Sunday, January 31, 2016

Putin's Geneva Waltz: Obama is Kneeling to Russia in Syria. It’s a Big Problem

Nearly five years ago, Syria’s civil war began. Since then, it has stolen more than 220,00o lives and sent millions of refugees into destitution. But in Geneva, peace talks are now finally underway. The diplomats are there (at least in some cases) to forge a path to peace. At least that’s the diplomatic spin. Unfortunately, there is a better likelihood that these peace talks will actually worsen the conflict.

Enter the Obama Administration’s kneeled acquiescence to Russia. John Kerry has pressured US supported rebel groups to attend Geneva or lose US support. These groups are reluctant to attend because Russia and Assad have refused a ceasefire and spent most of last week bombing them relentlessly. But it gets worse. The US has accepted the attendance at Geneva of pro-Russian make-believe opposition figures - including a Kurdish group with interests that do not concern Assad, and Qadri Jamil, a former minister in Assad’s government. Russia’s pretense - that Jamil is an opposition leader with popular legitimacy - is a middle-finger to anti-Assad rebels. But it also equates to something else: an American waltz indicating Mr. Obama has accepted Assad’s survival, and Russia’s mastery. Regardless, President Obama’s acquiescence to Russia also poses specific challenge to US interests. First, it will further encourage Saudi Arabia and Turkey (which could be a US partner in Syria) to support hard-line opposition groups outside of US influence. These groups include militarily powerful, ideologically inflexible Salafist movements opposed to consensual governance. Groups that hate the west. Second, it effectively abandons more moderate, US-mentored Free Syrian Army (FSA) aligned rebels. In recent months, FSA groups have used US training and weaponry to increasingly positive effect. But marginalized at Geneva, their political influence and morale will take a big hit. Third, President Obama's weakness (in strategic terms, that's what it is) will further fertilize the roots of terror and instability in the Middle East: the politicization of sectarianism. President Obama thinks he’s a realist, but his policies are displacing political moderates and empowering extremists.

Of course, President Putin was banking on these developments. Aware that the US President is desperate to avoid greater engagement in Syria, President Putin upped his price for peace talks by demanding the neutering of Sunni-rebels and the preservation of Assad’s regime. It was sadly predictable. In October, I warned that Russian air strikes on ISIS positions were only designed to buy hesitation from the west. And in the political space of that hesitation, the Russia-Iran/proxies-Assad alliance has been consolidating its power. That road has led to Geneva: the new citadel of Russian diplomatic power and the latest fuel depot for Middle Eastern chaos.

My other thoughts on the Middle East can be found here.
My TV links (with reference to the Middle East) can be found here.
Map of syria

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


4 Thoughts on The Islamic State's Latest Video

On Sunday, the Islamic State released a new video. It featured a number of the attackers involved in the November 2015 attack on Paris. Here are four thoughts.

1) The video shows that the attackers were trained, ideologically inculcated-sustained and operationally directed from Syria. The threat/testament from the plot ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud illustrates how IS has a distinct strategic direction towards attacks on the international community. The video also shows the degree of pre-planning involved: one attacker specifically threatens Paris. Also relevant here, see my warning last week on Jakarta attack lessons.

2) Executions in the video show that IS regards the Paris attackers as operationally directed fighters who are true members of the cause - not simply random losers who they are using as cannon fodder. IS wants to attract new recruits with the notion that they too can become immortalized heroes of the cause/ pure warriors - as IS would see it. Of course, it says much about IS ideology/morality that they regard playing with decapitated heads (in video) as virtuous acts.

3) The concluding threat to UK is, to me, the most interesting and concerning element of the video. The degree of specificity in targets, including National Gallery – Ally Pally Farmers Market, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and the fact that the video ends by singling out the UK will concern UK govt. for 3 reasons. First, the cross-hairs on Cameron - in light of Paris attacks prospectively targeting Hollande - will raise fears of assassination attempt. 2) The specific but variable target list is a clear hint at a Paris style attack. 3) The timing of the video (in late January) will raise concern that it is an order to attack for ISIS assets in the UK. We must also bear attention to the fact that there are a great number of ISIS/AQ suspects under intelligence monitoring in UK - but MI5/ Police CTC units are struggling to monitor all these suspects. ISIS fighters are relying on encrypted communications - telegram/gaming communications etc. that are much harder to intercept. Access to firearms in UK is more difficult, but not impossible. ISIS teased MI5 about its stretched human surveillance capabilities in their latest Dabiq magazine issue. This video also teased about encrypted communications – challenging western intelligence services to crack a coded message.

4) IS uses specially designated personnel for returner attacks. I warned about this significant threat in June 2014, but was derided for scare mongering by Richard Clarke.

Friday, January 22, 2016

National Review

In light of the National Review special edition, I'm re-posting these two pieces. They speak to my beliefs about Trump. The first piece assesses his claims to support non-intervention in the Middle East. I argue that his specific policy proposals would invite a theater level war.

The second piece considers the ideological underpinnings and mythology that sustain Trump's movement. SEE HERE

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The McLaughlin Group - 2015 Awards Show - pt. 2

My linked comments:
BEST POLITICAL THEATER: Donald Trump and the media
MOST UNDER REPORTED STORY: China's Island Imperium
MOST OVER REPORTED STORY: Debate pre-analysis
BIGGEST GOVERNMENT WASTE: Medicare reform failure
BOLDEST TACTIC: Paul Ryan's beard
WORST POLITICAL SCANDAL: Hillary Clinton's emails
15 MINUTES OF FAME: Jim Gilmore and George Pataki
MOST HONEST: FBI Director Comey
MOST OVERRATED: Hillary Clinton


Regarding the Saudi execution of Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, see my recent pieces @ National Review on why the execution has strategic consequences re: Iran, why al-Nimr's nephew also poses similar strategic challenges, and how Saudi Arabia is growing increasingly sectarian in light of US foreign policy.

Links to all my Middle East/NA related writings found here.
National Review Online