Posted tagged ‘Obama and Syria’

Despite Obama’s Best Efforts of Aiding Both Sides, Syria is at War

May 26, 2017

Despite Obama’s Best Efforts of Aiding Both Sides, Syria is at War, The Point (Front Page Magazine), Daniel Greenfield, May 26, 2017

Despite my best efforts, I’m sitting here typing this post. Despite these best efforts, here’s another sentence. Despite Obama’s best efforts of helping Islamists start wars, there’s a war in Syria.

Go figure.

“For example I look at a place like Syria, where despite our best efforts, and this is something I worked on a lot, we still have a vicious war… “

What best efforts?

Obama unleashed the Arab Spring, armed one side in the conflict, then gave backdoor approval to the other side, aided Iran, aided Qatar, and to his surprise, there’s a vicious war.

Why blame him? He just armed one side. Then financed the other side. How could there still be a war?

Here’s more of this senseless gibberish.

… and it is going to require I think everything we can do to recognize that what happens on the other side of the world… it has an impact on us, and we’re going to have to be invested in helping those countries find peace and prosperity. As president, I didn’t always have the tools that I want to effect those kinds of changes, but at least we tried. And if you try long enough, eventually… the better angels of our nature win out.

What is the point of any of this?

The only thing Obama’s policy accomplished in Syria was to wreck the country and kill hundreds of thousands of people. And as much as I despise him, I don’t believe he wanted that. He wanted the Islamists to win. But then he crawled into bed with Iran. And he couldn’t decide what to do. Except everything he did made this worse.

And so we get this sad pathetic drivel from a miserable human being with blood all over his hands and empty pandering on his lips.

At least we tried. Just don’t ask what he tried to do.

Former Obama Admin Ambassador: ‘We Always Knew’ Syria Still Had Chemical Weapons

April 10, 2017

Former Obama Admin Ambassador: ‘We Always Knew’ Syria Still Had Chemical Weapons, Washington Free Beacon, April 10, 2017

(Sorry about the formatting, but it’s the best I could do with the article. — DM)

AP

A former ambassador who served during Barack Obama’s presidency admitted Sunday that the administration “always knew” Syria still had a stockpile of chemical weapons, despite public assurances to the contrary.

Dan Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and senior official on Obama’s National Security Council, took to Twitter to defend the previous administration’s efforts to dismantle the Syrian chemical weapon program.

“I strongly disagree with those who say Assad’s [chemical weapons] attack on Idlib [Province] proves that the 2013 [chemical weapons] deal struck by Russia & the US was worthless,” he wrote.

Shapiro argued that the deal, brokered by the U.S. and Russia to eliminate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, successfully managed to remove and destroy all 1,300 tons of the regime’s declared arsenal. He then added that the Obama administration was aware the Syrian government likely hid away part of its chemical weapons program.

“We always knew Syria likely squirreled away some residual undeclared stocks and/or production capability, now proven by Idlib strike,” he admitted.

11. By mid-2014, all 1,300 tons had been removed, supervised by the OPCW, and carefully destroyed on ships at sea.

12. We always knew Syria likely squirreled away some residual undeclared stocks and/or production capability, now proven by Idlib strike.

Shapiro’s comments came the same day another former Obama administration official told the New York Times the same thing.

“We always knew we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration,” former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken told the paper.

Both claims appear to contradict previous statements made by the Obama administration. In 2014, then-Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. had removed Assad’s entire stockpile.

“We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

As late as January, Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, likewise told NPR that “we were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.” The Washington Post fact-checker gave that statement Four Pinocchios in light of the recent chemical attack, meaning the Post deemed the comments completely false.

Shapiro noted in his Twitter remarks that he supports President Trump’s decision to order military strikes against a Syrian government airbase following Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack carried out by the Assad regime on civilians in northern Syria.

1. There’s some serious revisionist history afoot regarding the 2013 CW deal. I offer this perspective from serving in Israel at the time.

2. I’ll start by clarifying that I support the strikes against Syria last week, as I made clear at the time. pic.twitter.com/ylcwFDRpr7

Trump Sends a Message to China Through Syria

April 10, 2017

Trump Sends a Message to China Through Syria, Front Page Magazine, Daniel Greenfield, April 10, 2017

On Thursday evening, President Trump met with China’s President Xi and bombed Syria. The decision came as Trump traveled on Air Force One to meet with Xi at Mar-a-Lago. An hour into their dinner, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched and pounded an airbase in Syria. The message wasn’t just for Assad and Putin. It was for Xi and his North Korean client state. The era of a weak America was over.

Xi had come to America expecting an easy photo op visit. President Trump would urge action on North Korea and Xi would smile coldly and shoot him down. Talk of fairer trade would be similarly dismissed.

And then Xi would go home and laugh that the bold new American leader was another paper tiger.

Except that President Trump had a different plan. Instead of Xi showing how tough he could be, Trump gave him a front row seat to a display of American power. The message was both obvious and subtle.

