What Happens If Russia Loses in Syria?

It's worth considering a subject that's seldom discussed here, though it should be. What if Russia's intervention in Syria — its version of the American way of war (air power and more air power) — proves to be somewhere between quagmirish and disastrous? Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic gives the subject some thought. Here's the end of the resulting piece. TomDispatch

President Putin

“In other words, Putin’s war may very well fail. But if it does, will he make concessions and abandon his ally? If the Russian president acts rationally, he should cut his losses. Putin, however, may not act rationally. When I researched my book on military disaster, The Right Way to Lose a War, I was struck by how poorly governments tend to handle battlefield reversals. From the United States in Vietnam to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, leaders often respond to defeat with disastrous decisions that only worsen their plight. Rather than coolly looking for a way out of the predicament, they rage against the dying of the light.”Part of the problem is what psychologists call “loss aversion.” Losing hurts twice as bad as winning feels good—whether in a tennis match or a war. The idea of accepting even a small loss can seem intolerable, and people are tempted to risk greater losses for a shot at the win. The gambler who drops 20 bucks in a casino doesn’t walk away; he doubles his bets. In a similar vein, the president who loses 1,000 soldiers in Vietnam doesn’t end the war; he sends half a million Americans into the mire.

Putin has repeatedly responded to the potential loss of client regimes with military force.

“It’s hard to imagine Putin accepting defeat. He has cultivated an image as the father of the Russian people, who is restoring the country as a world power. If Assad’s regime falls, Russia could lose its only military installation outside the former U.S.S.R.—the naval base in Tartus, Syria. Therefore, if the war effort collapses, Putin may want to salvage something from the wreckage, potentially moving the conflict into a dangerous new phase. He could intensify Russian air strikes or deploy “little green men”—as the Russian soldiers serving unofficially in eastern Ukraine were called. Once Russian troops start dying in Syria, all bets are off.”Putin, moreover, has repeatedly responded to the potential loss of client regimes with military force. In 2008, the Russian military intervened in Georgia to punish pro-Western Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and protect the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Six years later, in 2014, Putin aided Ukrainian rebels and annexed Crimea following the toppling of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In late 2015, with Assad’s forces reeling, Putin once again intervened to stabilize a client regime.”And Putin has already raised the prospect of further military escalation, saying that Russia is using “far from everything we are capable of” in Syria and that “We also have other things as well and will use them if necessary.”

“What’s the solution? If Russia’s defeat could trigger hazardous escalation, this doesn’t mean a Russian victory is preferable. After all, if Assad somehow assumed a winning position, why would he negotiate a compromise peace that recognized the interests of all Syrian groups? Instead, the optimal opportunity for a peace deal may be a situation in which Putin believes a decisive triumph is not possible, but he can still save face by spinning the outcome as a success. In other words, he needs a story to tell the Russian people about the positive results of the mission. This narrative doesn’t need to be true, but it does need to havetruthiness, or a seeming plausibility. And so, to get Putin out of Syria, the United States might need to play along by avoiding boastful claims of a major Russian debacle. In 1989, after the Berlin Wall fell, U.S. President George H.W. Bush deliberately refused to declare the development a win—to avoid complicating the life of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Putin needs a victory speech. And Washington may have to help him write it.” More

 

New MSF Report Details Horrific Carnage as US Bombed Hospital

As the U.S. continues to refuse an independent probe, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Thursday released its own damning report of the American military's bombing of the medical charity's Kunduz, Afghanistan hospital last month—describing patients burning to death in their beds and people shot by a circling plane while attempting to flee.

The image on the left shows the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on June 21, 2015, before the U.S. military bombing. The image on the right shows the facility on October 8, 2015, following the attack. (Photos from report)

The review (pdf), the first installment of an ongoing investigation, gives a harrowing, chronological account of the bombing, which took place while at least 105 patients were admitted, surgeries were ongoing, and people—including children—were immobilized in the intensive care unit. The report confirms that 149 MSF staff and one International Committee of the Red Cross delegate were in the hospital compound during the time of the attack.

What's more, the investigation finds that MSF was fully in control of the hospital at the time of the bombing, and its rules were in effect—including prohibitions against weapons. In addition, there was no combat “from or in the direct vicinity” of the hospital before the bombings.

“Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF general director, in a statement accompanying the report. “Wounded combatants are patients under international law, and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination. Medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants.”

“The view from inside the hospital is that this attack was conducted with a purpose to kill and destroy,” Stokes continued. “But we don’t know why. We neither have the view from the cockpit, nor the knowledge of what happened within the U.S. and Afghan military chains of command.”

MSF based its findings on 60 debriefings with its national and international staff employed at the trauma center, email and telephone records, and before and after photographs of the hospital. The organization also reviewed internal and publicly-available information about the bombing that killed 13 staff members, 10 patients, and 7 people whose bodies were unrecognizable.

Due to an escalation in fighting, MSF on September 29 re-confirmed its GPS coordinates to the U.S. Department of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior and Defense and U.S. Army in Kabul—all of whom confirmed receipt, the report states. On Friday, October 2, before the bombings took place, MSF even placed its organizational flags on the roof of the hospital, to ensure its identity would not be mistaken.

But at roughly 2:00 AM, the U.S. military unleashed a horrific bombing on the hospital, which lasted at least an hour. During this time, MSF made at least 17 calls to Afghan, U.S., and United Nations officials in attempt to stop the bombings, according to a log displayed in the report.

The first room hit was the ICU, where staff were caring for patients, some of whom were on ventilators, and at least two of whom were children. “MSF staff were attending to these critical patients in the ICU at the time of the attack and were directly killed in the first airstrikes or in the fire that subsequently engulfed the building,” the report states. “Immobile patients in the ICU burned in their beds.”

The strikes then moved to the main hospital building, destroying the emergency room, mental health department, operating theaters, and other areas—killing two patients while they were undergoing surgery. MSF staff described a litany of horrors: amputations, fully or partially severed limbs, and people “running while on fire and then falling unconscious on the ground.”

The report states some were “shot by the circling AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building.”

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, surviving MSF staff fought for the lives of their colleagues and patients, inserting chest drains, halting severe bleeding, and treating shock—with at least two MSF staff dying on the operating table.

MSF's account shines light on an attack whose details have been murky, with the Pentagon changing its story at least four times, including initially denying responsibility. The U.S. and Afghan governments so far refused MSF's repeated calls for an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission (IHFFC), which was established in 1991 under the Geneva Conventions. In addition to releasing Thursday's report to the public, MSF has also submitted it to the IHFFC. More

 

Why Assad turned to Moscow for help

Iran has long been sending troops and material to help Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad wage war against his own people. But now Tehran is busy establishing a state within a state — which is why Assad now wants help from Russia.

Fear of his enemies was the primary reason for Bashar Assad’s call for help to Moscow. “But right after that came the fear of his friends,” says a Russian official who long worked in his country’s embassy in Damascus. The friend he refers to is Iran, the Syrian regime’s most important protector.

“Assad and those around him are afraid of the Iranians,” the Russian says. Anger over the arrogance of the Iranians, who treat Syria like a colony, is also part of it, the Russian continues. Most of all, though, the Syrians “mistrust Tehran’s goals, for which Assad’s position of power may no longer be decisive. That is why the Syrians absolutely want us in the country.”

What the Russian diplomat, who wants to remain anonymous, has to say is a bit jarring at first. Without the Shiite auxiliaries from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon — whose recruitment and transfer is organized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard — Assad’s rule would long since have come to an end. Yet his comments are complemented by a number of additional details that add up to an image of a behind-the-scenes power struggle — one which casts a new, scary light on the condition of the Syrian regime and on the country’s prospects as a whole.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has long planned and carried out the most important missions and operations of the Syrian regime. They were responsible, right down to the details, for the sporadically successful offensives in Aleppo in the north and Daraa in the south, which began in 2013. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guard is one of those groups intent on continuing the “Islamic Revolution” — the victory of Shiites over the Sunnis. They are a state within a state, one which owns several companies and is answerable only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. President Hassan Rohani has no power over the Revolutionary Guard whatsoever.

Their goals go far beyond merely reestablishing the status quo in Syria. In early 2013, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Taeb, one of the planners behind Iran’s engagement in Syria, said: “Syria is the 35th province of Iran and it is a strategic province for us.” For several decades, the alliance between the Assads and Iran was a profitable one, particularly in opposition to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, which long had the upper hand in the region. But today, Assad depends on Iran to remain in power, and Tehran is taking advantage of the situation.

