Kissinger article on the Middle East and ‘scattered random notes’ by Arthur Dent (via Strangetimes)

This is Henry Kissinger’s take on the situation in the Middle East and Syria, followed by some critical ‘scattered random notes’ by Arthur Dent who says: “Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states”. (Republished with permission from Strangetimes).

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A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.

By Henry A. Kissinger Oct. 16, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.

The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.

These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.

On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.

Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.

American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.

The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.

Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.

American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.

A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?

Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.

But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.

Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:

So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.
The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.
The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.
As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.
The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.
The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.

Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-path-out-of-the-middle-east-collapse-1445037513-lMyQjAxMTI1MjE2NzIxMDcwWj

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/us-needs-new-plan-for-middle-east/story-fnay3ubk-1227573426194

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Arthur
October 20, 2015 at 12:09 am
I can only manage scattered random notes at the moment.

1) Kissinger’s ghostwriters appear to be practically unintelligible. This seems to be the pattern more generally so it is hardly noticeable. Presumably the article is supposed to suggest “A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse”. So one ought to be able to figure out that what the proposed start and end points are from carefully reading the article.

2) As far as I can make out the starting point might be:

“For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.”

Plainly Russia isn’t doing that and the article does clearly state that “The U.S. has already acquiesced…” to what Russia IS doing. So how could this be a starting point for a path?

3) Again my best guess for the proposed route is:

“…it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces…The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.”

My guess at the proposed starting point appears naturally enough in the middle of this jumble and has been replaced with an ellipsis.

I am not sure which “imperial forces” the ghostwriters are talking about, but “preferable” surely refers to a goal rather than a route towards achieving it? “The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula” presumably refers to Kissinger’s paymaster, the House of Saud who are elsewhere described as an American ally in the Iraq war which they in fact opposed, as did Kissinger and almost the entire US foreign policy establishment.

But what on earth is it proposed they should do, along this “route”? Somehow “evolve” an administration in “reconquered territory”. So are they expected to do the reconquering? At the moment the Russians are not attacking Daesh but are in fact attacking the Salafi forces the Saudis are arming and financing.

The route of this “path out” starts nowhere and returns there.

4) My best guess at the end point is:

“As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.”

So Alawite “regions” still run by the regime that has displaced nearly half the population of Syria are supposed to somehow form a federal structure with the Sunnis they have been mass murdering?

5) How is this miracle to be achieved?

“The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.

In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.”

Presumably implementing military assurances without actual troops means something like periodically redrawing “red lines”!

A “Westphalian state” presumably refers to the agreements among continental European rulers between May and October 1688 based on the principle that the religion of the ruler was to dictate the religion of those ruled.

The British were not a party to it and instead invited a Dutch Protestant army to enforce the opposite principle that the religion of the people would dictate the religion of the realm.

Whatever Kissinger’s ghost and its coauthors are actually blathering about, the path out of the Middle East Collapse clearly lies in the opposite direction to Westphalian states.

The continent lagged behind the British by more than a century and it took two more world wars to thoroughly settle the issue, but the age of rulers is now over in Europe. Democratic revolution is the only path out of the Middle East Collapse.

In Britain that took more than four decades, just to get past the “Divine Right of Kings”, long before anything resembling actual democracy. That tumultuous period included periods of revolutionary military dictatorship, counter-revolutionary partial restoration and foreign invasion.

One thing about Syria is as absolutely clear as the Kissinger article isn’t. Foreign combat troops on the ground are necessary. They are needed to end, not “degrade” both Daesh and the Assad regime and to prevent mass murder of the Alawi and other minorities when the Assad regime is ended. The war will not be ended from the air, whether by America’s “coalition” or the Russians, with or without “conversations” with Iran.

If America won’t do it, Europe must.

It could take more than a year to build an expeditionary force with Syrian refugee volunteers led by British and French officers. But it could be done if necessary.

The fact that there is no sign or hint of that happening suggests that something quite different from what appears may in fact be going on.

One sentence in the article actually makes sense. It seems to come out of nowhere and lead nowhere, but here it is:

“In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule.”

