state of their separate economies, their political persuasion with the third imponderable how a crisis may or may not develop.There are three elements of NATO decision making: real polltik, economy and the impossible analysis of the relationship between strategic capability, ambition and intention.  The people who hold the secrets, even the masterhands  to all three but rarely know when to fold live in the Alliance bureaucracy.

The NATO bureaucracy is home to some brilliant people who never quite make it or have made nothing much. Machiavelli thought the permanent bureaucracy’s single mission was to change nothing, probably because they are neither conservative nor liberal thus they are canny, shrewd, ruthless and conspiratorial. They adore the principle of the status quo.

Trump may know all of this and more. He may too have grasped that the bureaucracy has its time. It may be now. Forget the 2 % GDP thing. Defense economics is about what you spend on rather than what you spend. In short, instead of shutting down NATO or re-jigging it as I heard Trump remark, the analysts’ bench needs to be freed up to tell the likes of Trump and whomsoever the Democrats throw up what NATO is, what it should be, what it needs to be as a minimum and fundamentally what the true threat is and from whence it comes. He will be surprised especially as it would begin with the legend Start By Seeing How Putin Sees It.  A lesson from 1991 still not learned.

 

 

If You Were Putin?

October 15, 2015

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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

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.