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Syria & Antibodies to the US Empire

by BruceMcF Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 03:41:04 AM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

Cross-posted from Voices on the Square: refers to earlier essays cross-posted here at The Sunset Empire Shudders and Shakes and Is Syria the Kind Of Place where World Wars Start?.

Over the weekend, I saw a piece on Syria: Now hundreds of Syrian rebels defect to Al Qaeda: 'Civil war within the civil war' weakens the battle to topple Assad

At least two entire rebel brigades are said to have joined the Nusra Front in opposition-held Raqqa, which borders Turkey. One of the groups, the Raqqa Revolutionaries, is said to have about 750 fighters.

A video uploaded by activists from Raqqa yesterday showed a massive convoy of fighters on cars and trucks with artillery and machine guns as they waved black flags. The video's title said it was a newly unified force of Nusra fighters and other rebel battalions which had recently pledged loyalty.

Many Syrian rebels are attracted to radical units because they are generally more effective than the moderate forces which have Western backing but receive only halting military aid.

Shockingly, in a confirmation of Candidate Obama's emphasis on the importance of "soft power" and at least implied critique of President Obama's increasing reliance on "hard power", the evolution of a civil war favors increasing polarization and increasing influence by hard-liners on both sides.

'Moderate forces that make up the majority'

I have not quoted from the DailyMail's force assessment, which is that the "moderate forces" make up the majority of Syrian rebel groups, because unsourced assessments of relative strength in five way civil wars are all too often self-serving PR from one or more of the sides. I prefer a sourced force assessment, such as this one sourced to IHS Jane's (UK-based defence analysts):

According to IHS's numbers, Syria's opposition is overrun with extremists and nearly half take up the entire fighting force. Overall, an estimated 100,000 are taking arms against Assad and of that 100,000, there are a reported 10,000 jihadists, which include the foreign fighters. Adding to the extremist factions are 30,000 to 35,000 hard-line Islamists, allied to al-Qaeda.

Taking approximately 100,000, deducting 10,000 jihadists and 30,000-35,000 hard-line Islamists leaves 55,000 to 60,000 "everyone else", including moderate Islamists, fighters from some minority communities, and any secularists who may be in the nationalist opposition:

Together with the 40,000 to 45,000 fueled Islamists are the likely 30,000 moderate rebels, most of which are still aligned with Islamic rule. These numbers would leave estimates very slim in terms of the fighters representing a nationalist Syrian opposition. Shockingly, IHS Jane's study finds that around 1,000 different factions or groups are fighting inside Syria, showing a diverse and wide-ranged opposition to Assad. If anything, groups like al-Nusra are making up the core fight force in Syria.

The strategic problem facing the 30,000 moderate Islamists is clear. If they join forces with the hard-line Islamists, that is a majority of the opposition fighting forces, and a majority that can appeal to a dedicated external support base. And the more that it seems as if the hard-line Islamists may win, the more compelling the argument becomes that moderate Islamists should join with them in an effort to moderate their radicalism.

And the more compelling the commitment of the radical Sunni Islamists to the overthrow of Assad due to the influence of Alawites in his government.  By contrast, if the moderate Islamists side with the nationalists, they are siding with a hodge podge of forces of uncertain military discipline and in some cases uncertain commitment to the overthrow of Assad. Hence:

Another problem Lister evaluates is, "If the West looks as though it is not interested in removing Assad, moderate Islamists are also likely to be pushed further towards extremists." By realizing the majority influence and presence of al-Qaeda-type Islamists in Syria, US officials have both gotten their hands on a sticky situation and also have decisions down the road to make on whether to further deepen their role. If US officials choose to pull out, Lister says the move could turn secularist moderates into extremists.

Antibodies to the US Empire

So, where does this place the Syrian situation in the broader picture sketched in The Sunset Empire Shudders and Shakes and Is Syria the Kind Of Place where World Wars Start??

Step back and consider the Syrian situation from the perspective the fraying American Base Network Empire. One of the explicit challenges to the US Base Network Empire is the so-called "axis of resistance" to US "hegemony", consisting of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon (and previously Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories). An "Arab Spring" style protest to Assad's rule with its rampant corruption and cronyism rises up.

