Tag Archives: Syria

Western Allies Strike Syrian Chemical Weapons Facilities

All things considered, Trump got this exactly right.

The US, UK and France attacked three government sites, targeting what they said were chemical weapons facilities.

More than 100 missiles struck in response to a suspected deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma last week.

[…]

At a Pentagon briefing on Saturday, Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie listed the three targets that had been struck in a “precise, overwhelming and effective” manner:

  • The Barzah chemical weapons research and development centre near Damascus was hit by 76 missiles, 57 of them Tomahawk cruise missiles, and “destroyed”
  • The Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility near Homs was hit by 22 “weapons” – US, UK and French
  • The Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker facility near Homs was targeted with seven Scout missiles and was “successfully hit”

Gen McKenzie said the “initial indications are that we accomplished the military objectives without interference from Syria”.

The Syrian civil war is highly complex and there are no good options. The world has also returned to a state of Big Power geopolitics and Russia has clearly planted its flag in Syria. The struggle for America is that we have no real national interest in Syria other than to protect our allies in the neighborhood should the war spill over. We do, however, have a moral interest in protecting innocents and a strategic interest in keeping the conflict from spreading.

So what were the options?

  1. Do nothing
  2. Launch a ground invasion
  3. Covert action aimed at regime change
  4. A measured, surgical, retaliatory strike

There is no appetite in America to get into another war in the Middle East. Plus, launching an invasion in Syria risks escalating into a full scale with Russia. Option 2 is off the table.

Option 3 is interesting, but then what? There are no good sides left in Syria and removing Assad just leaves a vacuum for some other tyrant to fill.

Option 1 is one that I would have been satisfied with. It is difficult for me to justify expending more American treasure and possible lives in the morass of Syria. The downside is that both Obama and Trump promised the world that we would react if Assad used chemical weapons again. To not follow through on a threat would be to weaken America’s stature and ability to influence future events – especially in the face of a tyrant like Putin.

So we are left with option 4. The Trump Administration gathered our allies in France and Britain and stuck at specific targets related to Assad’s ability to conduct chemical warfare. They made it clear that this is not the start of a larger conflict and it is not designed to change the regime. It was just a hard spank from the Western Powers to make it clear that using weapons of mass destruction to kill innocent people is not acceptable. This approach also has the added advantage of dispelling the myth of Russia’s impenetrable air defenses. Perhaps Assad will be having a chat with Putin about this technological failure.

Again, there are not any good options left in Syria for America. Any good options evaporated within the first year of the conflict. Now it is just a matter of trying to prevent it from spilling out into the larger world any more than it already has.

Trump’s Middle East Policy

Since we were remembering Obama’s Middle East Policy, what about Trump’s?

Such absurd New York real estate boasting aside, in his first year in office, Trump has taken a number of truly radical steps. In December, he promised to meet a longstanding Israel wish: moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He has also challenged the Palestinians frontally, closing the spigot of funds the U.S. provides to the UN under the rubric of refugee assistance.

Neither move is likely to advance a “peace process” that has been moribund almost from birth. Both have spurred condemnation worldwide. But neither move has sparked the kind of conflagration on the Arab street that was predicted by so many experts.

Indeed, both moves might even be called Reaganesque. By staking out firm positions, stating obvious truths and aligning the U.S. more closely with the only democracy in the region, the Trump administration is forcing all the players in the region to reconsider stale positions that have brought them nothing but sporadic violent collisions with Israel for half a century.

[…]

If Reagan-like boldness can be detected in some of Trump’s statecraft, so can Obama-like fecklessness, or worse. In dealing with Iranian imperial ambitions, Trump has been talking loudly and carrying the smallest of sticks.

Trump came into office pledging to tear up the Iranian nuclear deal and set new “red lines” on Iranian behavior. But when push came to shove, he has let the Iranians do the shoving while allies of the U.S. have been pushed around.

The most dramatic case in point concerns treatment of our longstanding ally, the Kurds. This past October, less than two days after Trump blasted the Iranian revolutionary guard’s Quds Force as the “corrupt personal terror” militia of Iran’s supreme leader, and then promised to “work with our allies to counter the (Iranian) regime’s destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies in the region,” the United States did precisely the opposite of what he pledged.

The U.S. stood by as Iraqi troops, aided by the very same Quds Force Trump had just promised to resist, conquered the Kurdish-held oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the nucleus of a future independent Kurdistan. This betrayal of an ally was not preordained. It was also not an irony but the opposite of irony if one considers that during the presidential campaign Trump jumbled the Quds with Kurds and was unable to say which was which.

