Let’s you and them fight

As usual in geopolitics, there is more going on behind the scenes than some of the more breathless news reports would suggest:

The Russian forces currently in Syria will take action to restrain Hezbollah and Iranian activity there, according to understandings reached by Israel, the United States, Jordan and Saudi Arabia with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Jordanian official confirmed to Israel Hayom.

The understandings are the product of behind-the-scenes diplomatic talks that were underway prior to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision this week to withdraw American forces from Syria.

According to the terms of the understanding, Russia will continue to give Israel the freedom to strike Hezbollah and Iranian targets and weaponry that threaten the “balance of power” in Syria. According to the Jordanian official, it was these understandings between Trump and Putin that paved the way for the U.S. decision to pull its forces from Syria.

Other high-ranking Jordanian officials have confirmed that Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia are working together to contain the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah’s presence in Syria. Several of them emphasized that U.S. officials had made it clear that U.S. intelligence agencies would increase cooperation with Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, particularly on sharing intelligence, in a joint attempt to counter Iran’s attempt to create a contiguous Shi’ite corridor from Tehran to Beirut.

It looks like the Middle East is increasingly going to have to sort itself out, with a little help from nearby Russia. The consequences are hard to predict, but the US withdrawal from Syria almost certainly reduces the risk of conflict between the US and Russia, as well as between the US and its NATO ally Turkey, which threatened earlier this month to launch an offensive against the US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

Pulling out

Evacuation of Saigon

Sometimes you just have to go

M K Bhadrakumar of Asia Times praises the decision to pull US troops out of Syria:

To take the last argument first – what will be the impact on the Syrian situation? To be sure, ISIS is down, but not quite out. But then, ISIS is today only residual terrorism, after the huge defeat in Iraq.

At any rate, the brunt of the fight against the ISIS was borne by the Syrian government forces and their allies – remember Aleppo? Their grit to finish the job has never been in doubt and there is no reason to fear any let-up.

In fact, their interest lies in stabilizing the security situation in the quickest possible way so the political process leading to a post-conflict Syrian order can be speeded up.

Ironically, the departure of the US forces could help matters, since in many ways the US military presence only impeded the anti-ISIS fight in Syria. It is well known that terrorist groups took shelter in the US-led security zones in eastern Syria.

The Al-Tanf base and its 50-square-kilometer security perimeter was only the most glaring example. Again, the “no-fly zones” prevented Syrian and Russian jets from hunting down the ISIS cadres and de facto amounted to US air cover for terrorists.

It’s really very hard to understand what the US strategy was in Syria. Was there even a specific strategic goal? What was the desired end-state of this campaign?

Personally I suspect most Americans’ reaction to this news has been: Wait, we had troops in Syria? Yeah, the public was never consulted about this, at all. I am not the only person who finds it bizarre that an ostensibly democratic nation can be engaged in a major foreign military campaign for years on end without a scintilla of public approval, or even knowledge, let alone a formal declaration of war. Did you know the US has at least a dozen military bases in Syria? What is going to happen to those?

Regardless, this is excellent news for the US. Give non-intervention a chance!

Time to go home

Mohammed bin Salman

Mohammed bin Salman

The US is taken to task for shrugging while a new pack of authoritarian leaders in the Middle East consolidates power:

What’s happening in the Middle East today can be traced back to the 2011 Arab Spring, which sparked a desire for democratic change among ordinary people and, among governments, a countervailing desire for stability based on the status quo ante.

To go back in time, as it were, the counterrevolutionary bloc—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and their allies in Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere—believes the future must be more authoritarian than ever. Based on extensive conversations with senior Arab officials, I’ve found that the dominant outlook could be summed up as follows: A heavy-handed domestic and regional approach may well carry risks, but the alternative is worse. […]

No space for reconciliation or compromise exists between authoritarian governments and their democratic or Islamist opponents. If the strongmen win—and they have a real chance—then the West will have to abandon its dream of a more politically open Middle East (the vision sparked by the Arab Spring). If they fail—and there is a compelling argument that they could—their countries could experience a period of turmoil on the scale of the Syrian civil war. In this volatile environment, the United States is ominously absent.

I remember when the US was condemned for its foreign interventions. Now it is criticized for its dangerous aloofness. The reality is that the US is terrible at managing an empire and has no ability to impose its own political norms on the Middle East. Any interest that Americans once had in such a grandiose project evaporated a long time ago. The US is completely unable to effect the outcomes that it wants, and can’t even distinguish the “good” guys from the “bad” guys in most of these conflicts. When is a democratic/Islamist revolution preferable to a stable, authoritarian regime? I don’t know, and chances are neither do you. It’s ridiculous for any Americans to think they can, or should, decide the political future of a radically different country 6,000 miles away.

On a related note, the US is still chasing the Taliban around Afghanistan after 17 years:

When Gen. Scott Miller took over the war in Afghanistan on Sept. 2, Afghan soldiers were being killed and wounded at near record numbers.

He instituted a more aggressive policy of helping the Afghan military track and defeat the Taliban — what he calls “regaining the tactical initiative” — but in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Tuesday, his first since taking command of U.S. and coalition forces here, he also says he recognizes that the solution in Afghanistan will be political, not military.

“This is not going to be won militarily,” Miller said. “This is going to a political solution.”

In other words, the war is unwinnable. Afghanistan cannot be pacified, as the British and the Russians and many others throughout history have learned to their chagrin. So go home.