However, resistance to the US Base Network Empire in Syria is not limited to just Assad. Indeed, part of the reason that Assad adopted his anti-American Imperialism stance is because of its popularity in the wider Arab world, which was particularly important as a member of a minority Shia sect in a majority Sunni country with substantial religio-ethnic complexity, an anti-American, anti-Israeli stance conferred additional legitimacy to his regime.

And so the US is in a quandry. There is no guarantee that pro-Western forces will win the second stage of a multi-sided Civil War in which the first stage is the overthrow of Assad. No matter who succeeds in overthrowing Assad, given the variety of ethnic Arab Sunni groups, it is quite possible that the final victor will be the radical Islamists that possess an ideology capable of overcoming internal ethnic divisions.

That possibility gives the US an incentive to not go all-in in support of the nationalist front side of the Syrian Civil War.

But not going all-in has its own costs, since the supporters of the radical Sunni Islamists have no incentive for restraint, as Fox News reports:

Syrian rebels have a new source of weapons and cash from inside Kuwait, and their benefactors in the oil-rich state are sending the aid to the most militant and anti-West factions involved in the fight to topple Bashar al-Assad.

The role of Saudi and Qatari governments and individuals in the funding and arming of Islamist fighters in Syria has been well known since the civil war began more than two years ago. But now, guns and money are flowing from private sources and Salafist-controlled NGOs based in Kuwait, and they are going to rebel factions aligned with Al Qaeda.

"We are collecting money to buy all these weapons, so that our brothers will be victorious," hard-core Sunni Islamist Sheikh Shafi' Al-Ajami announced on Kuwaiti television last month, listing the black-market prices of weapons, including heat-seeking missiles, anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Since this is from Fox News, we can all speculate exactly which interest group among the US radical reactionary coalition is being served by highlighting this information, but my focus is on the strategic challenge itself. And the challenge is clear from the plausible outcomes of the conflict:

  • One worse outcome is survival of the Assad regime, overcoming the nationalist and radical Sunni Islamist groups, and giving fresh strength of the Iran / Syria / Hezbollah "axis of resistance" to the US Base Network Empire.
  • A second worse outcome is the overthrow of the Assad regime and establishment of a radical Sunni Islamist regime in its place, giving fresh strength to the radical Sunni Islamist resistance to the US Base Network Empire
  • A third worse outcome is the establishment of a client state of dubious legitimacy due to its association with the American Base Network Empire, leaving the US mired in Syria de facto (even if not pro forma) in efforts to prop up the client state and prevent either a restoration of Baathist rule or establishment of radical Sunni Islamist rule
  • A fourth worse outcome is Balkanization of Syria, which, as argued in Is Syria the Kind Of Place where World Wars Start? is fertile ground for the break-out of Great Power conflict
  • And that's about it ... no plausible better outcomes seem to be at hand

The fundamental reason there are no good outcomes for the American Base Network Empire Project is that we have been pursuing this project for quite a long time now, and maintenance of the status quo now requires the frustration of the aspirations of an ever growing number of organized groups in various regions throughout the world.

If, from the perspective of a region like the Middle East, the US Base Network Empire is a foreign infection, the response to the Base Network Empire is akin to the development of anti-bodies, fine-tuned to the distinctive markers of the infection.

Hence the confusion of the current Administration in its policy to Syria. There is no good answer, given a commitment to the Base Network Empire project, only a choice among a range of bad answers.

Given no good answers, the least bad answer from the perspective of the American Base Network Empire itself would be the one that involves the least exercise of American power, since the exercise of American power with no good outcome in sight is itself corrosive to the long term viability of the Base Network Empire project.

What Wrong Answer Do You Give when there are No Right Answers?

The fact that there are no "good answers" to present makes the question of "who has the President's ear" critical. Daily Beast: Susan Rice and John Kerry Will Battle For Obama's Ear (6 June 2013):

Now, Rice will be in a position to supervise Kerry. Although the secretary of State is a cabinet-level official and the national security adviser is just a White House staffer, in the Obama administration the latter job has carried more weight and arguably more influence.