Using a variety of pathways, both civilian and military, Tehran is currently in the process of establishing itself in Syria. Military means are being employed to strengthen the holdings of the Shiite militia Hezbollah in areas near the border with Lebanon. To serve this goal, the Syrian National Defense Forces were established, troops that exist alongside the regular Syrian army and which includes tens of thousands of fighters who were trained in Iran. Still, the National Defense Forces have begun to disintegrate into local mafia militias and have actually accelerated the loss of state control over those regions.

Changes Afoot

It is, however, primarily in the civilian sector where significant changes are afoot. Just as in Damascus, Latakia and Jabla, increasing numbers of hosseiniehs — Shiite religious teaching centers — are opening. The centers are aimed at converting Sunnis, and even the Alawites, the denomination to which the Assads belong, to “correct” Shiite Islam by way of sermons and stipends. In addition, the government decreed one year ago that state-run religion schools were to teach Shiite material.

All of this is taking place to the consternation of the Alawites, who have begun to voice their displeasure. “They are throwing us back a thousand years. We don’t even wear headscarves and we aren’t Shiites,” Alawites complained on the Jableh News Facebook page. There were also grumblings when a Shiite mosque opened in Latakia and an imam there announced: “We don’t need you. We need your children and grandchildren.”

In addition, Iranian emissaries, either directly or via middlemen, have been buying land and buildings in Damascus, including almost the entire former Jewish quarter, and trying to settle Shiites from other countries there.

Talib Ibrahim, an Alawite communist from Masyaf who fled to the Netherlands many years ago, summarizes the mood as follows: “Assad wants the Iranians as fighters, but increasingly they are interfering ideologically with domestic affairs. The Russians don’t do that.”

That’s why Assad has now decided to place his fate in the hands of the religiously unproblematic Russia, which last week transferred aircraft and troops to its military base in the northern Syrian town of Latakia and began flying airstrikes. The fight against the Islamic State terror militia served as a pretext for the operation, but the initial air strikes have not targeted the Islamists at all. Rather, they have been flown against areas controlled by Syrian rebels. More

 

Pax Americana – Or Not Noticing American Bases

It's not that I knew nothing about U.S. military bases before I met Chalmers Johnson.

In certain ways, my idea of the good life had been strongly shaped by such a base. Admittedly, it wasn't in Germany or Japan or South Korea or some other distant land, but on Governor's Island, an Army base just off the southern tip of New York City. In the 1950s, my father ran a gas station there. On Saturday mornings, I would often accompany him to work on a ferry from downtown Manhattan and spend a dreamy suburban-style day there amid zipping Jeeps and marching troops and military kids, playing ball, wandering freely, catching cowboy or war flicks at the island's only movie house, and imagining that this was the best of all possible worlds. And yet between that moment and the moment in September 1998 when Johnson's proposal for a book to be called Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire fell into my editorial hands, I probably never gave our country's bases another thought.

In that, I was like millions of Americans who, as soldiers or civilians, had cycled through such bases at home and around the world and never considered them again. And we were hardly alone when it came to the hundreds and hundreds of foreign garrisons that made up what Johnson termed our “empire of bases.” Historians, political scientists, and journalists, among many others, paid them little mind. Our overseas garrisons were seldom discussed or debated or covered in the media in any significant way. No one in Congress challenged their existence. No president gave a speech about them. Though I hesitate to use the term, there was something like a conspiracy of silence around them — or perhaps a sense of discomfort that they even existed led everyone to act as if they didn't. And yet they were the face of this country to significant parts of the world. In their profusion and their reach, they represented a staggering reality for which there was no historical precedent. Billions and billions of dollars poured into them. Hundreds of thousands of troops and their dependents were stationed on them. It should have told us all something that they were quite so unremarked upon, but until Johnson came along, they were, in essence, not so much our little secret as a secret we kept even from ourselves. As he wrote with a certain wonder in the second book in his Blowback Trilogy, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, “The landscape of this military empire is as unfamiliar and fantastic to most Americans today as Tibet or Timbuktu were to nineteenth-century Europeans.”