Of a piece with this passivity is Trump’s response to the Syrian use of chemical weapons. Readers will recall that while serving Chinese President Xi Jinping “the most beautiful chocolate cake” in Mar-a-Lago back in April, Trump informed his guest that a fusillade of 59 American cruise missiles had just been launched toward a Syrian airbase in retaliation for a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province.

Remembering Obama’s “Red Line”

Interesting reminder.

It was a sunny morning on Saturday 31 August 2013 – Labor Day weekend in the US – when Barack Obama strolled into the Rose Garden of the White House. The last thing most Americans were thinking about was war in a far-off Middle Eastern country.

But Obama faced a dilemma. The decision he was about to announce would come to be seen as a defining moment for his presidency. It also marked a tipping point for the international strategic balance of power. It was a moment that would transform the civil war in Syria into the epic failure of our age.

[…]

It was a moment full of dire portents. Obama’s disregard for his own “red line” was interpreted in Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and other Arab capitals as confirming a fundamental shift – evidence that a chastened, post-Iraq America was retreating from its global policeman role. Obama’s hesitation gave Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leader, an opening. It fitted his core agenda: to rebuild Moscow’s influence in the Middle East and make Russia great again by restoring Soviet-era global reach.

It is far from clear what the impact of a US-led military intervention in 2013 would have been. It could have exacerbated the plight of Syria’s civilians without toppling the regime or curtailing the war. It could have escalated uncontrollably – although it is difficult to see how things could be worse than they are now.

But by deciding to hand off responsibility, Obama sent another damaging message: that the US, the world’s only superpower, and key allies such as Britain, were not prepared to fight for a free, democratic Syria, no more than they would fight for democracy in support of other Arab Spring revolts. They tried it in Libya in 2011 and quickly recoiled.

Russia Pulls Out of Syria

Tyranny lives to see another day.

Vladimir Putin has said Russia will withdraw the bulk of its forces from Syria following the “successful intervention” in the conflict there.

The announcement comes after the defence ministry said last week that Russia had “completely liberated” Syria from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), despite reports that the terrorist group still controls some remote territory there.

Speaking to soldiers at Russia’s Khmeimim airbase during his first trip to Syria, where he was welcomed by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Mr Putin said he was ordering the defence minister and head of the general staff to begin withdrawing Russian forces to their home bases.

“In two-and-a-half years, Russia’s military along with the Syrian army have defeated the most battle-worthy gang of international terrorists,” Mr Putin said. “In connection with this, I’ve made the decision that a significant part of the Russian military contingent located in the Syrian Arab Republic will return home to Russia.”

The notable thing about Putin’s quote is that he doesn’t even pretend anymore that he isn’t the totalist dictator of Russia.

Last IS Strongholds Fall

Now the traditional antagonists in the region can get back to fighting each other.

The success of the Syrian government forces inevitably raises the potential for clashes between them and US-backed, predominantly Kurdish units who hold a significant swathe of northern Syria.

It is a powerful reminder that while the war against the IS “caliphate” is well on the way to being won, the situation on the ground in Syria is becoming ever more complex.

With Iran eager to consolidate its influence, questions remain as to the Trump administration’s future policy direction now IS is collapsing. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has consolidated his position and looks to squeeze opposition forces in the months ahead.

Escalating in Syria

See what I mean?

Russia has said it will treat US warplanes operating in parts of Syria where its air forces are present as “targets” amid a diplomatic row caused by the downing of a Syrian jet.

The country’s defence ministry said the change in position would apply to all aircraft, including those operating as part of the US-backed coalition.

It will also suspend a hotline between Russia and the US set up to prevent mid-air collisions.

U.S. Shoots Down Syrian Fighter

Boom.

The incident occurred in the town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqa, Syria, which had recently been retaken from ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group of Syrian Kurdish and Arab rebel forces supported by the U.S. in the fight against the militant group.

SDF came under attack from regime forces in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad around 4:30 p.m. Syria time. A number of SDF fighters were wounded in the assault, and the SDF soon left Ja’Din.

Coalition aircraft conducted a show of force overhead that stopped the initial pro-regime advance towards the town.

“Following the Pro-Syrian forces attack, the coalition contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established ‘de-confliction line’ to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing,” said a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS.

“At 6:43 p.m., a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet,” said the statement.

The Syrian pilot is believed to have been able to eject from the aircraft, according to a U.S. official.

The whole situation is set up to escalate very quickly if we let it.

Obama Praises Himself for Courage

Heh

“I actually think that the issue that required the most political courage was the decision not to bomb Syria after the chemical weapons use had been publicized and rather to negotiate them removing chemical weapons from Syria,” Obama said in an interview with Jack Schlossberg, the grandson of President John F. Kennedy, which was published Monday.