And President Xi, along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei, aren’t laughing.

The obvious part was as blatant as a 1,000 pound explosive warhead slamming into concrete and steel, and as obvious as upstaging Xi’s efforts to stonewall Trump while warning that North Korea could be next if the Chinese leader continues to be obstinate.

Trump had warned throughout the campaign that he would not be laying his military plans on the table. “You’re telling the enemy everything you want to do!” he had mocked Clinton.

His address to the nation came an hour after the missiles had struck. The element of surprise had held.

And Xi came away with a very different message. The Obama era was over. The new guy was bold, dangerous and unpredictable. Like many of Trump’s American opponents, Xi understood now that the jovial man sitting next to him could and would violate the rules of the game without prior warning.

China would have to be careful. There was a cowboy in the White House again.

And that was the subtle part. Trump does not care very much about Assad. What he truly cares about is American power. Left-wing critics quickly pounced on Trump’s past opposition to strikes on Syria and his criticisms of Obama for not enforcing his own “red line”.

There is no contradiction.

Trump didn’t believe that strikes on Syria were a good idea. But once we had committed to a red line, then we had to follow through if we were going to be taken seriously.

And so Trump enforced Obama’s red line. Not because of Obama or Syria. But because of America.

“When he didn’t cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways, not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world because it was a blank threat,” President Trump said.

President Trump intends to get things done. And he knows it won’t happen with “blank” threats.

Asked about whether the strikes represented a message to Xi and North Korea, Secretary of State Tillerson replied, “It does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line and cross the line on violating commitments they have made.”

“President Trump has made that statement to the world tonight,” he added.

The message is more subtle than a 1,000 pound warhead. But not by that much.

President Trump’s move bewildered leftist critics who had to shift from accusing him of having a secret relationship with Russia to accusing him of ruining our relationship with Russia. It also enraged some supporters who maintained a dogmatic non-interventionist position. But Trump doesn’t make decisions based on ideology. He measures policies against real world objectives, not abstract philosophies.

What he has always wanted to do is solve real problems.

The problem he was solving on Thursday wasn’t Assad. President Trump recognizes that Syria is an unsolvable problem and that little good can come of extended engagement with it. There are no good guys in Syria. Only Sunni and Shiite Jihadis and their victims. Syria is and will always be a dead end.

The problem is that Obama thoroughly wrecked American prestige and power over eight years. And that makes it painfully difficult to get anything done when no one in the world will take us seriously.

President Trump sees North Korea’s nuclear weapons as a major threat. But he also sees the crisis as a way to leverage our military might to achieve better trade deals with both partners and rivals. He is not wedded to a globalist or anti-globalist ideology. Instead he sees every problem as an opportunity.

He is not committed to any international coalition, globalist or anti-globalist, except where it temporarily serves American purposes. That is what being a true nationalist actually means.

That is what makes him so unpredictable and so dangerous.

President Trump made a point in Syria. He timed that point for maximum effect. The point isn’t that Assad is a bad man. Though he is. It’s not that he isn’t a Russian puppet, though only the lunatic left could have believed that. The point is that he is determined that America will be taken seriously.

Cruise missile diplomacy isn’t new. Bill Clinton fired over 500 cruise missiles into Iraq. Not to mention Sudan. Bush fired cruise missiles into Somalia. Obama signed off on firing cruise missiles into Yemen and Syria at terrorist targets. The difference is that Trump isn’t just saving face with cruise missile diplomacy.

President Trump’s real objective isn’t the Middle East. It’s Asia. He doesn’t see Russia as our leading geopolitical foe, but China. Syria was the opening shot in a staring contest with the People’s Republic. The moves in this chess game will sometimes be obvious and sometimes subtle. And Trump is usually at his most subtle when he’s being obvious. That’s what his enemies usually miss.

President Trump’s first step in Syria was to reestablish physical and moral authority on the international stage while the President of China had to sit there and watch. He humiliated Democrats and their media operation at the peak of their Russia frenzy. And he sent the message that America is back.

It’s not a bad return on a $60 million investment. We’ve spent much more in the field with less to show for it.

The Obama era in international affairs ended with whimper and a hollow Nobel Peace Prize as a trophy. The Trump era in international affairs began with 59 cruise missiles and a big bang.

What Obama Owes Putin—and Why Donald Trump Is Left Holding the Bag

January 17, 2017

What Obama Owes Putin—and Why Donald Trump Is Left Holding the Bag, Tablet MagazineLee Smith, January 17, 2017

(A long but fascinating analysis of Obamas’ Middle East policy, of which a strong Iran was the centerpiece and in which Putin was his tool, ally and master. — DM)

The Obama administration’s dual-track diplomacy was different because the public track was intended to cover for the real show going on behind the scenes. For instance, if it looked like Obama was at odds with Putin over Russia’s destructive escalation in Syria and its role in crushing the rebels and killing civilians, nothing could have been further from the truth. Yet Obama needed Putin to rescue Iran and save its regional position. So while Obama was denouncing Putin in public, his White House errand boys were actually meeting in private with Putin’s errand boys, helping the Russians to accomplish the very things that the administration—especially the State Department—then publicly denounced. On bad days, it could look like there were actually two U.S. governments, pursuing policies that were diametrically opposed to each other. In fact, there was only one government, led by Obama—and the policy of that government was entirely coherent, although not necessarily wise.