One could add that neither Russia nor Iran nor anyone in the Assad regime have much reason to believe there is any remote possibility of continuation for even a few years, let alone indefinately. This much is as blindingly obvious as the fact that when Nixon and Kissinger resorted to the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi they were faced with accepting defeat within weeks, not years. (So blindingly obvious that most people were blind to it until the Paris peace agreement a few weeks later and remained only dimly aware the US had been defeated until Saigon became Ho Chi Minh city and STILL thought the US might be trying to establish imperial rule over Iraq in 2003 despite that being three decades after its defeat in Vietnam).

What may well be required, not only for Russian purposes but also by others who could easily frustrate Russian purposes, is the retention of Bashir Assad as a figurehead presiding over a regime in Damascus from which the die-hards of the Assad regime who actually run the regime and its war on the Syrian people had been removed.

Even Turkey and Britain acting alone could easily have frustrated whatever Russian purposes might be by now by simply closing the Dardanelles and the Straits of Gibralter. This “curious case of the dog that did not bark” indicates it is not just the dithering Obama that is acquiescing in what they believe Russia is up to.

For my part I would rather they hurried things up by immediately closing the Mediterranean and announcing a No Fly Zone enforced by British, French and other forces based at and near Cyprus.

But one way or another it certainly is not going to be “the sovereign states of the Arabian peninsular” who end up ruling Syria. It will be the Syrian people.

As for Egypt and Jordan assisting the House of Saud in such an endeavour, Jordan is in fact supporting the southern front, while the Egyptian fascist military dictatorship has sealed its more rapid doom by coming out openly for its fellow fascists in the Assad regime, against the interests of its main sponsors, the House of Saud as well as further outraging its own people.

There are already enough Hezbollah, Russian and Iranian forces in Syria to “stabilize” the “legitimate government” led by “President Assad” against anyone who wants to keep fighting a lost war. There is also enough Russian jamming equipment deployed to make it difficult to bring any “destabilizing forces” back to Damascus in time to prevent any governmental changes there.

The southern front is not being bombed by the Russians and the Germans have offered peace keeping troops. Hezbollah has been given 75 tanks for its own palace guard. The stage is set for something to happen.

‘It is only revolutions that make the heavenly spheres move’. I’m angry (Pussy Riot speech via #ImWithThebanned)

I’m angry (speech at ‪#‎ImWithTheBanned‬ )

rebellion

I’m not beautiful.
I’m not ugly.
I’m angry.

I’m really angry due to the fact that the main political institutions of my country, Russia, are the law enforcement, the army, police, intelligence agencies, and prisons. But the main political institution of my country is composed of just one man – Putin.

By working together, we can build better institutions.

I’m angry, because I do not want to live in a world where you can get sent to prison for speaking a word.

Only in prison I did finally understand how valuable words can be. If you’ve been through prison you say a word and think not only about it’s meaning and value, but about the big consequences that your words can have.

I’m angry because I know too many people that went to jail for saying words or reading a speech.

I’m angry because our governments – and not just in Russia, but in Europe as well, especially in the last weeks – still believe in the power of razor wires, fences and jails.

You are in London – you might feel that razor wires, watch towers and camp-like prisons are a universe apart from you, somewhere in Belarus, Russia or Syria. But right here in the centre of London you have Julian Assange who is spending his fourth year locked up in the embassy of Ecuador for uncovering serious war crimes to the world.

You are in London. You might think that authoritarian and conservative pigs are further away from you then you think. But they are very close – and we have to resist them with our warmth and solidarity.

You have thousands of people prepared to die daily under the wheels of trucks to cross the Eurotunnel from Calais, just because the British goverment is not creating a way to process asylum applications so that people don’t die.

Every gesture you make is meaningful, even if you are clueless about it. Every gesture you make sets rules. There is no decision you make yourself alone.

I have some great advice for politicians in authoritarian countries – what it the best way to get rid of a political enemy?

