Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Syrian Regional War: NATO on deck!

   Looks like NATO and Obama's tech geeks are going ahead with a 'limited' attack on Syria.

  [UPDATE 9/26] Obama's nerds realized the bad idea was bad..

  The US has four destroyers in the Mediterranean right now each packing 90 Tomahawks apiece plus the British have a Trafalgar class submarine offshore and a Rapid Reaction force setting up shop at Akrotiri in Cyprus. It's hard to figure the real justification here (outside of the details I gave in my previous post) but the international media play here seems to be: "Assad unleashed his chemical weaponry and wasted civilians so now it's time for the West to bring some kinetic blast energy into the mix to punish Assad for killing people in an unapproved way." Yep, it seems the reasoning behind the attack is going to be that retarded. You kill your people via asphyxiation so we'll kill more of your people via high explosive and that'll teach you a lesson for your "moral obscenity".

   Such is the madness of war.

   Of course, this can't be the only reason for the attack and the above reason is just the bullshit they're going to print in the newspapers. A recent poll indicated 60% of the American public are against any intervention in Syria (because they're smart) but modern proxy resource war is never a game of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" so there is no 'ask the audience' option. The corporate oligarchy are just gonna go ahead and blow shit up and continue with the wider plan of gobbling up the entire energy riches of the Middle East.

   Syria will be first on the permanently destabilized list, followed later by Iran.

   This attack, for the moment, is being advertised as merely a 'one off strike' to punish Assad for using chemical weapons (if he used them, more on that later). It's the "poke the hornets nest with a stick and see what happens" theory of war. If Assad reacts and does something stupid like launching missiles at Israel (highly unlikely) then NATO will pounce and bring on the real war, armed with the excuse to retaliate they can feed to their surveillance state nominal 'democracies' back home. If Assad is smart and he sure seems to be, then the correct reaction to the NATO attack will be to do nothing and instead offer up the usual parade of dead babies to world TV cameras.

    And this is where the story gets real shady for me.

   Assad by all accounts is not a stupid man. He attended Western universities. He's a trained eye doctor. This at least must mean he's not a total idiot, right? Why then would he use nerve gas at a time when the rebel factions aligned against him are fracturing, fighting amongst themselves and losing control of towns? Assad's forces seem to have gained a slight initiative in this war and now suddenly, just as he begins winning, he breaks out chemical weapons and hands NATO the golden invitation to walk into his country?

   It just doesn't make sense on the very fundamental level known as common sense.

   The things is, who these days is gonna trust the US or UK when they say WMDs are a legit reason to enter a war? It is a fact that chemical weapons exist in Syria but the real issue here is, who used them? It may be hard to believe Assad is that stupid but of course, that does not mean he isn't that stupid. War is not a logical environment and the common sense I mentioned above may not be applicable at all. Maybe Assad felt that by using a terror weapon and getting away with it, that act alone would be a morale shatterer for the rebels and allow his forces to go on the full offensive; knowing that pesky entrenched rebel holdouts could be gassed out of their positions with ease. Maybe Assad was testing the waters to bring about an offensive chemical game changer to end the war decisively? We just can't know and no side in any of this as of this writing seems inclined to deliver definitive proof of who is responsible. Still, none of it passes the smell test does it?

   Do not watch the video below if you would prefer to avoid the horrors of nerve gas (NSFL).

 Assad's actions after the chemical story broke are telling too. He immediately offered to let UN inspectors in to examine the sites where the chemicals were allegedly used. Obviously, he's studied the West's WMD playbook in Iraq and learned from Saddam that stalling on this issue provides the West with justification for an invasion. Sure, that could be a bluff too, designed to play well with a foreign anti war public; the logic being that he at least tried to prove his innocence but the damn rebels prevented the UN convoy from getting through to the chemical sites. Maybe, he's like the shark in Jaws, either very dumb or very smart... he's gone under the media.