For what mattered most to Obama wasn’t Syria, nor even was it the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is typically referred to as Obama’s signature foreign-policy initiative. Even that was a feint, cover for a larger strategy that entailed a realignment of interests in the Middle East and a new form of foreign-policy “realism” that would get American troops out of the Middle East—and put America in the same column as Iran and its allies, including Vladimir Putin.

How could Obama cover America’s retreat, yet ensure a certain amount of stability in the Middle East? Israel was too small for the role of regional policeman, and besides, its policies toward the Palestinians pointed toward instability. The Sunni Arab states were fractious and incapable of working together, and their own internal problems gave rise to extremism. That left Iran.

Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, . . . thought crushing Assad would be a huge strategic setback for Iran. And that’s just what worried Obama, who hardly needed the Iranians to warn him that realignment would collapse if America targeted the Syrian regime. After all, realignment was predicated on the idea of a strong Iran with a can-do Quds Force that could act as the region’s new policeman. An Iran knocked back down to size, and where the country’s internal opposition would be emboldened, would be of no use to a White House keen to hand over the keys to the Middle East and get out. Obama needed a big Iran, a “successful regional power,” as he’s put it.

***************************

Is Donald Trump a Russian secret agent? Did he pay FSB hookers to pee on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz in Moscow, overlooking the Kremlin? It’s silly season, so any drunk on a fat oppo-research expense account can write down any crazy foolishness they want and Buzzfeed will let you decide if it’s true because that, as Buzzfeed’s editor, Ben Smith, solemnly explained to The New York Times, is where American journalism is at in 2017. Duly noted, Buzzfeed. Enjoy the golden showers.

What’s being obscured by this grotesquerie is the origin and the actual substance of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, which in turn affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people living in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Or, to put it another way: Is Donald Trump likely to continue the policies of his predecessor, which set the Middle East on fire and led to 500,000 deaths in Syria, and to Putin biting off large chunks of the sovereign nation of Ukraine? Or is he likely to reverse those policies? Or can he, even if he wanted to?

The single-mindedness with which the White House and the remnants of the Clinton campaign have pursued the idea that Donald Trump is a pawn of Vladimir Putin is not based on silly stories about peeing prostitutes or secret computer servers that connect the Trump organization to the Kremlin. Rather, it’s an attempt to manufacture more smoke to obscure the reality of Obama’s own determination to collaborate with a hostile Russian leader in Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Sure, Obama recently sent 35 Russian diplomats packing and shuttered Russian diplomatic facilities in Maryland and New York, but this was after seven years of looking the other way while Russia seized Crimea, then Donbass; waged cyberattacks on the Baltic countries; brought down a passenger jet over Ukraine; sheltered Edward Snowden; and bombed schools and hospitals in Syria. All of these actions threatened global stability and American interests, yet Obama only puffed his chest after the cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails—long after it mattered, and after the moving vans have already started to haul his stuff out of the White House.

The reason top national-security journalists, policy mandarins, and much of the Washington establishment can’t fathom Obama’s relationship with Putin is only partly due to partisanship. The real reason it’s so hard to see how much room the outgoing president gave Putin is because misdirection has been Obama’s guiding principle for seven years.

The president made it look like he was at odds with Putin for much of his two terms—for instance, loudly poo-pooing the Russian campaign in Syria and warning of Vietnam-style “quagmires,” dismissing Russia as a weak country, sending an LGBT delegation to the Sochi Olympics to underscore his differences with Russia’s treatment of the LGBT community. All this helped obscure the fact that when it really counted, Obama took special care to signal the Russian strongman that their interests were aligned. That wasn’t because he has a man-crush on Putin, but because he had a larger purpose in view—securing the Iran nuclear deal.

The point isn’t that Obama lied. Sure, he lied. All politicians lie all the time, right and left, Republican and Democrat. All governments lie, perhaps especially liberal democracies, which don’t have the luxury afforded authoritarian regimes to do whatever they want at no cost to their approval ratings, which hardly matter. Liberal democracies lie especially when they’re crafting policies that would make many of their constituents queasy.

For two terms the Obama White House staged a foreign-policy puppet show, while the real drama took place far from the spotlight—a mutant variation of dual-track diplomacy. Policy is often conducted along two tracks—maybe military and diplomatic, or hard power and soft power, like development assistance or cultural-exchange programs. Diplomacy is almost always conducted on two tracks. Track-two diplomacy is a term of art that refers to the nonofficial meetings held by private individuals or groups that give the official parties the nonofficials represent enough room to disclaim ownership if or when it blows up. The Oslo peace process began as track-two diplomacy, for example, as have plenty of other major diplomatic initiatives. The point is that whether we’re talking about foreign aid or political pressure, military force or moral suasion, the two tracks of dual-track diplomacy are almost always pointed in the same general direction, with the aim of securing the same outcome.

