Monday, October 12, 2015

Obama: an impotent enemy and a dangerous friend.

From: The AustralianOctober 03, 2015, by: Greg Sheridan:

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin before a bilate

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin Source: AP

... Vladimir Putin comprehensively humiliated Barack Obama at the UN.
The contrast could not be starker. The US President spoke overtime, for more than 45 minutes, but did nothing. The Russian President spoke for 20 minutes and transformed the strategic environment in the Middle East.

Obama lectured Putin in public and in private, telling him not to intervene militarily in Syria.
Putin listened politely enough, then speedily launched bombing raids in Syria.

Putin said any Russian intervention in Syria would be directed against Islamic State forces. In fact, although Australian intelligence does not yet have this fully confirmed, it seems the strikes were mostly in locations where Islamic State is not a significant presence. They allegedly hit some rebel forces trained and approved by the Americans. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the Russian move was “throwing gasoline on the fire” in Syria.
Putin’s military move was accompanied by diplomatic gains. Russia, Iran, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and the government of Iraq, notionally allied to the US, have joined in an intelligence-sharing arrangement against Islamic State. The Baghdad government approved the use of Iraqi airspace by Russian planes and Russian personnel will be stationed at an intelligence facility in Baghdad.

The Russian moves transform strategic calculations in Syria and have left Washington completely flat-footed and almost irrelevant. The Russians now control the Syrian narrative. Nikolas Gvosdev in The National Interest draws an even more alarming contrast between the strategic credibility of Russia and the US in Syria: “While Russia is prepared to use deadly force to defend its interests and its clients, those who have accepted Western patronage will not enjoy such support”.

Obama has become that most grotesque of strategic players — an impotent enemy and a dangerous friend.

...Russia has no intention of trying to help Assad retake the territory he has conclusively lost. The Australian Defence Department prepared an analysis of Putin’s motives in his latest deployments. They involved three key purposes and overlapping scenarios.

One, Putin wants to maintain the rotation of his forces at Russia’s Tartus naval base.

Two, most critically, Putin wants to shore up Assad’s regime. This is much more important to Putin than combating Islamic State.

Three, Putin wants to maintain a Russian naval base in the Mediterranean. This complicates life for NATO, especially now that Putin has moved in highly sophisticated air defence capabilities, even though none of Syria’s rebel forces has an air force.

Putin has not moved a very big force into Syria but it is capable, and focused on air assets. Whereas the Western air campaign against Islamic State has been understandably so concerned to avoid civilian casualties that it has had limited military effectiveness, Putin can run devastating tactical air campaigns. They will be vastly more capable of providing close combat support to Assad’s troops in battle than Syria’s ageing and declining air force was.

Putin will be happy to attack Islamic State formations on behalf of Assad. But it is not that group which is most lethally attacking Assad’s core positions in western Syria and near the coast. He is being attacked there by other rebel groups. The fact that some of these forces received some help from the Americans adds to the confusion and danger. But here again is the catastrophic failure of Obama to have any effect at all in Syria.

It is difficult to work out who the US-trained forces are. As soon as they cross the border into Syria they seem either to disappear, get captured or defect to al-Qa’ida or one of the other militant groups. The original Obama idea of training rebel forces who would simultaneously fight both Assad and Islamic State turns out to have been strategic fantasy.

When the Americans engage in strategic fantasy they typically get people killed.

... The obvious political outcome is as much ceasefire as possible, with some sort of loose federal structure for Syria, with a separate Assad controlled area predominantly Alawite, de facto autonomy for the Kurds and a series of Sunni areas, perhaps under different leaderships with, hopefully, a broad anti-Islamic State alliance..

It’s a long shot, but it’s better than nothing. And for the last few years nothing has been all that Obama has offered.
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