Jailing your enemy is a bad idea. He will only grow stronger and his voice will become louder. I used to never be able to do push-ups like a man. But after Putin sent me to prison I learned how to do push-ups in prison and now I can do them.

So if you are Putin and want to get rid of Pussy Riot the worst idea is to put them to prison and give them a voice. You will only make Pussy Riot stronger. If you’re the Chinese government – jailing and prosecuting Ai Weiwei means that we’ll probably be making him the best known Chinese artist alive.

I’m not beautiful.
I’m not ugly.
I’m angry.

The first person who empowered the word “Revolution” was Nicolai Copernicus.

He figured out that the earth revolves around the sun and wrote a book titled On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, which provoked shock, outbursts, and hysteria.

Burning me does not refute me, repeated Giordano Bruno as he made his way to the fire.

It is only revolutions that make the heavenly spheres move. People who ask themselves and others tough questions are responsible for progress. If there is no one asking questions, the future will be a paradise for conservatives and hell for everyone else.

I’m not beautiful.
I’m not ugly.
I’m angry

Don’t let them into our country! (via Pussy Riot)

I am a facebook friend of Pussy Riot. They rock. In every way. What enormous courage to stand up to an ultra-rightwing thug like Putin. Anyway, someone wrote a piece on their facebook page about ‘open borders’. I liked the rhythm and have broken it down, restructured the text, to see if it works as a form of poetry. I reckon it does. The words and message are passionate and no-nonsense. And on the rigth side of history. That’s Pussy Riot!

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“Don’t let them into our country!”

Why is it YOURS, though?
Some office handed you a piece of paper,
so you believe,
all innocently,
that it’s yours?
By birthright,
or bloodright, maybe?
Blood and soil?
Are you serious?
Isn’t it terrifying trying to justify yourself that way?

“Lucky me, too bad for you,”
you tell the Syrian girl
who crossed
five
national
borders
to end up in your country.

“Ha! You’re such a loser,
and I’m fucking awesome!”

That Syrian girl
crawled up
and over
a barbed-wire fence
on the Hungarian border.
She fell and broke her arm.
She got up,
but the Hungarian cops
grabbed her.
They sent her to court,
and under a new law
passed by Putin’s little buddy
Orban,
she could get up to three years in jail
for crossing the border.

“Tough luck,
but I’ve got blood and soil,”
you tell her.

Should people have the right
to choose where they’re going to live?
Some office tells you,
“Look at all those illegals swarming in!”
But can a person ever actually be
illegal?

(translated by Shelley Fairweather-Vega)

Russia back on the front line

Some “quick off the cuff notes” by Arthur Dent in response to The Australian’s Tom Switzer who wrote an article on 30 September titled ‘Russia back on the front line’. The notes were originally published at Strange Times. I’m running Arthur’s notes first, followed by Tom Switzer’s article.

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1. Vivid demonstration that realists live in a parallel universe with a different “reality”. Switzer is actually quite clear that he wants to go back to the old US policy of backing the autocracies and tyrants against their people to maintain the region as a backward swamp (originally for cheap oil and anti-communism then contention with Soviet imperialism and “security” – especally Israeli security in occupying more and more territory and then sheer inertia and blind stupidity of an entire generation of the foreign policy establishment who had devoted their careers to it and persisted with it long after the collapse of the Soviet empire, the end of cheap oil and the failure of the war for Greater Israel having made Israel a strategic albatross hanging around the US neck rather than a US base in the region (the only regional power that could not join the coalition liberating Kuwait from Baathist Iraq and who had to be told their planes would be shot down if they pretended to be part of it by sending any into coalition airspace).

2. In Switzer’s alternate universe, the problem in the Ukraine is “.. the widespread Western failure to recognise an old truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad”.

In our universe there is no such Western failure. No Western government is even allowing the Ukrainian government to buy weapons to defend itself against the Russian bullying because they understand with total clarity that they have no power to confront Russian bullying behaviour in that part of the world. The facts Switzer recites about that from lessons about geopolitics drummed into him more than half a century ago are totally obvious to every policy maker and ignored only by the usual shouters.