The Obama administration’s dual-track diplomacy was different because the public track was intended to cover for the real show going on behind the scenes. For instance, if it looked like Obama was at odds with Putin over Russia’s destructive escalation in Syria and its role in crushing the rebels and killing civilians, nothing could have been further from the truth. Yet Obama needed Putin to rescue Iran and save its regional position. So while Obama was denouncing Putin in public, his White House errand boys were actually meeting in private with Putin’s errand boys, helping the Russians to accomplish the very things that the administration—especially the State Department—then publicly denounced. On bad days, it could look like there were actually two U.S. governments, pursuing policies that were diametrically opposed to each other. In fact, there was only one government, led by Obama—and the policy of that government was entirely coherent, although not necessarily wise.

For what mattered most to Obama wasn’t Syria, nor even was it the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is typically referred to as Obama’s signature foreign-policy initiative. Even that was a feint, cover for a larger strategy that entailed a realignment of interests in the Middle East and a new form of foreign-policy “realism” that would get American troops out of the Middle East—and put America in the same column as Iran and its allies, including Vladimir Putin.

Yes, as Obama believed, Americans were sick of the problems and psychoses of the Middle East, and angry that George W. Bush failed to win his two Middle East wars. But neither Congress nor the U.S. foreign-policy establishment was keen to see the United States dismantle a regional security architecture it took 70 years to build, and which Obama and his young aides saw as a guarantee of future friction, and future U.S. military engagement. Someone needed to smash that architecture with a hammer.

So the Obama White House made stuff up. No one wanted to side with Iran and downgrade traditional allies like Israel. And so the Obama administration said that wasn’t happening. And the way it obscured the truth was to stage a dog-and-pony show with familiar Beltway names and faces to keep the Buzzfeed kids busy pondering the complexities of U.S. foreign policy while the adults went about their deadly serious business. What looked like the president of the United States pulling a rabbit out of his hat was actually Obama sawing a woman in half—and drawing blood.

***

Is that really what happened? Some former Obama officials, like the administration’s onetime Syria point man, Frederic Hof, argue that the reason the administration’s foreign policy is a mess is because the president and his men in the White House lacked experience in the federal bureaucracy. In this view, the Obama team—namely, National Security Adviser Susan Rice—didn’t know how to manage what people in the know call the “interagency process,” or how the various institutions, like the National Security Council staff, State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence community process policy.

The reality is that Obama and his closest aides were contemptuous of the institutions, staffed by those very same Beltway bureaucrats that collectively make up what Obama deputy Ben Rhodes disparagingly called “The Blob.” As both Obama and Rhodes have explained, the mediocrities worthy of contempt included members of Obama’s cabinet. The reason for tapping figures like Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, David Petraeus, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Samantha Power was to use the establishment as cover, while the real players, like Obama and Rhodes, Rob Malley, and a few select others, maneuvered in the shadows, and spun covering fictions. By 2012, as Gates and Panetta detailed in their memoirs, the Wise Men came to understand they were simply pawns in the president’s larger game, and quit before the real bloodshed started.

Hillary Clinton, with an eye to her presidential campaign, was not about to cross Obama in public, as Gates, Panetta, Chuck Hagel, and others did, but she knew she was window dressing, too. Her State Department was surprised when John Kerry, then head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was tasked to open a channel with the Iranians through Oman. The concessions Kerry offered Iran, especially the right to enrich uranium, angered Clinton’s staff. Kerry was screwing up badly, they leaked to reliable press contacts, they’d never have blundered like that.

Was the Clinton team really shocked and outraged? No, it was just cranking up its own fog machine, lest anyone realize the White House had done the worst thing anyone can do to someone else in Washington—make them irrelevant. Hillary Clinton’s job wasn’t to make policy—it was to rack up frequent-flier miles and stay out of the way while the White House handled the big-ticket items like Israel, Iran, China, and every other issue of any major importance. Nor did she particularly want the responsibility for decisions that she and her coterie may have opposed, and which certainly were likely to anger many of her prominent traditional liberal supporters. “The president,” as one official from a pro-Israel organization in Washington told me, “leapfrogged the State Department.”

Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, was either less ambitious or more vain than Clinton, or maybe both. He was the electronic rabbit while the real work of shaping the world was done by much younger men who represented the will of the president of the United States. What Kerry did in public, all those marathon negotiating sessions, all those windy speeches, was a sideshow. The fact that his tremendous vanity made him think that it was real only added conviction to his performance—all the better to generate buzz among 27-year-old reporters at Buzzfeed and their instant-foreign-policy-expert buddies at the newly-minted Washington “think tanks” led by Democratic political operatives like Neera Tanden, whose actual experience of any particular part of the world or area of human endeavor—warfare, diplomacy, nuclear engineering, you name it—was nil.