  Even the mainstream media are asking these questions now but it is testimony to our times that the precedent for wars without Congressional approval, without UN approval, wars that are illegal under international law; all can happen anyway because of the precedents set in Iraq 2003. Even the will of the majority of the public can be set aside by those in power. Hope and Change was all just a slick marketing campaign. Now we see why Obama didn't go after the Bush Administration and instead made them all immune from prosecution. Another precedent was set... that of total freedom from liability for those who would run the empire and its global proxy resource wars. A freedom from liability the Noble Peace Prize winner himself will avail of when he himself presses the red button on Syria later this week. If he does because deep down I still don't get where victory lies here. Obama's defenders will say that the White House did warn that chemical usage was a "redline" moment and the US will look weak if they do not strike punitively as a matter of proving the US point. One thing is for sure though and that's that any overt foreign involvement in Syria just leads to more clusterfuck. Unfortunately, this is the only truth you will find in the Syrian Regional War.

   Meanwhile, yesterday in Syria, shit got even more shady. Suddenly, on their way to the nerve gas attack sites, the investigating UN convoy took incoming fire and was forced to retreat before inspecting anything.  Let's look at the possibilities here in the absence of cold hard facts.

  A) The snipers were Assad's forces trying to stop the UN from discovering the truth behind the usage of nerve gas. Assad invited the UN team in as a ruse, just to seem like an honest broker and then had his snipers shoot up the convoy knowing they would flee. He then blamed the shooting on the rebels and appealed to world anti war sentiment under the idea that he did all he could to try to prove his forces innocent of chemical weapons usage.

  B) The snipers were in fact rebel factions trying to prevent the UN from discovering that the rebels themselves were responsible for the gas attack either using stolen chemical artillery shells looted from Assad's arsenals or, worse still, chemical weapons supplied from outside Syria by a foreign menagerie of sleazy enemies with an interest in watching Syria burn.

  C) The snipers were foreign CIA/Mossad/Turkish agents running a covert mission to interdict the UN convoy to stop the inspectors from discovering that the chemical weapons came from foreign sources, were not part of Assad's arsenal and that the rebels perpetrated the attack themselves; all this with the added bonus of confirming the fact that Assad is a callous killer who would fire on unarmed UN inspectors.

  D) The snipers are just random assholes. It's a war zone after all. Some dick shot at the convoy because he hates white SUVs, hates his job, hates the war and the guy banging his wife drives a white car so he fired shots and it's all just random mad shit.

   One of the above is the truth. But which one is it?

   They say truth is the first casualty in any war so here we go again...

Those blast points, too accurate for sand people?

   The impending NATO strike is being presented as a sort of 'slap on the wrist' attack in world media.

   To know if this is true, all we will have to do is wait to see what the primary targets for the initial Tomahawk cruise missile strikes will be. The targets designated here will be crucial in figuring out where NATO is planning on taking this war. If most of the targets are X band strikes against Syria's air defense radars than we can be pretty sure this is just the opening salvo and NATO intends to take air superiority over Syria and fill the skies later on with ground support aircraft for the rebels, a Libya part II if you like. However, if the strikes are primarily against Assad himself, his house, his swimming pool, his Bentley, government buildings and some military bases and command and control centers then, that might fit the advertising as a "punitive measure" type attack. Obviously, limited strikes against all of the above will keep NATO intentions muddled for now and will be the probable course of action. But we will still learn a lot from the extent of strikes against Assad's air defense systems. And we'd be foolish to think that the US doesn't have a whole bunch of follow up contingency options waiting in the wings.

   Next up, what are the wider geopolitics of this crazy war. 