3. In Switzer’s alternative universe “Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone.” and “Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast.”

In fact Russia’s navy in the Meditarranean is about the size of the US army in the Ukraine. If the Russians were imbeciles attempting what Switzer imagines they are going to do in Syria and Obama was indeed as inept and vacillating as he has successfully convinced pretty well everybody he has always been then the British, French and Turks would have both vital national interests in their near abroad and the capability to act that would compel them to stop the nonsense immediately without waiting a day longer for Obama to stop dithering.

By now Turkey would have closed the Dardanelles (not of course as a hostile act towards that deeply respected partner and Mediterranean Great Power, the Tsar of all the Russias, but simply because they were too busy dealing with the problem of two million refugees having been driven out of Syria by the Assad regime to remember to keep it open).

A few hours sailing time later, the British would have announced that their are command mines laid at Gibraltar that are currently turned on but will be turned off at the approach of any ship that is known not to be assisting anyone forcing millions of Syrians to flee Syria to Europe. Naturally this too would not be a hostile act against anybody but merely a precaution against the possible arrival of the Daesh navy, just as the Russian air to air and surface to air missiles at Latakia are to protect them from the Daesh air force. Naturally the ships of a Meditarranean Great Power like Russia would not be subject to compulsory inspection and the mines would be respecfully turned off as they went about their entirely legitmate business and if any ships of any nation were accidentally sunk by a mine that had failed to remain turned off then Her Majesty’s Government would of course pay full compensation as required by international law etc etc.

All available British and French forces would move as rapidly as possible to the British sovereign base in Cyprus not as a hostile act against anybody but merely as friendly observers of the joint naval exercises that had been announced nearby by the navies of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. After those exercises were completed they would be happy to assist their partners the Russians in returning to Vladivostok via the Suez canal without any danger of becoming subject to inspection by any Arab Gulf states wanting to check whether they were helping any notorious Syrian war criminals to escape as Britain and France are rather in favour of any assistance their Russian partners might be willing to give to Syrian war criminals leaving Damascus right now and don’t really care where they end up as long as they don’t stay in Syria.

4. In Switzer’s alternate universe Putin “has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority”. Pretty well everbody agrees with Switzer about that, perhaps because those who know better have no reason not to want everybody to think that at the moment.

For my part I’ll just end by saying that Switzer and others should remember what Kissinger said the word would go out about another Great Power:

“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”

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Tom Switzer’s piece from The Australian (30 September 2015):

Since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine 18 months ago, the West has indulged in the rhetoric of moral indignation, punished Moscow with economic sanctions and treated Vladimir Putin as a pariah in world affairs. “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters,” President
Barack Obama declared in January. “That’s how America leads — not with bluster but with persistent, steady resolve.”

Somebody forgot to tell the Russian President. Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly this week, following his lightning military deployment to Syria, marks Russia’s resurgence on the global stage. The Russians, far from being marginalised in international relations, are playing a weak hand rather skilfully and are being allowed to do so because of considerable ineptitude and vacillation on the part of the Obama administration.

The upshot is that Washington will have to take the Kremlin far more seriously in the future. This is not just because Putin’s support for the embattled Assad regime will help degrade and destroy Islamic State jihadists in a four ­year civil war that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives and displaced more than nine million people. Rather, Russia’s intervention in Syria shows how rational Moscow’s concerns over Western policy in the Middle East are, and that the Obama administration had better start treating it like the great power it still is.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Moscow voluntarily jettisoned the Warsaw Pact and acquiesced in the expansion of NATO and the EU on to the frontiers of the former Soviet Union. But the limits of Russia’s post ­Cold War retreat have been evident since the Western ­backed coup against a pro-Russian ally in Kiev in February last year. Putin has played hardball to protect what Russia has deemed as its sphere of influence in the Baltics long before Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin appeared on the scene. And in the Middle East it is determined to protect what it perceives as its vital interests.

Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone. That is why he has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority.