So while Buzzfeed—and the New Yorker—wrote articles about how John Kerry was manfully negotiating cease-fires in Syria with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, it was, in fact, Obama’s own Middle East point man, Robert Malley, who conveyed the president’s real policy. Almost as soon as Obama called for Assad to step aside in August 2011, the administration came to regret that bit of grandstanding, and walked it back. As Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told me, “The administration went from ‘transitioning away from Assad’ to ‘de-escalating’ the conflict, or stopping the bloodshed. The White House used a veneer of humanitarian concern to elide the fact that removing Assad was no longer a part of the equation. It was now about shutting down the war against Assad.”

It wasn’t long before foreign officials came to understand that Obama was working two seemingly opposing channels—the trick was figuring out which channel was real. As a source close to the Turkish government explained to me, Turkey’s former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, eventually concluded that Obama was using Clinton as a prop. Whatever promises she might make on Syria, for instance, were worthless. They were also often actively misleading, as they were unconnected to what the Americans were actually doing on the ground. The White House had sent its top diplomat out to lie, and without informing her she was lying.

No one saw more of the administration’s shell game than Israel. The White House reassured Jerusalem that it wasn’t going to sell Iran the farm—Israel was their ally, and Iran was the enemy. As one former senior U.S. official told me, “The Bush administration and Israel had developed a pressure track on Iran, primarily through the intelligence community. This was the track that produced Stuxnet. But Obama shut down the pressure track with the opening of the Oman channel since they didn’t believe that pressure and diplomacy work together. But the Obama White House couldn’t tell the Israelis they were shutting down the pressure track. So the president wrapped them up in planning, promising, for instance, a Stuxnet 2.0. So you have emissaries going back and forth, planning and planning and planning, which was actually just stalling.”

Moreover, said the former U.S. official, the Israelis knew that Obama was lying about the Oman channel. He added that the head of the U.S. team negotiating with Iran, Wendy Sherman, “would meet openly with the Iranians as part of the P5+1 talks, then fly to Jerusalem, and tell the Israelis, ‘We got your back.’ But the Israelis knew the Americans were meeting with Iran because they had the tail numbers of planes going to Oman. The Israelis went to Obama’s then national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, and said, ‘We know what’s going on.’ ”

In fact, the Israelis didn’t understand. They thought, like most critics of the Iran deal, that the administration was just flubbing negotiations and needed help. But the White House didn’t care that much about the particulars because the JCPOA was simply a device to allow for a larger, even more historic play—Obama wanted to get America out of the Middle East, and realigning with Iran was America’s exit strategy.

For the big problem with the region, from Obama’s perspective, is the lure of the “Washington playbook,” a set of guiding principles that typically point to the use of force, which was passed down by generations of government grandees—the kind he used as rodeo clowns. The question was: How could Obama cover America’s retreat, yet ensure a certain amount of stability in the Middle East? Israel was too small for the role of regional policeman, and besides, its policies toward the Palestinians pointed toward instability. The Sunni Arab states were fractious and incapable of working together, and their own internal problems gave rise to extremism. That left Iran.

Clearly, there are plenty of Obama administration officials enamored with the Islamic Republic, whether they’re attracted to the vintage patina of late 20th-century Third Worldism or classic Persian culture. What was most appealing to Obama, as he told a meeting of Gulf Arab officials at Camp David in 2015, was simply that the Iranians are capable of getting things done—a sentiment that he expressed in the context of his admiration for the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ expeditionary unit led by Qassem Soleimani. However, he also realized that this conviction and the policy it undergirded would have grossed out a large number, likely a majority, of Americans, and their elected representatives. So he lied, or misled and misdirected—and said the JCPOA was about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and nothing more.

***

All the major foreign-policy issues of the Obama presidency (the fraying of the bilateral relationship with Israel, the withdrawal from Iraq, Russia, etc.) were subsets of realignment policy—including the administration’s management of the single largest strategic, political, and humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century, the Syrian conflict. Obama’s cabinet held the mainstream view of the Syrian war—Panetta, Clinton, Kerry, Petraeus, and Power all supported arming the rebels to defeat Assad, or at least compel him to negotiate under harder circumstances. But that was exactly the opposite of what Obama wanted to do.

A more hawkish position was expressed by the U.S. officials like then-head of CENTCOM and now Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, who thought crushing Assad would be a huge strategic setback for Iran. And that’s just what worried Obama, who hardly needed the Iranians to warn him that realignment would collapse if America targeted the Syrian regime. After all, realignment was predicated on the idea of a strong Iran with a can-do Quds Force that could act as the region’s new policeman. An Iran knocked back down to size, and where the country’s internal opposition would be emboldened, would be of no use to a White House keen to hand over the keys to the Middle East and get out. Obama needed a big Iran, a “successful regional power,” as he’s put it.