"During the Bush years, Democrats came up with concepts like `smart power' to harness all of the tools of American power--political, diplomatic, economic-- and not just the military. A key element was to empower the State Department which was massively overshadowed by the Pentagon," said Thomas Wright, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. "For better or worse, the Obama administration has killed smart power. Its chosen concept is central power--the idea that everything flows to and from the National Security Council."

Indeed, this context yields an additional interpretation of the events of 9 September, characterized in many quarters as an "accidental" success, such as this description in Slate:

For a brief period this morning it appeared as though Kerry's off-the-cuff hypothetical would largely remain overshadowed by his curious decision to call any American-led attack "unbelievably small." But that changed this afternoon once Assad and his strongest ally, Russia, caught everyone off guard by suggesting that Kerry's ad-libbed solution was actually workable.

Under this interpretation, the "off the cuff" remark was, instead, a move by Kerry responding to being frozen out by Rice, using his personal relationship with the Russian foreign minister to execute the end-run and his reputation for verbal gaffes as his cover story for bucking White House system in which "everything flows to and from the National Security Council".

However, whether it was an accident, or an experience politician successfully outmaneuvering the war-mongers in control in the White House, the problematic remains.

The administration did not settle on moving toward the worse outcome that involves the least exercise of US force, and which is therefore least likely to undermine long-term US influence. The administration had to be tricked into pursuing the policy that did the least damage to the long term viability of the US Base Network Empire ... and whether it was the Russian Foreign Minister, the US Secretary of State, or the two working in tandem that were the ones that pulled off the trick is less critical than the fact that the administration had to be tricked into pursuing the diplomatic course.

I argue that a system where the central authority that has to be tricked into taking the action that is least corrosive to its long term viability is a system in decline.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 03:42:33 AM EST
Excellent diary about the developments. That moderate FSA fighters are joining Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat Al-Nusra) and the extreme Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is not new nor recent. The extreme groups are in battle with the moderate FSA forces and have assassinated top commanders. In return a top leader of Al-Nusra has also been assassinated. Furthermore, the Islamic militants or foreign mujahideen jihadists are confronting the Syrian Kurds on north-eastern parts of Syria. After the slaughter of 450 civilians, a mass flight of refugees headed for the Iraq border, not entering Turkey by choice. Only a third of the 100,000 rebels are moderates.

'Moderate forces that make up the majority'

Reminds me of the Kerry/McCain sham in his statements before the Senate hearing in an attempt to convince Congress to pass legislation to grant powers for a military strike on Syria for "humanitarian" reasons. The bs coming from the likes of Susan Rice and Samantha Power. The warmongers used an article from WSJ to "proof" the Al Qaeda groups were just a small minority in opposition to the Assad regime.

The confrontation inside the White House between National Security adviser Susan Rice and Secretary John Kerry was analysed in my diary - Rice and Kerry: War Inside the White House.

Saudi commander of the Syrian mujahideen fighters, Prince Bandar, has recruited more "cut throats" by emptying the cells of death row in Saudi Arabia. Capable men are granted pardon, provided large sums of money for redemption on the battlefield of the Levant and die a martyr of Islam. Spreading fear in Syria, a returm to the dark Middle-Ages.

Juan Cole 'Not So Informed Comment'  Jan. 19, 2013

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 06:53:16 AM EST
Yes, the Kurds indicate the kind of sleight of hand required to make the "moderate Islamist" forces a majority. Kurds are Muslim, by and large, and since the jihadists tend to be allied with Syrian Arab Sunni radical Islamists, the Kurds are necessarily pushed onto the "other" side from the radicals.

But in the IHS Jane's assessment, roughly 100,000 total, about 10,000 jihadists, about 30-35,000 radical Islamists, about 40,000 moderate rebels, mostly moderate Islamists, and what may well be in the neighborhood of 10-15,000 sectorian militia from various minority groups that have joined the rebellion, including the Kurds.

Slapping a sticker on all of the "moderate" forces and adding up their total numbers does not magically convert that into a cohesive fighting force. The intrinsic members of the "nationalist" forces seem like the smallest of the three forces between the "nationalists", the moderate Islamists, and the radical Islamists.