And by reaching an understanding with Syria as well as Iraq and Iran to share intelligence about Islamic State, Putin is positioning Russia again as a key player in the Middle East, and one that is
more willing than the West to defeat Sunni jihadists. In the process, he has exposed the shortcomings of the White House’s policy towards Syria.

Until recently, the prevailing wisdom held that the Assad regime — the nemesis of Sunni militants was on the verge of collapse, an outcome that Washington, London and Canberra had enthusiastically encouraged for much of the past four years. And although Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now recognise that Assad must be part of any negotiated political
solution, the Obama administration continues to insist that any resolution of the conflict must lead to the exit of the dictator.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia’s continued support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict” and will undermine “our shared goal of fighting extremism”. British Chancellor George Osborne goes so far as to say the West’s aim should to be to defeat both Assad and Islamic State. But given Washington’s futile attempts to destroy the Sunni jihadist network
during the past year, most seasoned observers of the Syrian crisis are entitled to think that such strategies are manifest madness.

The consequences of removing Assad would be dire. The regime would collapse and its Alawite army would crumble. Sunni jihadists such as Islamic State and al­Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al­Nusra, also known as al­Nusra Front, would exploit the security vacuum and dominate all of Syria. The ethnic minorities — the Alawites, Shi’ites and Syrian Christians — would be massacred. And there would be the flight of millions more refugees into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

If we are to avoid these horrific outcomes, Russia will have to play a central and positive role. It has had significant influence in Damascus during the past half century; indeed, many Syrian
military officers have received training in Moscow. Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast. And Moscow has recognised that notwithstanding Assad’s brutal conduct, his regime is fighting the jihadists that Western leaders repeatedly say pose a grave and present danger to the world.

Obama says the US would work with any nation to end the fighting in Syria. But to engage Russia, the West needs to change its policy approach substantially. Alas, the prevailing Russophobia in
Washington and Brussels remains a serious obstacle in the path of reaching accommodation with Moscow.

The problem in Ukraine is not related to a revival of the Soviet empire, as some hyperventilating politicians and pundits argue. The problem is the widespread Western failure to recognise an old
truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad. Take Ukraine: it is a conduit for Russian exports to Europe and covers a huge terrain
that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Crimeans are glad to be part of the country they called home from Catherine’s rule to that of Nikita Khrushchev.

From Moscow’s standpoint, the expansion of NATO and the EU into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, taken together with efforts to promote democracy, is akin to Moscow expanding military alliances into Central America. Some may respond by saying that Ukraine, however ethnically and politically divided it remains, has every right to join the West. But did communist Cuba have a right to seek political and military ties with the Soviet Union in 1962? Not from Washington’s perspective. Does Taiwan have a right to seek nationhood? Not from Beijing’s perspective.

This is a shame, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Not only does Putin know it, he calculates that a weak, inept and cautious Obama administration won’t push the issue despite the dire threats and warnings from congress and the Pentagon.

And so it was inevitable that the Russians would push back in the Baltics, first to secure the Crimean peninsula, the traditional home of the Russian Black Sea fleet (which Russian intelligence feared would become a NATO base), then to destabilise Ukraine with the aim of persuading Kiev’s anti ­Russian regime to protect the minority rights of ethnic Russians and maintain its status as a buffer state.

As for Syria, the problem here is not the Russians — or even Iran’s Shia crescent of Damascus, Baghdad, Hezbollah and the Yemeni rebels. After all, they’re committed to fighting Sunni jihadists. The problem is that US ­British aligned Sunni states — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs — have aided and abetted the Sunni rebellion that has morphed into Sunni jihadism.

Yet these reactionary regimes still have the temerity to call for Assad’s ouster. Following regime change, we’re told, a US­ led coalition of Arabs and Turks can create a peaceful and prosperous Syria.

Leave aside the fact Assad’s support stems not just from Moscow and Tehran but also from Syria’s military, political and business elites, including many urban Sunnis. Assad is a brutal tyrant. He
has used chemical weapons against his own people. And he has launched relentless barrel bombs in rebel areas. But he is more popular than ever in the one ­third of Syria his regime still controls
(which happens to be the major cities and the coastland). That is largely because many know his demise would lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.