That decision has come under renewed scrutiny following last month’s deadly sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad. President Trump subsequently ordered the bombing of a Syrian airfield and criticized Obama for not following through on a threatened military strike after Assad crossed what Obama had said was his “red line.”

“Now, we know subsequently that some [chemical weapons] remained, so it was an imperfect solution,” Obama said. “But what we also know is that 99 percent of huge chemical weapons stockpiled were removed without us having to fire a shot.”

Actually, we do not know that 99% of the chemical weapons were removed. We know nothing of the sort. What we do know is that Obama told us that 100% of the chemical weapons were removed and that hundreds of dead Syrians dispute Obama’s assertion.

Drifting toward Damascus, the sequel

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

In 2013, I opened a column called “Drifting Toward Damascus” with this paragraph: “As I sit down to write a column about our current situation in Syria, I fail to discern any coherent foreign policy coming from my president’s administration. If you can, you are probably filling in the gaps with wishful thinking.” As I sit down to write another column about Syria, the same opening would suffice.

After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to murder more than 80 people, including kids, President Trump retaliated with a missile strike on a Syrian air base. The scenario was reminiscent of Assad’s previous use of WMDs during the previous administration. In 2013, Assad used Sarin gas to attack more than 1,000 Syrians. In doing so, he crossed President Obama’s infamous “red line” and the Obama Administration responded with huffy rhetoric.

Now it is 2017 with the same Assad but a different American president. When Assad used chemical weapons this time, Trump responded immediately with a punitive strike and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is signaling a new American goal of toppling the Assad regime. Yet the Trump Administration is promising to keep American forces out of Syria and Trump’s rhetorical “America first” isolationism was a major facet of his recent successful presidential campaign. Although a different president has brought us a different reaction, America still lacks a coherent Syrian policy.

The problem is that there are no good answers left for America in Syria. There was a time when direct American intervention could have yielded positive results, but that time has passed. The Syrian Civil War began with an uprising in the spring of 2011. As part of the socalled Arab Spring, secular pro-democracy protestors rose up to demand Assad’s resignation. When Assad refused to resign, as tyrants are wont to do, and launched a violent crackdown on the protestors, the protestors hardened their opposition and the fight for Syria was on.

The time for American intervention was 2011. If President Obama had used the power of the United States to support the secular pro-democracy opposition at that time, there might be a peaceful, secular, democratic Syria today. But speculation in alternate histories is the luxury of writers. The Syrian Civil War has evolved significantly since 2011 and America must deal with the present realities.

Since 2011, the Syrian Civil War has descended into a sectarian war with no good guys for America to support. In battle with each other are Assad’s tyrannical government, radical Islamist Sunni rebels, Kurdish forces, Hezbollah, and of course, the Islamic State. According to the United Nations commission of inquiry, all of them have been engaging in horrific war crimes including murder, torture, slavery, using civilians as human shields, forced starvation, and the use of WMDs.

The Syrian Civil War has also taken on significant international importance as it pulled regional and world powers into the conflict. The deluge of refugees from Syria and surrounding areas has had a destabilizing effect on several Middle Eastern and European nations, putting pressure on the international community to intervene. As the war has devolved partially into a religious war between different Muslim sects, several Muslim countries have intervened to support their sides. Shia Iran and Lenanon are supporting Assad as Sunni Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and others support rebel factions. Finally, Russia entered the war on the side of Assad as part of Vladimir Putin’s lifelong effort to reclaim Russia’s dominance on the world stage. As America retreated from the Middle East, Russia entered the chasm.

In deciding what America should do about Syria, two questions must be answered. The first question is, should America do anything? That is a broad question the answer of which depends on one’s valuation of the word “should.” There are some who believe that America should be the world’s conscience and act in the name of human rights. There are some who believe that American should only intervene if there is a direct American interest at stake. And there are some who believe that America should never do anything unless directly attacked.

In this case, there are no good guys to support, there are no direct American interests at stake and America has not been attacked. The only good reason for America to intervene in the Syrian Civil War is as a general policy to try to stabilize the region to quell the radicalization of people and the outflow of terror groups.

If one thinks America should intervene, then the second question to be answered is, what can America do? Short of a full scale invasion and occupation of Syria with all of the risks of igniting a global conflict with Russia and Iran, America’s options are very limited. And the American people have no appetite for such an earth-shattering endeavor.