   And, by wider geopolitics, I am of course talking Russia and Iran here. I talked a lot about this last time but it's worth repeating. Russia currently has an undisclosed number of assets inside Syria. They have that Mediterranean base at Tartus which they would dearly like to hold. Losing it would be a serious blow to Russian prestige but I'm sure NATO have offered assurances that they have no designs here. The Russians have some Soviet era warships off the coast, some Spetsnaz and paratroopers in country and also an unknown number of technicians helping with the air defense systems. Has the S-300 SAM system been deployed yet? This is a huge question and we don't yet know. Some batteries could be operational and will be operated by Russian technicians. Obviously, the S-300 getting its first combat test v NATO would be popcorn overdose time but most likely the initial strike will involve cruise missiles and maybe, if the US goes exotic, some B2 stealth bombers from mainland US bases.

   How will Russia react?

   There'll be complaints at the UN and fist waving along with the Chinese. But at this stage of the 21st century everyone knows the Western modus operandi and the juggernaut that is US military power. The corporate empire cannot be deterred by conventional forces and nukes remain off the table because it's just not worth bringing on Armageddon. Yet.

   The real question here is what the NATO plan for Syria is.

   Is it perpetual chaos in the heart of the Arab world? Because if the West were truly interested in stability in Syria than the dirty little secret of this war might be that Assad would be the best option for that. Let the Arab strongman continue his authoritarian dictatorship not because it's expedient or moral or even right, but because the alternatives are far worse. Just look at Egypt in the aftermath of Mubarak as an object lesson on how things can go wrong without a bad guy on the payroll. The Arabs just don't do democracy and voting booths. In the wake of Assad's demise, what would a post war Syria look like? It would look like another Civil War but this time on bath salts with multiple factions fighting each other, Druze, Alawites, Christians, FSA, Al-Nusra Islamic radicals, Kurds, Al-Qaeda franchise elements, Hezbollah, Iranian militias, Sunni factions, ex Assad Syrian Army hold-ons all clawing each other's faces off for power. The civilian slaughter and genocide could go off the charts.

   But here's the dark side for Western war planners. Once you ditch the morality of fomenting a failed state you also by default neuter it. Its teeth are gone. Its ability to project power evaporates from its neighbor's borders. All this chaos would mean the end of Syria as a contiguous state and would remove it as a threat to Israel, Turkey and Jordan and end its alliance with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran to the East. It would knock Russian influence out of the Middle East. Hezbollah would find itself with a far more difficult supply chain for rocketry to aim at Israel and Iran would find itself fully isolated and surely the next domino to fall.

   So now perhaps the benefits of attack emerge however tenuously. Total destabilization. Chaos. A very scary course of action surely with many unforeseeable outcomes but obviously viewed as containable from Western war planner's madcap Dr Strangelove rooms.

  In fact, examined on these terms, NATO's impending intervention in Syria starts to make some kind of strategic sense when you take in the big picture... total Western hegemony of the last easily extractable oil on the planet. Lessening reliance on tar sands and its low EROEI numbers and high costs-to-refine, nothing but sweet crude sitting just under desert sands in Iraq and Iran and the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. Syria barely has any oil but it is a linchpin state in the region. Damascus is the historic heart of Arabia. Maybe we've reached the stage where such chaos is desirable and that's a very scary place to be just 13 years into the new century. Hegemony via chaos is a risky game.

   This is a big war and it's happening live on your TV for reasons far removed from a whiff of nerve gas. If Assad takes his medicine and does not retaliate (his best move) we have the possibility of continued stalemate. The fire could all die down and be forgotten in a week or it could flare up and consume more forest. It's been a long hot summer. And the desert is dry and ripe for flames.

   If NATO are smart, they back down on this one. They already have all the chaos they need.

    Grab popcorn. And stay tuned.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why Syria Matters: Sunni oil versus Shia oil and the battle for regional hegemony in the Middle East.

   The Syrian Regional War rages on and nobody knows how to put out the fire.