The idea that Assad’s fall would lead to something approaching a peaceful transition of power is as delusional as the neo­conservative views about Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011 respectively. The
downfall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, it was onfidently asserted, would lead to viable democratic states. If anything, both post­Saddam Iraq and post­Gaddafi Libya are failed
states that have attracted terrorists like flies to a dying animal.

As in the case of Iraq, Syria is an artificial state and an ethnically divided society created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In both nations the invasion and civil war, respectively, have unleashed centrifugal forces that are eroding political structures and borders that have prevailed since the end of World War I.

In Iraq, the 2003 invasion ended the nation’s sectarian imbalance between the minority Sunni and majority Shia communities. Ever since, the Shia have been more interested in seeking revenge against their former Sunni tormentors than in building a nation. The result: a Sunni insurgency that has morphed into a plethora of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.

In Syria, the Arab Spring in 2011 encouraged the Sunni majority to challenge and destroy the minority Alawite regime. The result: centrifugal forces that threaten the viability of Syria as we have known it for nearly a century.

As unfashionable as it is to acknowledge, partition is the likely outcome of the civil war. According to Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria observer and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, many Syrians, and Alawites in particular, privately acknowledge that the prospect of outright military victory against the Sunni militants is highly unlikely and that it would be impossible to coexist with Sunni fanatics.

For Syria, partition would most likely mean an Alawite Shia state in the regime’s western heartland and a Sunni state to the southeast. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, this is the emerging reality on the ground.

As long as the regime endures, it at least prevents Sunni jihadists from consolidating their hold over the whole nation and creating a strategic sanctuary along Syria’s coasts.

The moral and political problems posed by Syria’s civil war during the past four years have been real and extremely difficult ones. Assad heads a brutal regime that, according to The Washington Post, has killed about seven times as many people as Islamic State in the first six months of this year.

But the cold, hard reality is that if the US and its allies are serious about defeating the Sunni jihadists, and not merely determined to feel virtuous and moralistic, we will need to tone down our
anti­Russian bombast, restore a dialogue with Putin and recognise the madness of regime change in Damascus. And if that means accommodating Putin’s power play in the Middle East, so be it.

The fascists in Russia’s hybrid army

There’s an old saying about the thief who cries thief in order to distract attention from himself. The same applies to the supporters of Russian imperialism and the Putin regime. They have been quick to take on board Putin’s propaganda that paints the Ukraine independence struggle as a fascist one, yet far-right parties received a much smaller vote in the Ukrainian elections than do similar parties, some of which are neo-fascist, in western Europe and the UK. Also, a cursory survey of the websites of such far-right parties reveals sympathy for the “anti-fascist” Putin. Far right and fascist groups both in Russia and throughout Europe are backing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ (DPR/LPR) in word and deed.

– c21styork

* * *

The following is from Paul Canning and is reprinted for non-commercial reuse under aAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

Type ‘fascist Ukraine’ into Google and the first dozens of results all refer to the Ukrainian government and those forces fighting the Donbas separatists.

You will be hard pressed to find any references to the presence of fascists in Russia’s hybrid army in Ukraine. Ones like those pictured above in an astonishing piece of detective work by Dajey Petros.

Petros is a Dutch blogger who has been doing great work using similar tools to those employed by Eliot Higgins’ Bellingcat. Taking content from social media and using various tools to tell a story from it – like the story of the Russian missile which shot down the Malaysian Boeing.

Far right and fascist groups both in Russia and throughout Europe are backing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ (DPR/LPR) in word and deed. They are raising money for them, despite the sanctions. They hold mass rallies and other events. They send representatives to the Donbas to endorse the ‘Republics’. And they send Russians – and sometimes other Europeans – to join the fighting. All with the tacit approval of the Kremlin.

Gubarev

That approval was most sharply on display in March when Europe and Russia’s far right groups came together in a conference in St Petersberg. It was organised by the Rodina party whose leader is a Russian Deputy Prime Minister.