America should stay out of the Syrian Civil War. There is little likelihood that American intervention could yield a positive outcome and the risk of embroiling our nation in another long, bloody, and expensive war is very high. America should do what we can to help the suffering, assist our allies, and protect American interests and American borders. No more. No less.

Russia Escalates

Something to watch.

Russia has said it is suspending a deal with the US to prevent mid-air collisions over Syria in response to US air strikes on a Syrian air base.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said following Donald Trump’s decision to fire 59 cruise missiles at a military target in Syria on Thursday, Moscow was suspending a memorandum with the US that prevented incidents and ensured flight safety.

Under the memorandum, signed after Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015, Russia and the US had exchanged information about their flights to avoid incidents in the crowded skies over Syria — where Russia has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air-defence missiles.

U.S. Launches Punitive Strike Against Syria

Eh.

The US missiles hit the Shayrat airfield, from where Washington believes the chemical weapons attack was launched, one US official was quoted as saying.

A statement on Syrian state TV said “American aggression” had targeted a Syrian military base with “a number of missiles” but gave no further details.

Earlier on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should have no role in a future Syria.

His comments signalled a sudden shift in policy by the Trump administration.

I get the anger at Assad’s use of chemical weapons to murder civilians. It’s absolutely horrific and the latest horrible act by a truly evil man. But I question this attack as a matter of policy. We just blew $100 million or so on firing a bunch of missiles to punish him, but what did we accomplish? What is the goal? Regime change? It’s going to take more than that. Just punish Assad to reestablish America’s role in the world as a moral authority? Support our allies? Who?

We need to determine a coherent policy toward Syria, articulate it, and act on it. Fits of violent reaction don’t accomplish much.

Russia Brokers Syrian Ceasefire

As our Secretary of State was blathering about how he can’t stand by while Jews in Israel build communities for themselves on their land, a lot was happening next door in Syria as he stood by.

(CNN)Call it a pop-up alliance. After spending much of this year berating each other after Turkey shot down a Russian jet over the Syrian-Turkish border, the two governments are suddenly the “honest brokers” of a ceasefire in Syria — one that is designed to lead to political negotiations. The United States, which has long championed the stuttering diplomatic process on resolving the Syrian conflict, is nowhere to be seen.

The ceasefire — negotiated between Russia, Turkey and the Syrian government as well as Iran and Syrian rebel groups supported by Turkey — explicitly excludes factions deemed by the United Nations Security Council as “terrorists.” This rules out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al Qaeda affiliate in Syria that used to be known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the ceasefire was only the first step, with other documents signed on enforcing the truce and beginning peace talks. The Syrian military promised to cease operations nationwide at midnight Thursday.

Assad and Russia’s Victory in Aleppo

And the world is a worse place for it.

The emptying of Aleppo winds down a four year standoff between opposition forces and those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That standoff has grown increasingly deadly in recent months, with an indiscriminate and relentless bombing campaign led by Assad and supported by Russia that targeted civilians and medical facilities, and allegedly involved the use of cluster munitions and chemical weapons.

But the retaking of Aleppo will count as a victory for Assad, and a sort of victory for his allies as well. A meeting on Tuesday between Iranian, Russian, and Turkish defense ministers produced a “joint declaration” to find a solution in Syria, despite the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Tuesday.

The United States has been notably absent from the movement in recent days, with Secretary of State John Kerry making diplomatic overtures that often went ignored.

SOS Kerry Wanted Military Action in Syria

Interesting.

“I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration. I lost the argument. I’ve argued for the use of force. I’m the guy who stood up and announced that we’re going to attack Assad for the use of weapons,” Kerry is heard telling the Syrian attendees, referring to internal deliberations within the administration of President Barack Obama that followed Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013.
Kerry also faulted Congress for failing to support such a retaliatory strike, saying, “The bottom line is that Congress refused even to vote to allow that.”
“We have a Congress that will not authorize our use of force,” he added, explaining that a new military intervention would be difficult to bring about.
The discussion in the recording occurred only days after the United States and Russia announced a ceasefire agreement in Geneva, an accord that has since collapsed with reports of regime bombing attacks and the positioning of some 10,000 Syrian regime-aligned troops preparing to advance on Aleppo.
I wonder if he is telling the truth here or just telling a bunch of Syrians what they want to hear. Also, I’d like more clarification on this statement:
Acknowledging that Russia’s military actions have “changed the equation” and made removing Assad more difficult, Kerry suggested that Syrian refugees could one day help eject Assad if given the right to vote.
Does Kerry mean that Syrian refugees could return to Syria and vote Assad out or that they might be given the right to vote in America and vote to support more aggressive American intervention? Given that there won’t be enough Syrian refugees to make an electoral difference in America, I have to assume that he meant the former. If that’s the case, what the heck is he smoking? Does he really think that a tyrant like Assad would allow refugees to return and cast votes against him? Assad is a totalitarian of the first order. The only way he leaves power is in a body bag.

