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Syria
#1
The most upsetting thing about Russia blundering into the Syrian Civil War is that things had been going so well!

Story so far.

Before the war Bashar al-Assad was the essential partner for peace and a “reformer” whose legitimacy was continually enhanced by the stream of western leaders sucking up to him.

This all changed when the “Arab Spring” came to town in March, 2011 in the form of street protests against the Assad regime. These were broken up in the time-honoured way of tyrants with bullets and repression, but this time there were large scale desertions from the security forces which gave rise to the Free Syria Army (FSA) and civil war.

There was a brief period in 2011 after the Syrian Civil War broke out that decisive US intervention could have toppled Assad and replaced him with an  identikit “friendly” Arab strongman from among the generals of the FSA. That was the absolute best outcome to be got from the turmoil. Syria, a close ally to Iran and Russia, could have been detached to the western camp. But Obama doesn’t do decisive and so confined himself to moral posturing. This resulted in the almost casual comment that he would intervene if Assad used chemical weapons.

After Assad (probably) used chemical weapons in 2013 Obama twisted in the wind for a couple of weeks in an agony of indecision. Clearly, he had assumed that his warning would be enough to deter Assad and hadn’t dreamed he’d have to back it up.  When the agonising was done both allies and enemies gaped in astonishment as the American president actually backed away from military confrontation with a tottering, tin-pot dictator.

Then to save the face that had been irretrievably lost Obama decided two years too late to arm the Syrian opposition. First the Pentagon was tasked with training a “moderate” rebel force to join the fray. The final unravelling  of this fantasy of getting Syria in touch with its feminine side came just last month with the stunning admission (below) from Gen. Lloyd Austen that this $500m program had resulted in just 4 or 5 individuals actually fighting in Syria. The rest are apparently dead, AWOL, or decamped to Islamist groups.


                                                    Incredible is the new black




Another more pragmatic approach was to unleash the CIA to arm and train those actually fighting Assad in the FSA. This has resulted in a pretty effective force that has actually been gaining ground against the Syrian Army.

The only problem is that most of the FSA rebels that the US arms and supports are Islamist nut-jobs. Even back in 2013 a senior military official disclosed to CBS that more than half of the Free Syria Army are “extreme Islamists” and this proportion is “growing by the day”. This is the reality on the ground in Syria. Without much in the way of Syrian national identity to fight for all that remains is money, clan and above all Islam. All those western-looking, secular reformers that took to the streets in March 2011 ran for it when the firing started and the weird beards arrived. With regard to America’s aid to the “moderate” rebels Syria expert Joshua Landis has estimated that between 60 and 80% of US military aid has ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda.

Now the war is between Assad and the Islamists and we are allied with the Islamists including the perpetrators of 9/11. It all sounds like a wacky conspiracy theory that cannot possibly be true. But it is, and for a simple reason. After his “red line” humiliation Obama vowed that Assad must go. The fact that the only people on the ground that could effect that were Islamists of one type or another obviously wasn’t a deal breaker.

Russia Strikes

This US operation was on the verge of success pre-Russian intervention. That is if success is defined as revenge for Obama’s hurt feelings and the victory of radical Islam creating yet another anarchic hellhole like Libya. Putin intervened not only to stick it to Obama but because Assad is on the edge of the abyss. He controls just 20% of his own country and the very well-funded and equipped rebels are threatening his capital. Now the Russians are testing the faith of America’s looney tune allies as well as ISIS all bets are off.

Future

Assad even with a couple of dozen Russian aircraft and arms shipments behind him still can’t win. All that Putin’s intervention is likely to achieve is further stalemate, a spike in demand for doe-eyed virgins, and millions more refugees. Assad can only win if Putin or Iran sends a very considerable ground force to do his fighting for him which doesn’t seem likely.

That’s a shame because victory for the blood-soaked dictator looks like the best outcome for Syria and even for us in the West.

So much for Middle East politics.

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