The event’s star was Alexei Milchakov, the leader of the ‘Rusich’ group of rebel fighters. Milchakov is infamous for photographs of him with a Nazi flag and a puppy he had allegedly killed. He has also posed in front of the dead bodies of Ukrainian soldiers.

Naming the separatist fascists

Many fascists were involved in setting up the DPR/LPR, such as Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed first ‘People’s Governor of Donetsk’. His press secretary, Aleksander Kriakov, was described by Donetsk city Chief Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski as “the most famous anti-Semite in the region.”

When separatists took over TV broadcasting towers last year they boasted that:

Here, from Sloviansk, we are inflicting a powerful information conceptual blow to the biblical matrix … to Zionist zombie broadcasting.

They then presented a lecture by former Russian Conceptual Party Unity leader Konstantin Petrov, who the European Association for Jewish Culture (EAJC) describe as a “anti-Semitic neo-pagan national-Stalinist sect.”

In March last year Josip Zisels, Chair of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities in Ukraine, noted that pro-Russian organisations’ websites “have published many anti-Semitic materials which were meant to instigate hatred against the Maidan as being allegedly inspired by the Jews.”

Former DPR Prime Minister Aleksandr Borodai was a writer for the Russian fascist newspaper Zavtra. He opened the DPR’s first foreign ‘consulate’ on the premises of the Moscow branch of the Eurasian Youth Union (EYU), the youth wing of the Eurasia Party, headed by fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. Dugin has openly called for genocide against Ukrainians.

Another prominent Russian fascist in the Donbas is Gennadiy Dubovoy, whose colleagues are shown in the top and left photos participating in some sort of bizarre Nazi ritual. (See lots more whacky photos.)

Yuli Kharlamova

Participating in the ritual are several women and one is Yuli Kharlamova, a presenter on the Russian TV channel ANNA- News and an FSB (Russian security services) agent.

There are many other individual as well as organised Russian fascists who have been documented from social media engaged in leading roles among the separatists. As Petros puts it “in Russia’s [hybrid] army the Nazis structurally and openly belong to the core and they train others.” Not only that but Russian soldiers who have been captured have been found to have Nazi tattoos.

Here are the patches for five fascist militias in that separatist hybrid army (there are others):

And according to the expert on the far-right in Europe Anton Shekhovtsov there is evidence that proves that “Russian fascist organisations have been heavily infiltrating and instigating pro-Russian separatist movements in South-Eastern Ukraine” before the Maidan.

The real politics of the DPR/LPR

The UK has an organisation supported by leading lights in the so-called and unfortunately influential ‘Stop The War Coalition’ which claims that the DPR/LPR are socialists fighting fascists, but when the DPR/LPR organised sham elections last November socialists and communists were excluded.

The DPR constitution has the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate as the official religion. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, are officially regarded as ‘anti-Russian’ and have been actively persecuted.

According to a separatist recruitment video:

This war is a religious war. For Banderist money, agents of the Vatican, splitters, heretics fight against us, all of them traitors to Christ. And that’s why this war is a religious one.

The constitution also says that “any forms of perverted unions between people of the same sex are not acknowledged and will be prosecuted.”

The separatists running DPR/LNR have the documented support of only 18% of locals.

A further sign of the real politics of the separatists is shown by how anti-semitism fuels their infighting.

And in February, at a press conference, the leaders of the DPR/LPR, Zakharchenko and
Plotnitsky, ended their interview with anti-Semitic remarks.

Zakharchenko said: “I can’t remember, that at any time in Ukrainian history, cossacks were ruled by, well, not exactly those people, who ever carried a sword. Jews…”
Plotnitsky, (interrupting, grinning): “There is a video on Youtube ‘When the Jewish Cossacks have risen’, let them watch it”. Zakharchenko: “It’s not Jewish Cossacks, it’s miserable representatives of a great people, but they never ruled over cossacks. Taras Bulba and Taras Shevchenko would be turning in their graves because of such rulers in Ukraine.”

Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said that “those watching understood very well that this was an anti-Semitic appeal.”

This climate is being encouraged by Russian television, the only TV available in the ‘People’s Republics’, who during last year’s Ukrainian elections, accused leading candidates of being Jews.

Antisemitic meme against Alexander Khodakovsky, DPR ‘Security Council’ secretary

The lies about fascism in Ukraine

Human rights and Jewish groups both say that Russian claims, including by Putin himself, of rampant antisemitism, even ‘pogroms’, in Ukraineare not correct. Some of the incidents they recorded may actually have been orchestrated by Russian secret services, such as one which took place in July in Lviv.

The reality is that Ukraine has one of the lowest levels of anti-Semitic incidents in all of Europe, according to Josef Zissels, General Council Chairman of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

An antisemtic poster distributed in Luhansk during the initial unrest. It reads “Jew Shuster [Savik Shuster, Kyiv-based TV presenter] will explain why Ukrainians must defend the interests of Jew [Prime Minister Arseniy] Yatsenyuk and Jewish oligarchs. Why Slavs must kill each other.”

Researchers of Ukrainian nationalism issued a collective statement last March saying that the Maidan was a liberationist, and not extremist, mass action of civil protest. It condemned reporting which “misrepresents the role, salience and impact of Ukraine’s far right within the protest movement.”

Left forces in Ukraine have also consistently spoken out at the mischaracterisation of the Maidan revolution as a ‘fascist coup’, however their voices have been drowned by the Kremlin propaganda machine and its Western sympathisers – as well as by much of the mainstream reporting.

Dmitry Mrachnik (a member of the Ukrainian Autonomous Workers Union) is here extremely blunt!

The claim that fascists control Ukraine is propaganda by Putin. To those anarchists and left-wingers who believe Putin’s propaganda about a fascist regime in Ukraine and who support Russia I say:

Take a deep breath, gormless half-wits. For many years Russia has already had something like the kind of fascism which Ukraine is accused of. Anyone who supports fascists who save a neighbouring country from fascists must be either pretty stupid or completely devoid of any conscience.

The propaganda about Ukraine being ‘fascist’ directly fuels violence. It is consistently cited as a reason for those joining the DPR/LNR. This does not mean that the growth of nationalism in Ukraine should not be a concern.

Says Halya Coynash of Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group:

Ukraine’s leaders have laid themselves open to criticism over the role of the Azov volunteer battalion, with its neo-Nazi leaders and probably members, as well as the more extreme elements in Right Sector and VO Svoboda. A few individuals such as Andriy Biletsky and Ihor Mosiychuk have won seats in Parliament, while others have received questionable appointments on the basis of their bravery in defending Ukraine. There are legitimate concerns about their role beyond the battlefield, as well as doubts about their motives as the recent conflict in Mukacheve has demonstrated.

All this is a gift for Kremlin propaganda, but it still does not justify broad claims about Ukrainian society. Ukraine’s two far-right parties did very badly in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, and no evidence exists that voters support anti-Semitic or xenophobic views. Now in Parliament, Biletsky reportedly claims that stories about his neo-Nazi and white supremacist views is all Russian slander. The denial is unconvincing, but it is telling that he sees the need to make it.

It is unlikely, she says that the Kremlin will “abandon its propaganda arsenal” and she warns about “fakes, manipulation, and total fabrication.”

Petros uncovered one such manipulation last year. A member of the now famous Ukrainian Azov battalion, whose members undoubtedly do include fascists, had posted a photo of his battalion posing with a Swastika flag. Petros proved it was a photoshopped fake, the original had no Nazi flag in it. Nevertheless here it was on Russian primetime TV news …

It is entirely right that Western media should report, as the BBC’s leading news show ‘Newsnight’ did recently, on the far right in Ukraine. What is wrong is that the presence of fascists in powerful positions among the separatists is being totally ignored.

Western journalists often say that they strive for ‘balance’. Well, where is it? On this issue they are doing what the Russians do – only report one part of one story.