U.S. Outmaneuvered By Russia in Middle East

Russia is playing chess while Obama and Kerry play tiddlywinks.

“Unlike Syria and Iran, Russia has no interest in fighting for territory,” he says.

“Moscow had sought to steadily destroy the moderate Syrian opposition on the battlefield, leaving only jihadist forces in play, and lock the US into a political framework of negotiations that would serve beyond the shelf-life of this administration.

“In both respects, it has been successful.

“Ultimately, the Russian goal is to lock in gains for Syria via ceasefires, while slow-rolling the negotiations to the point that true opposition to the Syrian regime expires on the battlefield, leaving no viable alternatives for the West in this conflict come 2017.

“Russia’s intervention, seeks to minimise losses, relying largely on the ground power of other actors to do most of the fighting, with its officers embedded in order to glue the military effort together and coordinate air strikes.”

No Peace for Syria Any Time Soon

America lacks the world stature and diplomatic acumen to negotiate a cease fire in Syria right now. This is another task that will be left for the next president.

NEW YORK (AP) — The United States and Russia ended any pretenses Thursday of their cease-fire for Syria remaining in force after days of increased violence and the Syrian military’s announcement of a new offensive in Aleppo.

“We can’t go out to the world and say we have an agreement when we don’t,” Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting the top diplomats from Russia and more than a dozen European and Middle Eastern countries.

Kerry’s statement, after three days of private and public diplomacy on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, provided an ominous endnote to a week diplomats had hoped would be a major capstone toward peace.

Instead, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who negotiated the truce two weeks ago, went their separate ways as violence in Syria flared up anew and the relationship between the two key foreign powers in the conflict appeared to reach a new low.

No one spoke of being able to quickly resuscitate the cease-fire. While Kerry and Lavrov were set to hold more talks Friday, even confidence-building measures seemed beyond their reach at this point.

[…]

The war has killed as many as a half-million people, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State group to emerge as a global terror threat.

Obama Administration Denies “No Boots on the Ground”

Wow. They aren’t even trying to be creative with the lies. They are just flat out lying and expecting all of us to buy it.

Lee: For months and months and months, the mantra from the president and everyone else in the administration has been, “No boots on the ground,” and now —

Kirby: No, that is not true.

Lee: What?

Kirby: It’s just not true, Matt.

Lee: It is. It’s true!

Kirby: No it’s not. I just flatly, absolutely disagree with you.

Russia Withdraws Forces from Syria

Most of them.

In a surprise move, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to start withdrawing the “main part” of its forces in Syria from Tuesday.

He said the Russian intervention had largely achieved its objectives.

The comments come amid fresh peace talks in Geneva aimed at resolving the five-year Syrian conflict.

[…]

Russia’s intervention has achieved its main goals – consolidating President Assad’s position, enabling his forces to re-take key pieces of strategic territory and ensuring that Mr Assad remains a factor in any future Syrian settlement.

Mr Putin said that Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Latakia province and its Mediterranean naval base at Tartus would continue to operate as normal. He said both must be protected “from land, air and sea”.

Once again, Putin thumbs his nose at the international peace process and acts unilaterally. It just shows what a farce that process is. America would be better served acting according to its best interests as a great power and bringing our allies along rather than trying to do everything based on consensus with our enemies.

Assad Goes In for the Kill with Putin’s Help

Nothing makes the enemy easier to kill than convincing them to stop shooting back for a while.

MUNICH/AMMAN (Reuters) – Major powers agreed on Friday to a pause in combat in Syria, but Russia pressed on with bombing in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad, who vowed to fight until he regained full control of the country.

Although billed as a potential breakthrough, the “cessation of hostilities” agreement does not take effect for a week, at a time when Assad’s government is poised to win its biggest victory of the war with the backing of Russian air power.

Mustard Gas Used in Syria

Red line?

The August 21 incident in Marea, a town about 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of Aleppo, exposed at least two people “to sulfur mustard, and there is reason to believe that a baby might have also suffered and died as a result,” according to an official with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The report doesn’t assign blame and even mention any force involved in Syria’s messy, years-long civil war — including ISIS, the terrorist group that’s taken over swaths of the country, or fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

“It’s very serious because mustard gas is a known chemical weapon,” the OPCW official said. “It’s obviously very, very dangerous and extremely toxic, so it’s a new level of concern.”