   Up to now, the Obama administration tech nerds have proved pretty savvy when it comes to dealing with foreign war-fighting policy. After all, they got Bin Laden. They buried Gaddafi via tech support so the French and British could get the job done. And every guy sporting an AK in a strategic desert these days knows he's just a drone strike away from oblivion. Even the plebs back home immersed in media driven bread and circuses know they're under 24 hour NSA surveillance every time they hit up Porn Hub. Few care. US defense policy these days is war via computer geek and it's working in this interim decade before the real resource wars get green lit.

   Meanwhile, we've got Syria like a festering splinter in the geopolitical game.

   Syria is proving to be a real head scratcher for Obama's nerds. On the one hand, you've got the "Free Syrian Army", the designated 'good guy freedom fighters', an idea the world media bandied about to describe the farmers in Dera'a that got the whole ball rolling in this 'civil war' when they tagged some graffiti on the wall of the wrong mud hut. Assad's heavy handed response meant Syria got lumped in to the whole Arab Spring narrative and there was all that talking head talk on US airwaves about democracy and freedom and ME dictators being assholes. But as with most stuff on US news networks, it's all a stinking pile of bullshit. All Arab countries are run by assholes because if they weren't they'd  be run my warring tribal militias and that's really bad for the oil business. The Arabs just don't do democracy. Voting booths are for pussies, infidels and ancient Greeks. Arabs respect strongmen going all the way back to Saladin. That's why the Syrian Civil War has got nothing to do with freedom fighting and democracy and everything to do with regional and global geopolitics at the heart of the desert energy chess game. Which is kind of funny when you consider Syria doesn't even have that much oil. But we're not talking geography here, we're talking regional hegemony and control of the human capital living inconveniently in the vicinity of major energy reserves.

   The Syrian Civil War is now a Middle Eastern regional proxy war.

  This war really has two aspects. First and foremost, it's a regional Middle East conflict between the Shia and Sunni. Yep, a good old religious war but religion really isn't a useful term here. Sure, they hate each other's guts but regional energy hegemony is the fuel that makes this war burn. On the one hand, you've got the Shia, that is, Iran, Hezbollah (firmly entrenched in next-door Lebanon) and the newly conquered Shia controlled region of southern Iraq (thanks Dick Cheney), aligned against Saudi Arabia, Qatar and everywhere else in the Middle East Saudi oil money stretches to Sunni client states.

    Basically, we're talking Saudi Arabia's oil versus Iran's oil.

   The Saudis took it really personally when Hezbollah retook the Syrian town of Qusair in pretty impressive fashion last week, fighting that ugly street by street Stalingrad type warfare Hezbollah have been proving adept at lately. This has kicked the Saudi royals back in Riyadh into raging camel mode. Although a long time coming, the Shia v Sunni grand regional war is beginning to take shape. The grand alignment of Riyadh and Cairo (who broke diplomatic relations with Damascus last week and called for a no fly zone over Syria) is kickstarting. Next up to the party, King Abdullah of Jordan (fearful of conflict creep and more refugee spillage across his border), mentioned recently at a cadet graduation ceremony  "Hezbollah must leave Syria... there is no place for Hezbollah in Syria". These are fighting words especially for the Jordanians who've kept their head down during this whole Arab Spring so as to maintain their benevolent dictatorship in the desert.

   What's all this saber rattling about?

   Basically, the Sunni oil Sheikhs fear the Iranian Oil Ministry will dust off the old maps from Ottoman times and build an oil pipeline from Abadan across Shia controlled Southern Iraq to Tartus in Syria and begin making billions exporting oil to Europe via the Mediterranean. Next up, why not build a nice railway line from Tehran to Damascus and on maybe to Beirut. That right there would be the type of Shia strategic encircling axis that makes every oil rich prince in Saudi Arabia want to rage drive his Ferrari Enzo off a cliff with his whole family in the passenger seat.

   Even more so, let's talk methane. The above mentioned pipeline could theoretically supply the Euros with natural gas, the "cleaner" energy the planet loving Euros crave. With the EU mandated carbon reductions set to go into effect by 2020 and Germany axing its nuke plants, suddenly, Shia Iran's South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf becomes a goldmine beyond the dreams of Xerxes. Guess who lays claim to the northern part of that gas field? Sunni Qatar. Yes my friends, dig deep enough into any war and you can ditch religion and always find money and taking other people's shit as primary motivations for any shooting war.