A victory for the Syrian opposition—whom the White House could not help but disparage even as the president and his aides honored the victims of Assad’s depredations, i.e., the opposition—would have been a disaster for the Obama administration. It would have not only cashiered Obama’s hopes for a hegemonic Iran capable of managing American regional interests but would have required Washington to manage the varied and often conflicting interests of its regional allies, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc. In other words, an opposition victory would have demanded more American involvement in the Middle East—more time, attention, energy, money, and perhaps blood.

The structural problem with Obama’s grand realignment is that Iran simply can’t handle the load. Obama should have understood this every time he had to tip the scales on behalf of the Iranians. When the administration leaked that Israel struck Iranian arms convoys headed to Hezbollah, Obama should’ve understood that he was tipping the scales, but it still wasn’t working. Qassem Suleimani turned out to be less than impressive, for his Quds Force couldn’t even tackle ISIS without the U.S. providing air support in Tikrit. The much-heralded operation to take back Mosul before Obama left office is such a mess that the White House simply doesn’t talk about it anymore.

When the Russians escalated in Syria in September 2015, Obama should have seen it as a clear sign he’d been wrong about Iran: The IRGC couldn’t even put down the farmers and carpenters the American president repeatedly disparaged. They needed the Russians to do it for them.

The White House said Putin’s action caught them by surprise, but that is unlikely to be true. The Russians were moving men and materiel for months through the Bosphorus—under the control of NATO member Turkey—at least since Suleimani’s July 2015 trip to Moscow to ask for Russian intervention.

The reality is that the Russian campaign in Syria served vital Obama interests. There was no point in realigning with Iran if Tehran’s regional position collapsed. Putin saved not only Assad and Iran, but Obama’s realignment policy. It was the second time the Russian president rescued Obama’s realignment policy—the first being when he offered the deal over Assad’s chemical weapons that allowed the commander-in-chief to walk back his red line.

Obama owes Putin, which is why he let the Russians get away with nearly everything it chose to do the last seven years, including its attacks on the American political system. What’s left for Trump is to manage the Russia policy he inherited from Obama—or overturn the table.

The Obama doctrine’s crushing denouement in Syria

December 16, 2016

The Obama doctrine’s crushing denouement in Syria, Washington Examiner, December 16, 2016

(Please see also, Russian role in Aleppo’s fall impacts US politics. — DM)

syriaandobamaPresident Obama’s fecklessness emboldened not just Russia, but also Iran, whose combat troops continue to bolster Assad’s forces across Syria, as well as jihadists around the world. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama said this week that the civil war in Syria “is one of those things that has kept me up at night a lot.” On a previous occasion he said that the situation there “haunts me constantly.”

But for all the worry and consternation it supposedly evokes in him, Obama still insists he wouldn’t do things differently if he could.

If in the story of Obama’s Middle East policy, the war in Syria represents the dramatic climax, then the imminent fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo and the humanitarian crisis unfolding there is its crushing denouement.

The Obama administration’s determination to prevent the U.S. from being drawn into more wars — and to “lead from behind” when it felt it was forced to engage, as in Libya — allowed terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and geopolitical rivals such as Russia to fill the vacuum.

Obama’s first mistake in Syria was his 2012 failure to follow through on enforcing a “red line” over dictator Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Obama’s inaction taught Assad that there would be no repercussions for his regime’s crimes.

Obama’s decision in 2013 not to back moderate groups in the armed opposition only reinforced that lesson. When Russia moved in last year to help Assad, Obama again did nothing.

Obama’s fecklessness emboldened not just Russia, but also Iran, whose combat troops continue to bolster Assad’s forces across Syria, as well as jihadists around the world. All of them quickly learned that they had little to fear in Obama.

Obama repeatedly rejected recommendations from his generals for tougher military response against Assad. Obama seems to be willing to pay almost any cost to find a diplomatic solution to Syria. He believes peace talks will somehow lead to a transition in which Assad gives up power. Obama has focused instead on the Islamic State, but even there the U.S. response has been confined to bombing and the deployment of a few U.S. Special Forces.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been working for months to negotiate a ceasefire between the Assad regime and opposition forces. But Assad has refused to comply with previous agreements, continuing to bomb rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

Obama isn’t the only one who’s in denial about how the war can be resolved. The State Department on Wednesday refused to acknowledge that U.S. policy and strategy failed to bring peace to Syria. Russia, Iran and the Assad regime were to blame, a State Department spokesman told reporters, for trying to find a military solution instead of a political one.

The war in Syria has taken the lives of 400,000 people and left another 11 million homeless. As many as 100,000 civilians remain trapped in Aleppo, potential victims of the regime’s revenge.

Obama’s failure to act decisively has left Syria devastated, much of the greater Middle East in chaos and Europe teeming with refugees. It has also left America less trusted and respected throughout the world. Obama’s dithering in Syria will be a black mark on his legacy.

Russian role in Aleppo’s fall impacts US politics

December 16, 2016

Russian role in Aleppo’s fall impacts US politics, DEBKAfile, December 16, 2016

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The Putin factor comes in handy for the latest tactic in a series pursued since the November 8 election, for delegitimizing Trump’s victory and negating his fitness to reach the White House.