This may be a big reason why some quarters are expressing an urgent need to strike Syria on some humanitarian pretext, since Western airpower gives the "nationalists" clout that the stingy trickle of arms from Western intelligence services cannot provide.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 10:01:15 AM EST
The kurds are not even fighting with the rebels most of the time. They are fighting for independence or at least home rule, and that means agaisnt both the government and the rebels. Lately though, mostly against the rebels as the government has largely withdrawn from Kurdistan.

Oh, and very good article.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 02:41:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, precisely, which is why pretending that their militia are part of a cohesive "nationalist" fighting force is clearly word games.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 08:47:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

there are five distinct opposition groups, each with their distinct geographical implantation :

  • the original rebellion, led by deserters from the Army, with aspirations to democracy
  • the "moderate islamists" who are ostensibly democratic
  • the Salafists, no doubt the strongest on the ground
  • the jihadists
  • the Kurds

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 10:27:06 AM EST
If Assad looks like he is going down, Druze and Christian militia will have to be added to that list.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Sep 26th, 2013 at 08:48:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not convinced why balkanization of Syria is a bad outcome at all, let alone a worse one.  For anybody.  Not even the authors of the piece you cite really come to that conclusion, instead only intimating in the possibility in a kind of vague way. The main difference between today and when the other world wars started is that is that all of the great wars occurred within an international framework characterized by an explicit "balance of powers."  No such balance exists today, or is even sought anymore. No competitor to the US even has ambitions anymore of rivaling US base networks, instead accepting that condition as a fixed terrain feature for international diplomacy and geopolitical maneuvering.

The wide disparity of power between the US today and any of its competitors compared to the much more equal balance power among the Great Powers at the advent of WWI really makes the risk of a "great war" coming out of the Middle East much less likely than what occurred a century ago, don't you think?

Balkanization seems like a very viable solution for a would be imperialist, at least from the point of view of US and European interests in the region. What can be better than an outcome which pits public enemy Assad against US enemy Al Qaeda and its supporters for years to come, at least diplomatically and politically if not militarily, especially if Russia and Iran have to be mixed up in proxy contests by taking sides too?  

by santiago on Fri Oct 4th, 2013 at 09:13:38 PM EST
I don't know whether "Balkanization" is good or bad, but I know that deliberately prolonging a war is the worst you can do for civilians: CIA ramping up covert training program for moderate Syrian rebels (Washington Post, October 3, 2013)
The CIA's mission, officials said, has been defined by the White House's desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result, officials said, limits on the agency's authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that politically moderate, U.S.-supported militias don't lose but not enough for them to win.

In the Neurozone, there can be only one.
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 5th, 2013 at 05:30:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure how relevant that line of thinking is. Even if Russia has no ambitions to challenge the overall hegemony of the US, it's ability to harm them vastly exceeds anything the German Empire had when it finally crashed headlong into Britain.
Runaway miscalculations are still possible even if the number of ignition points has been vastly reduced compared to the Cold War.
by generic on Sat Oct 5th, 2013 at 10:20:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No competitor to the US even has ambitions anymore of rivaling US base networks, instead accepting that condition as a fixed terrain feature for international diplomacy and geopolitical maneuvering.

Your planet must be interesting. Perhaps we can all visit it sometime.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Oct 5th, 2013 at 10:47:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The authors of the pieces that I cite with reference to Balkanization?

I assume you are ignoring the BruceMcF piece that was cited.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Oct 12th, 2013 at 06:48:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not ignoring your pieces at all, but, yes, other than your arguments, which I do not find convincing due to the vastly different balance of power conditions between the relevent powers at beginning of WWI and the IM-balance of power in favor of the US today, I don't find that other authors have given very strong arguments at all against balkanization.  In fact, your piece, which is very informative and well written, as usual, convinces me of the opposite:  The world, and especially the US, should seek a balkanization solution to the current civil war in Syrian. It is a country where geographic division into new polities may be ideal, given the current situation, with little, if any, downside for the US.
by santiago on Wed Oct 23rd, 2013 at 04:09:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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