   All this makes Syria ground zero for proxy war central.

   Right now the Saudis have been pumping some serious weaponry into the FSA. MANPADS (quite apart from being the worst acronym for a weapons system ever) are shoulder mounted AA useful for taking down choppers and low flying jets and also supplied, somewhat ironically, are at least 50 Russian made 9M113 "konkors"; wire guided anti tank missiles that can waste Syrian T-72s. The CIA have been supplying weaponry too but through the usual plethora of back channels; shady deals via Euro allies via dodgy corporate warehouses that make the stuff impossible to trace and every government ends up with plausible deniability while the Syrian rebel at the end of the supply chain literally jizzes his pants while unboxing his new laser guided death ray; and then begins crying as he can't read the instruction booklet because it's printed in a language.

The 9M113 Konkurs AT missile. FSA instruction booklet included?

     This war is so interesting it has me glued to Live Leak and I'm getting fat on popcorn.

   One thing that makes me splurge is the second aspect of the Syrian war, namely the geopolitical aspect, and how that's leading to all kinds of complications that drag in Russia, China, the US and Japan, and surely has the policy nerds at the Pentagon tearing their hair out wondering what the best play is in this increasingly complex and risky game.

   If the US goal is to prevent the FSA from losing this war then that's going to require more than covert arms sales via shady transactions through the usual back channels. Let's face it, it's going to require a Gaddafi style no fly zone. As of this writing, Assad's forces are attempting to retake Aleppo, the home of the Sunni business elites, largely abandoned by them now as the squatting, multi denominational FSA fighters holed up there have helped, along with Syrian Army artillery and airstrikes, to turn that once thriving city into Beirut circa 1978. If Syrian forces manage to retake it, like they did Qusair a few weeks back, it'll be a major coup and decision time for NATO and the Sunni alliance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and even Turkey to make a move. If Aleppo falls to Assad's forces and the Iranian sponsored militias then the FSA initiative will have been lost. And as any general knows, losing the initiative means everything in war.

   That's when it will be decision time for the major powers.

   If NATO decide on a no fly zone, the first thing they are going to have to contend with is Russia's newly delivered S-300 SAM system (if deliveries have been timely and made as Putin promised). These will have to be manned by Russian personnel because of the steep learning curve on operating this complex anti aircraft system. Assad's troops just won't be up to speed if NATO decides on a Gaddafi maneuver. The S-300 is potent but as yet untested in combat but there's no doubt it's a serious contender and at least equal to anything NATO has counter measure wise. The Russians claim it is even effective against stealth aircraft but they would say that wouldn't they? Maybe time will tell. The best bet for any initial strike will be X band radar cruise missile attacks on the launchers and radar installations all of which will be manned, at least for now, by Russian technicians. That will mean the US will have to go all in and I don't think the Obama tech geeks have the stomach for it. If they do, does that mean we get to sit back and jump straight to a fun game of global thermonuclear war when Putin's personnel get vaporized? Nah. Just another shit storm at the UN and more head scratching at the Pentagon.

   From a purely realpolitik view, if the US does nothing, and Assad wins, that's a tremendous victory for Iran and Russia. On the other hand, if the US tackles this via half measures, floods the FSA with the latest shoulder mounted anti air and anti tank weaponry, you might hand the FSA a victory that will leave them hating the US anyway (even if they provide them with all those new fancy toys). The FSA itself is so fractious and made up of so many conflicting groups of martyr worshipping 72 virgin afterlife fucking crazies, including radical Al-Qaeda franchise elements, Sharia law nuts and radicals that, even an FSA win will mean the US will have basically armed another extremist state in the Middle East and created a hotbed for anti Western terrorist training camps that'll make the Taliban goat herders in Afghanistan about as threatening to world peace as Mahatma Gandhi on Xanax.