This campaign may resonate strongly on America’s future policy and position as a world power, because it is designed to block Trump’s path to a deal with Putin for resolving the Syrian conflict. The Obama administration has no wish to see the new president succeed where it failed for nearly six years.

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Aleppo’s fall to the Assad regime with the surrender Thursday, Dec. 15, of the Syrian rebel forces locked in a corner of the eastern districts was the most disastrous military and strategic setback to befall the Obama administration for two years. It started evolving in September 2015, when Russia stepped up its military intervention in the Syria war and rescued Bashar Assad.

When Aleppo succumbed to the Russian-backed government army and its allies, Iran, Hizballah and fellow Shite militias, it did not fall alone.  It brought down the entire architecture of US-backed positions in northern Syria. The US had invested in and trained local groups, such as the Syrian Kurdish militia and the rebel Free Syrian Army, as the bedrock for its policy and interests in the conflict. Those groups have melted away.

The acknowledged overlords of northern Syria today are Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who can claim the Aleppo victory. Bashar Assad and Iran are reduced to playing second fiddle. But whereas the Al Qods chief Iranian general Qassem Soleimani commands pro-Iranian forces in the region, America has been divested of all its military assets and has no real say in the next chapter of the horrific war.

Hence US Secretary of State John Kerry’s despairing appeal Thursday in a press briefing to bring the bloodshed and suffering to an end: “We can’t have another Srebrenica” – a reference to the Serbian slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Serbs in 1985 – he said.

Kerry has toiled tirelessly for a diplomatic solution to the dreadful Syrian war, but his appeal falls on senses hardened by the many Srebrenicas perpetrated in more than five years of conflict. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers have been slaughtered – according to an unofficial estimate up to a million – and many subjected to chemical warfare. The secretary can’t count on the Kremlin to relent and so, even after the last Syrian rebels and their families are out of Aleppo, the killing will go on.

In Washington, 10,000 kilometers away, the Aleppo calamity is being dished up as a political tool. The claim was heard Thursday that the “same Vladimir Putin” who sponsored the atrocities in Aleppo, also interfered in the US presidential election by sending hackers to influence the results in favor of Donald Trump. The claim is touted by Obama administration spokesmen and the Democratic Party, whose candidate Hillary Clinton lost the election. It appears to be fodder for a Democratic party drive building up for the president-elect’s impeachment even before he is sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

The Putin factor comes in handy for the latest tactic in a series pursued since the November 8 election, for delegitimizing Trump’s victory and negating his fitness to reach the White House.

This campaign may resonate strongly on America’s future policy and position as a world power, because it is designed to block Trump’s path to a deal with Putin for resolving the Syrian conflict. The Obama administration has no wish to see the new president succeed where it failed for nearly six years.

Putin will have no qualms about capitalizing on Washington’s preoccupation with its internal power struggle and will build up as many gains in Syria as he can before Donald Trump takes over. Obama’s threat Friday, Dec. 12, to retaliate for Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election will just provoke the Russian president to move faster and more determinedly in his grab for more assets in Syria.

Making Sense of the Mess in Syria

December 6, 2016

Making Sense of the Mess in Syria, Front Page MagazineAri Lieberman, December 6, 2016

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The vacillating and pusillanimous policies pursued by the Obama administration have enabled the Russians and Iranians to fill the void. Meanwhile, as Syria’s death toll nears 500,000 and its migrants – some with radical Islamic connections – continue to stream into Europe, it is clear that the nation state of Syria, Balkanized after five years of brutal conflict, is no more.

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On July 30, 1970 a squadron of Israeli air force F-4E Phantoms and Mirages laden with bombs and missiles took off from their airbase in Sinai and flew westward toward Egypt. Their target was an Egyptian radar station.

The action occurred during the height of the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt. The Egyptians were faring badly and their armed forces had suffered a series of public humiliations at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces. As a consequence, the Soviets stepped into the fray to save their client state and deployed 10,000 military personal and technical experts to the theater. The Soviets also assumed full control of Egypt’s air defenses. Surface-to-air missile batteries were manned by Soviet personnel and Soviet piloted MiG 21Js – the Soviet Union’s latest MiG-21 variant – patrolled Egyptian airspace. A direct clash between the Soviet Union and Israel was inevitable.

As the Israeli fighters zeroed in on their target, 16 Soviet MiGs moved in to intercept. In the melee that followed, five MiGs were shot down for no Israeli losses. The remaining 11 MiGs beat a hasty retreat. The Soviets were simply no match for the seasoned Israeli pilots.

The clash brought regional tensions – already heightened after one year of near constant border clashes – to a boiling point but neither side wanted an escalation. A ceasefire was eventually brokered by the superpowers and tensions deescalated.