Johnson broke the silence around them — repeatedly. And yet, in an era in which such bases, still being built, have played a crucial role in our various wars, conflicts, bombing and drone assassination campaigns, and other interventions in the Greater Middle East, they remain a barely acknowledged aspect of American life. Why this is so should be considered both a curiosity and a mystery. Is it that a genuine acknowledgement of the existence of a vast network of global garrisons would lead to uncomfortable conclusions about the imperial nature of this country? I'm not sure myself. That they remain largely surrounded by an accepted and acceptable silence, however, continues to be an American reality.

Thank heavens, then, that, almost five years after Chalmers Johnson's death, David Vine has produced a groundbreaking new book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, which should once again bring that empire of bases back into the national discussion. Today, in “Garrisoning the Globe,” Vine offers an overview of what it means for this country to continue to encircle the planet with such bases 24/7. Posted: 09/14/2015 By Tom Engelhardt More

 

 

On the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

So many decades later, it’s hard to remember the kind of nuclear thinking top American officials engaged in during the Cold War.

In secret National Security Council documents of the early 1950s, for instance, the country’s top strategists descended willingly into the charnel house of futuristic history, imagining life on this planet as an eternal potential holocaust. They wrote in those documents of the possibility that 100 atomic bombs, landing on targets in the United States, might kill or injure 22 million Americans and of a “blow” that might result in the “complete destruction” of the Soviet Union.

And they weren’t just whistling Dixie. After all, in 1960, the top military brass found themselves arguing about the country’s first Single Integrated Operational Plan for nuclear war. In it, a scenario was laid out for delivering more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world. Targets included at least 130 cities, which, if all went well, would cease to exist. Classified estimates of possible casualties from such an attack ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured. That’s what “the complete destruction” of the Soviet Union and Communist China meant then and, until Dr. Strangelove hit the screens in 1964, those figures were simply part of the sort of “rational” war planning that led to perfectly serious debate about launching a “preemptive strike” — what, if another country were considering it, would have been a “war of aggression” — to eradicate that enemy. To give credit where it’s due, Army and Navy officials did worry “about the lethal impact of downwind fallout, with the Army explicitly concerned about limiting exposure of ‘friendly forces and people’ to radioactive fallout. By contrast, the Air Force saw no need for additional constraints [on surface nuclear blasts].”

It’s this world that we “celebrate,” having now reached the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). Today, we know that delivering so many nuclear weapons (or, in fact, many less) would have done a lot more than wipe out the “Communist world.” It would have plunged the planet into nuclear winter and undoubtedly eradicated humanity as definitively as the dinosaurs were wiped out by that asteroid 65 million years ago.

Apocalypse was — and remains — us. After all, despite the recent nuclear agreement that will stop a country without nuclear weapons from building them, this planet is still loaded with a world-ending arsenal that is constantly being expanded, updated, and modernized. Call us lucky, but don’t call us particularly thoughtful. Today, Christian Appy, author of American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, considers the way in which — except in rare moments when antinuclear movements gained brief strength here — Americans managed to ignore how this country’s leaders ushered us into the nuclear age by annihilating not one but two cities and killing hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians. Tom”

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/176031/

 

 

NATO: Guardian of peace or bellicose bully?

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on whether the West’s military alliance has reignited the Cold War.

“We are pretty close to a new Cold War because of Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine,” says former Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen who led the alliance from 2009 to 2014.

In this episode of Head to Head, Mehdi Hasan challenges Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish prime minister and former NATO chief, on the West’s military alliance’s role in Eastern Europe and the so-called War on Terror.

We examine his record since assuming office in 2001, his role in the European support for the Iraq War and ask whether his NATO policies since 2009 have backfired.

Is it the West, or Putin who calls the shots in Ukraine? Has NATO reignited the Cold War? Did it create a bigger problem in Libya? And did it botch its mission in Afghanistan?

Joining this discussion are:

• Richard Sakwa, Russia and European politics professor and author of Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, from the University of Kent

• Alexander Nekrassov, a political commentator and former adviser to the Kremlin

• Ian Bond, a former British diplomat and director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform

NATO: Guardian of peace or bellicose bully? with Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be broadcast on Al Jazeera English on April 17 at 2000GMT and will be repeated on April 18 at 1200GMT; April 19 at 0100GMT; and April 20 at 0600GMT.

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