   Obviously, Obama's computer geeks are stumped.

   Another fun thing about this whole Middle East energy chess game is the stake Russia has in all this. If Assad manages to hold on, then Assad owes Putin big time. Russia loves that warm water but somewhat obsolete Mediterranean military base at Tartus on the Syrian coast. Arms sales to Assad have been booming and the whole Arab Spring thing has left Russia with a serious lack of allies and weapon clients in the Middle East. After the US appropriated Iraq's oil reserves and has that symbiotic relationship with Saudi Arabia's crazy Wahhabi sheiks who exchange petrodollar monopoly funny money for F-16s and Floridian beachfront property, the Russians are loathe to lose that last foothold in the Middle East that still buys their Migs and heavy weaponry. Also, the Russians would like to hold on to the regional influence Damascus provides as the historical and metaphorical heart of the Arab world. Holding on to Syria against NATO encroachment would be a major victory for the Russians who are feeling decidedly small since the heady days of the Soviet Union.

   Also, for the Iranians, Syria is the main supply route for weaponry to Hezbollah, their proxy army on Israel's northern border. Hezbollah proved themselves a serious contender for world's best irregular army when they bloodied the IDF's nose back in 2006 when the Israeli's tried an incursion into Southern Lebanon. For Iran, holding Syria will achieve multiple aims; piss off the Saudis, assert Shia aspirations for hegemony in the region and remind Israel that they've got some allies on speed dial if Netanyahu goes ahead with his dream strike on the Natanz centrifuge facility. A possible pipeline to Europe for oil and gas across friendly territory would be icing on the global energy cake. Hezbollah also proved themselves useful allies for Assad when they went into Qusair and kicked ass and showed the FSA what real idealogical fighters can do when you threaten to fuck with their shit. This furthers my pet theory that heavy infantry armed with state of the art shoulder mounted AA and AT weaponry is the most significant development in warfare since Guderian's tanks and Stukas Blitzkrieged around the Maginot Line.

    That's why the Pentagon are shitting themselves with the trillions they just blew on the F-22 Raptor... it's a pricey ~$140 million per plane option when your enemy fights from second hand Toyota Hilux trucks that cost about as much as a beer and pizza at Yankee Stadium. We're decades away from major power v major power conflict and this makes 5th generation fighter aircraft so 20th century. The future of warfare for the foreseeable future is in the hands of the tech nerds, total information monitoring, computer espionage and satellite controlled drones versus desert guys in sandals with AKs and used Toyota trucks.

   One final fun aspect of the Syrian War is the whole chemical weapons debate.

   Obama called their use a 'redline' moment for US involvement. Trouble is, the FSA are using them too. Also, if you're a fan of YouTube or Live Leak (and who isn't these days),  then you can go ahead and watch an FSA guy eat a Syrian Army soldier's raw heart. That right there is Liberia level warfare and makes death by Sarin gas about as troublesome as a skiing holiday in the Netherlands. Still, for some reason, the general population abhors death by chemical. Sure it's ugly, sometimes prolonged, but death in war is never pretty is it? The average web surfer sipping lattes in Starbucks hates death by gas but somehow maiming and vaporizing via kinetic blast energy is seen as fair game. Chemical weapons are the least of the problems the Syrian War presents except of course if some dissident FSA or angry Syrian Army dissident manages to export some Sarin gas to Times Square. And that's not even a crazy idea anymore.

   The Syrian Regional War can have many outcomes. None of them predictable.

   Only one thing is for sure for whoever "wins" this thing, and I can't resist a little history here courtesy of my old friend Tacitus, the Roman historian who quoted the Scottish chieftain Calgacus after his loss  in 83AD at the Battle of Mons Graupius and said of the Roman legions who defeated him...

   "They created a desert and called it victory".