Russia’s present military deployment in Syria is not dissimilar to its deployment in Egypt 46 years ago but the chances of an Israeli-Russian aerial clash today is virtually nil. There are some salient differences between the two circumstances. Israel and Russia are no longer bitter enemies and currently maintain cordial relations. Lines of communications between the two nations are good. Potential misunderstandings – to the extent that any exist – are channeled through liaisons to prevent accidental confrontations.

But war can best be summed up as organized chaos and given the clutter over the skies of Syria, with Russian, Israeli, Turkish and Coalition aircraft all operating within the confines of a limited space, mishaps are certainly possible. The Russians maintain formidable air defenses in Syria and Israel views them warily.

Underscoring this, last week IAF fighter jets launched two strikes in Syria, one targeting ISIS, in which four ISIS terrorists were killed and the second, targeting a Hezbollah weapons convoy and a Syrian military compound just outside Damascus. Though the Israelis have understandably remained moot on the specifics of the latter attack, according to published sources, Israeli fighters launched a number of Israeli made Popeye air-to-surface missiles from Lebanese airspace at a facility housing elements of Syria’s 4th Armored Division as well as a Hezbollah-bound weapons convoy traveling along the Beirut-Damascus highway.

Israel cognizant of Russia’s S-400 and S-300 air defense platforms in Syria opted to circumvent the possibility of an accidental confrontation by launching its attack from Lebanese airspace. It should be noted that the S-400s were deployed by the Russians last year following the downing of a Russian Su-24 by a Turkish F-16. The move was meant to serve as a deterrent to Turkey and no hostile intent was directed at Israel. Additionally, the term “Lebanese airspace” is a rather generous term that implies that Lebanon is a fully sovereign nation. In reality, Lebanon is sovereign in name only, having been swallowed whole by Hezbollah, Iran’s genocidal Shia proxy.

Israel’s interest in Syria is limited to ensuring that game-changing weapons of strategic import don’t fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Thus, on several occasions, Israeli fighter jets have launched successful interdicting operations aimed at destroying sophisticated weaponry – including SA-22 anti-aircraft missiles, Scud D ballistic missiles and Yakhont cruise missiles – clandestinely shipped from Iran via Syria.

A secondary goal is to ensure that border areas remain free of Hezbollah, Iranian and ISIS influence. In January 2015, an Israeli airstrike liquidated 12 senior Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives, including an IRGC general, who were reconnoitering the border near Israel’s Golan Heights for future operations against the Jewish State.

Russia, which has a much broader interest in Syria, understands Israel’s concerns and has no interest in needlessly antagonizing the Israelis. Syria has been under Soviet and now Russia’s sphere of influence since the early 1950s and Russia is intent on maintaining its air and naval bases in Syria. To that end, it is keen on maintaining Assad’s hold on power, or for that matter, any Assad replacement that commits to friendly relations with Moscow and continued Russian military presence.

Russia is also looking to project military power and reassert its role as a superpower. The high profile deployment of a sizable Russian fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean, which includes the Russian aircraft carrier and Cold War relic, Admiral Kuznetsov, represents part of this strategy. However, it appears that the Kuznetsov has been a bit of an embarrassment for Putin.

On November 14, a carrier-based MiG-29K crashed while attempting a failed landing on the Kuznetsov. The carrier was encountering problems with its arrestor cables and the MiG crashed while circling and waiting for repairs. Just three weeks later, a Russian Navy Su-33 encountered a similar fate while attempting a landing on the Kuznetsov. Recent Satellite imagery taken of the Russian air base at Khmeimim, near Latakia, shows rows of Su-33 and MiG-29K carrier-based aircraft parked alongside Russian land-based fighter jets indicating that the Russians have given up on the notion of launching strikes from the Kuznetsov.

While the Israelis and Russians maintain clear strategies and objectives for Syria, under Obama, the U.S. strategy in Syria can best be described as befuddled and lacking any clear direction. The U.S. had initially called for Assad’s unconditional departure but seems to have backed away from that position and now calls for an orderly transition of power, seemingly giving Assad some wiggle room.

Obama had threatened to use military force if Assad employed poison gas against his own people but back peddled on that position as well. In late 2015 it was revealed that the Obama administration spent an astonishing $500 million to train four or five Free Syrian Army rebels, clearly demonstrating that Obama’s policy on Syria represents nothing short of a farcical tragic comedy.

The Obama administration had initially ignored the ISIS menace and its current pinprick military campaign against the terror group is utilizing but a fraction of America’s military strength. Finally, while the Obama administration has publicly sought to end Syria’s civil war peacefully, its transfer of billions in cash to the Islamic Republic has only served to fuel the fire. There is no doubt that this cash has been utilized to pay the salaries of Iran’s mercenary forces in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.

The vacillating and pusillanimous policies pursued by the Obama administration have enabled the Russians and Iranians to fill the void. Meanwhile, as Syria’s death toll nears 500,000 and its migrants – some with radical Islamic connections – continue to stream into Europe, it is clear that the nation state of Syria, Balkanized after five years of brutal conflict, is no more.